It could be said that with this series, my life and photography became one. When I arrived in Portobelo, in the early seventies’, I began photographing those who engaged me in some profound way, who seemed to resonate that which I felt deepest within me. Naturally wanting to more, I drew nearer and dug deeper, hoping to fathom the very depths of their souls. I of course understood that I could not accomplish this alone, but eventually, winning their trust, they revealed themselves to me willingly, allowing their auras to repose in my lens. Then, much like an invitation to dance, we found ourselves locked in a mutual rhythm, completely unencumbered, completely in-tune. It was in this way the protagonist of this story revealed themselves to me: Josefa, a healer of the “evil eye,” locally known as a “curandera”; Palanca, who only seemed to find solace in the arms of his grandmother, Ventura; Putulungo, the octopus fisherman, who much like his prey could instantly change his interior from light to dark; Dulce, a little girl light in years, but possessing all the wisdom and tenacity of her cimarrón ancestors; Catalina, Queen of the Congos. It could also be said, that with this series my photographic identity was born, and that as I came face to face with these images for the first time, I felt I was looking at myself, but from a renewed point of view.
Blazina, Mila and Fulvia -mother and daughters, are recent arrivals as settlers to the New Tonosí Valley, along Panama´s Caribbean coast, where nature´s exuberance has proven an instant challenge to their survival, and where personal loneliness appears to have united them into a single driving force. Mother and daughters have given themselves over to this new land with an almost ancestral passion, hoping their efforts will be rewarded with the hope of sustenance, already lost along the arid coasts of the Pacific, in the place they use to call home. In the photograph depicting The Farewell, we see them saying goodbye to Mino, whose “going off to hunt.” The women admitted that on this and other similar occasions, that they always asked themselves, will he come back? They explained how he felt himself a displaced man in a foreign land, and while they felt no particular sense of belonging themselves, that ultimately, as women, they would give birth to their new lives.
Two continents, two countries, two residences and two generations bear silent witness … In this series I sought to discover the differences between the older and younger generations as they related to servitude. Spain Victor finds his personal identity within his role as servant. He is the personification of his art. For him, there is no division between his role and his being. There is no questioning, only a humoristic pride which dresses his person. Purit a (later infiltrated as a terrorist) is one who questions, one who challenges and defies: Her energy, like that of a caged feline was palpable, and could be felt thumping about the enormity of the house. What might she be contemplating? I often wandered....Panamá as Rosa polished the silver, each piece engraved with the family´s coat of arms, she paused periodically to study her own reflection: Most of her life had been spent within the confines of this family residence, which she had grown to consider her own, given that she had scarcely known any other. During The United States’ invasion of Panamá, Romi decided to grab a hunting rifle, which she found in my brother´s closet. The people in our neighborhood were frightened, imagining seen Noriega´s “dignity batallions” looting and burning nearby houses. I had never witnessed such intensity in Romi as I did the moment she brandished that weapon. As I photographed her, I remember thinking: Honestly, who would she really like to shoot?
Emberá: Children Of The Rivers
The Emberá, previously known as Chocoes, having originated from that province of Colombia, threading its Atlantic coast, today inhabit Panama´s Darién region, and have, since colonial times. The Emberá are water beings, with nomadic tendencies, who naturally gravitate towards the migratorial waters of the rivers. I knew that in order to photograph them, in their essence, I had to do so from the water: “América,” a lively and cleaver young emberá, offered to show me some of her secret haunts along the riverbank. We would no sooner arrive to one, than she would tell me of another, which we swam toward until we arrived or grew tired trying, at which time we would look for a break in the overhead canopy, where the light shone magnificently through, creating an inviting place to rest. It was at such a place, that América, gesturing, asked me, “Where´s your other eye?” Laughing, and realizing she was right, I immediately suggested that perhaps I didn´t really need it, and that I would try using the lights of the river instead, to which she nodded, agreeing was an excellant idea. Those just might be the best photographs in this series.
When The Saints Go Down
If I had to find a word to define this work that is still in process, I would call it Epifanias Cubanas...
This series was commissioned by the Panamanian government in celebration of the republic´s 100th year anniversary, to illustrate a book entitled, My grandfather´s grandmother. This important book gathered testimonials from those grandparents hailing from diverse regions of the country, of distinct culture and race, thereby illuminating the multi-racial tapestry adorning Panamá. Never before had I examined my country´s history from such a perspective. I had only done so from a distance, with the aid of school texts and other books, but never looking into the eye of the narrator, as she related this history to me, fresh in every recollected detail, the way I did the day I photographed Clementina Rodriguez, of La Pintada, Coclé: She told me how her grandfather would send she and her sister to deliver food to the clandestine camps erected in support of Victoriano Lorenzo, a charismatic guerilla leader, who had taken a stand against Colombia´s central reigning power (before Panamá gained its independence) demanding justice and equality for all, and that due to his rising influence, he was executed. “We ran down those pathways, barefoot, but we never felt neither the thorns, nor the rocks, nor the trunks nor na’… Once we arrived, I, who was only eight, was surprised to see so many people in one place, more people than I´d seen in our hut or our village …and they were all so thankful, men and women, to receive the chickens and the vegetables, and the yucca. Later, on our way back home, we went a different route, gathering up the smallest of the children left home alone because their parents had gone off to war.”
Roads Of The Skin