Straight from the heart

Feb 17, 2016 | 0 comments

American-born photographer Thomas Ives has worked for international news and feature magazines for over 38 years. His photo essays and images have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Geo, Stern, Newsweek, Life, Smithsonian, and many others publications. He currently lives in Vilcabamba with his Ecuadorian partner. For more about Thomas, click here, or here (en español).

All wrapped up in love

I often turn a corner and encounter an expression of love that takes me out of myself.

About a year ago, I stumbled upon the family of Hugo Contenta sitting on the stoop of their modest house in a Vilcabamba barrio. His son, Hugo Jr., age 12, was discovering the magical joys of his new Samsung Fame smart phone. His other sons, Steven 6 and Santiago 9, were tying everyone up with hugs and hand holding … sharing the momentous event. The world outside this village was now accessible at the touch of a finger.

A few years before this photo was taken, the boys’ father had fallen off a two story construction site, severely damaging his leg but not his spirit. His misfortune did not keep him from maintaining his dignity by finding ways to support his family. When he recovered enough to walk, he began to recycle cardboard and glass. He could be seen limping through the streets with a small cart, collecting the items from trash cans and recycle bins, warehousing them in a vacant lot, then selling to the wholesale recyclers. The younger boys could often be seen helping him on his rounds.

Later he branched out to building a hand-made wood Inca style sugar cane press to supply cane juice to visitors during fairs. Additionally, today he can be seen on a bicycle-driven ice cream cart at events. Always, he is finding new ways to make some money while remaining independent and upbeat.

His tenacity of spirit keeps him connected to making things work, keeping his family united and cared for. And it allowed him to save up for something that, while simple and commonplace for us, is the window to a new world for his boys — a basic smart phone.

Family Contenta indeed!

— Thomas H. Ives


Image taken in Vilcabamba, 2015; Copyright: Thomas H. Ives Contact:


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