I have been traveling to Nicaragua fairly frequently for the last ten years now, and am currently on my 8th visit. It’s another privilege of being a teacher that I was able to organise many of those trips, and on others I went along as the second or third group leader.
This allowed me to minimize the cost of those trips to myself and also gave me a solid framework to … well, to justify the fact that I was wandering around in Nicaragua having the time of my life.
Well, this time is a bit different. I arrived in Managua on July 27th sin estudiantes and with a program that was (is!) very personal, even though there remains some continuity with the trips I have taken in the past with students. This time, I am spending a month or so in Estelí, in Nicaragua’s north, at a small spanish school trying to build on the somewhat shaky linguistic base I have been able to build over the years. While here I am enjoying myself with my camera. In another week and a half or so I will head down to a small village called Santa Julia to help support a development project there, but more on that another time.
Some people have expressed the opinion to me that photography is a very solitary activity – just you and the camera, then you and the computer or darkroom. Sure, you share the photos, but in the end, I have been told, the camera separates you from the world, which you stop seeing for what it is, because you no longer look at it except through a lens. Especially when traveling, people have often urged me to put the camera down, and to look at the world.
There is something to be said for this opinion, and it is important not think of everything as a potential photographic subject. When traveling, you really don’t want to look at everything through a lens, and in particular, you don’t want to objectify the people you meet by treating them as though they were nothing but colourful characters or whatever.
But to me, a really interesting thing about all this is: all of that having been said (and yes, I have done it too), still I find that photography easily opens as many avenues for communication and participation with the world around me – and the people around me – as it closes. Many more, in fact. Looking up from the camera makes using the camera a way to participate in life, not a way to distance oneself from the world.
The camera allows me to visualise the world around me in a different way: I see the colours differently, and I tend more than before I was a photographer to look at the interplay of light, and of the objects the light reflects off of, more closely and more carefully. I think I am a better observer because I am a photographer. But also, the camera gives me the opportunity and motivation to go places and talk with people I might not otherwise see or meet. Take Tulio, for example.
That’s him down below in the checked shirt, in a photo taken this morning in the Market here in Estelí.
Tulio is a friendly guy, popular with the people in the area, and considered somewhat eccentric. When I showed the photo to the family I am staying with, they immediately said “hey, that’s Tulio!” and told me where he lived. I guess I got lucky, and started chatting with the right guy.
Actually, though, Tulio and I chatted only for a few minutes (“where are you from?” “What brings you to Estelí?” “How do you like it here?” – I asked a few questions too, but he seemed more interested in asking than answering). He introduced me to his relative (his sister, I think, though it wasn’t clear), who was preparing the fire for a day of cooking and selling meals in her little stall. This was in a section of the market where there are a number of such stalls – as she explained, making and selling tortillas, soup, chicken, rice and beans for the various people who come to the market (mainly those who work there, I was told). I have to admit that while I have eaten in Nicaraguan markets before, I don’t think I would eat at one of these dirty little stalls. Well, maybe a tortilla and some gallo pinto, but nada más.
(It might be worth mentioning that I arrived in the market at just before Six AM. I was hoping, correctly as it turned out, that I would find a lot of action that one doesn’t normally see when visiting the same place later in the day – all the hustling and bustling of setting up the stalls and preparing the produce. I was also hoping to use that wonderful early morning light, which is just never the same later in the day. And yes, I got that too – even these pictures, taken in the shadow of the market stalls, benefit from the quality of light at that time of day. It just can’t be replaced.
Here are a few more images from this morning’s market visit. Just because I am a bit of a perfectionist, I should point out that except for a couple of crops these are straight out of the camera. I usually like to edit more.
Hopefully it won’t be more than a year before I post here again!