Author’s Note: In July and August of 2018, the City of Cuenca, Ecuador presented my solo exposition “Momento Decisivo – Joyas Ocultas de los Andes.” Nine selections of my art hung in the Museo Central de la Escuela Viejo in El Centro. The exposition was originally intended to be mostly my portrait work. However, Cuenca City felt that some of the landscape work I had produced was reminiscent of well known landscape works by famous Ecuadorian painters. The City also felt that the content of the landscape works was rarer and that fewer people had seen the remote areas in which I had created a number of photographs. They asked me if they could change their selections and so we did.
The exposition was a great success as was the catalog presentation of my art several months later. My team from the city was fantastic in every respect. I am deeply indebted to them for their professionalism in the showing and support of my art. I’ll be writing about those 9 photographs and sharing both stories and art with you starting with this photograph and vignette. They are simply referred to as the “Momento Decisivo Collection.” Look for these to be among my normal column submissions. I’ll note the works that are in this collection as I share them.
At the head of the Yanuncay Valley sits the tiny town of Soldados. You can go to church there and get a bite to eat also. They’ll shoe your horse around the corner while grandma stitches up a hole in your britches while you stand behind some cardboard cartons in your drawers. Folks are friendly and there are gobs of kitties and dogs everywhere to be patted and tossed a morsel or two. I like the place just fine!
Soldados is my gateway to the Andes either by truck or bicycle. I access the mountains using the road via-Soldados more often than entering by heading west out of town on Ordoñez Lasso. There are less people in this area and the road is indeed less travelled. The town gets its name from stories and history being mixed together. There are a number of variations but here’s the one I like. The basalt formations jutting out at the top south edge of the valley appear to be Conquistadors and their mounts ready to reign terror on the unsuspecting inhabitants below. Soldados is the Spanish word for “soldiers” and so indicates the origin of this particular story. No one seems to have forgotten that as an indigenous people, they were subdued and conquered by the Spanish soldiers.
The Yanuncay Valley, which provides the only access to the town from the east, is a beautiful place, receiving its name from the Yanuncay River. This river traverses the valley east-west before entering the basin of Cuenca. The Yanuncay originates in Soldados by the marriage of two other streams. Its rocky waters are trout laden and many bends provide watering spots for the un-countable dairy herds that frequent the Valley.
The mountains are sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny. It is colder there and I think that the clouds predominate the environment. Often as a child, I enjoyed the shadow of a cloud scudding along the ground. The cloud seemingly chased after me as I ran and laughed trying to stay in the sunshine.
One day as I was driving El Fantasma into the Andes, I chanced to look back down on Soldados from what was the vantage point of mostly Curiquingues. A small ray of light was piercing the gloom that so often encapsulates the tiny town. I stopped El Fantasma and grabbed a camera from my backpack. The tiny smudge of light came and went, dancing but for moments in small sections of the already tiny town. I could not make out its origin; the sky was heavily overcast but had wonderful textures reminiscent of grey cotton balls all stuck together. I kept the camera trained on the scene, watching the light come and go. When it briefly passed over the town’s center, I opened the shutter. The results are shown here as Soldados momentarily receives the spotlight of the faltering late afternoon sun before the towering mountains and their pending shadows cloak one of the more unusual places I’ve ever visited in darkness.