Straight from the heart

Jul 20, 2016 | 3 comments

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

                          — From: Simple Gifts. (Traditional Shaker song)

A summery country road, a farmer with his dog returning to the village after collecting chilena grass for his cuy, a campesino mounted on his burro. One could not have staged such a bucolic rural scene: it manifested, then vanished, in three steps.

I had been walking and talking with this farmer, who lives in the village but tends his land holdings in the rural sectors, about the care of cuy, his fields of sugar cane, and his two sweet dogs that always accompanied him.

Along with a strong stride and assured posture, he had that quiet engaging grace of most elderly Ecuadorians. A heavy bag of freshly harvested yuca was wrapped around his left hand. Although we were walking side by side we were looking at each other during our conversation; it’s their manner here, it honors you and what you have to share.

It’s a relaxed scene that is underpinned with attention: the slightly wary posture and look of the dog, the burros ears reading the situation, his reins pulled taunt by the rider in anticipation of a possible move by the dog and reaction of the burro. I can still hear the grass gently sweeping along the pavement in contrast to the burro’s hoof-falls. Everyone in stride, unhurried, but with destination.

In fifteen years this photo may be looked upon with comments such as: “Dad, did they really ride burros like that?” “What’s that long grass he is carrying?” The everyday that we are part of becomes the potential for a photo that will carry, in the future, great value as historical artifact to a larger audience, and heart warming personal memories of customs and people who have moved on.

It’s been three years since I took this photo. I still see and greet the farmer, sadly his dogs are gone now. The burro and rider are still plodding the byways where I live. It’s reassuring to mark time with the familiarity of occasionally seeing them during the Indian Summer of my life, when things seem to be passing, and disappearing, far too quickly.

Aesthetic / technical reflections

While chatting away, I heard hoof clopping and turned to see the burro and rider enter the scene … I slowed my pace by one stride to position myself to be able to fill the corner with man and the grass falling out of the frame, creating visual intimacy with him, then timed his footfall to give a dynamic forward motion.

The shadows falling on the pavement vignette the scene while the road disappearing upper right is a visual exit point. The image is anchored with classic golden mean harmony, two-point composition and what I call an accent: the addition of an element that ties the composition together visually and with added information. In this case the spaniel dog.

Equipment used

My most important tools are: personal vision, technique and passion.

Taken with my lightweight and ever present gear of choice: one 35mm digital camera with a 35mm lens.

— Thomas Ives

Photo created in Vilcabamba, Copyright: Thomas H. Ives 2013, Contact:


Thomas Ives is an American-born photographer who 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.

Thomas Ives

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