Straight from the heart

Mar 2, 2016 | 1 comment

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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).



Cuenca does this to me

I seldom get up to Cuenca from my southern village. I don’t care for road travel much anymore. But when I finally arrive I find it exhilarating and often on the edge of a sort of soft magic realism.

I have an enormous collection of store mannequin photos I’ve shot over the years … I find them fascinating … especially the older ones from the 30’s and 40’s. I remember that particularly disarming episode on 1960 The Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours” when the real world becomes intertwined with department store dummies. I’ve always thought that I too might step one day onto the other side.

These two Cuenca mannequins appear to be of like geographic origin: blue eyed Teutonic, probably from a village on the German / Polish boarder. They have been in SA for decades and somehow became separated while living together in Cuenca. He is a simple tailor’s dummy, sturdy, dependable, non-meddling. He has a slightly opiated droop to his eyes which gives him a docile non-threatening gaze, ideal for tailors working day in and day out in front of him. I wonder if the tailor ever talks to him during lonely night hours?

His female counterpart is high-blood and well kempt in the fashion of her time. Sadly she has been working in a lingerie shop, at the moment wearing a pair of pink synthetic pajamas. I had gone into the shop in search of simple natural cotton flannel PJ’s for my partner …. “ Lo siento senor pero no tenemos.? “ I stared at her for a few moments with an unsettled feeling that she was sending me a silent but urgent message. Or had I simply fallen into the trap of Agalmatophilia (from the Greek agalma = ‘statue’, and -philia = love). I left the store, then turned back to glance at her, wondering if I might be able to buy her and re-unite them.

This led to a grandiose dream scenario of my offer being refused, maniquinen-apping, huge banner headlines in the papers “Foreign resident indicted for macabre kidnapping.” Three-column-wide photo showing me in esposas (Spanish for handcuffs, taken from the word for wife) standing next to the two plastered over papier-mâché lovers holding hands.

Things escalated. A shaman from Vilcabamba was called in to exorcise any latent evil from the dummies, they reinstated their vows in a crowded civil ceremony, film deals were offered, a new age smoothie was named after them La Pareja Extática and marketing spin off’s of everything from clothes to dolls, housewares to lawn sprinklers …

Cuenca does this to me.

Thomas H. Ives


Images taken in Cuenca, 2016; Copyright: Thomas H. Ives Contact:


Thomas Ives

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