Al otro lado (On the other side)

This is a small extract of the whole series.

[Al otro lado was exhibited at the London College of Communication from the 8th to the 15th of January 2015.]

"You're gonna get mugged, kidnapped or killed!" - This is what I was told by friends and relatives when I explained them that I wanted to document the border region between Ecuador and Colombia. What happens along the thin line that divides both countries is little known; everybody assumes it is nothing good.  These are marginalized, forgotten and dangerous territories.

My destination was Puerto Nuevo, a small village of around five hundred inhabitants, located on the banks of the San Miguel River, on the Ecuadorean side of the border. Colombians fleeing armed conflict in the south of their country founded it in 2001. The village is located in a hard to reach area, in an impoverished region forgotten by the governments of both countries. People here live with environmental pollution and other abuses inflicted by oil companies. The presence of state security forces is almost non-existent, a situation which isn't unique to this village.

This is a documentary project that in no moment pretends to be objective. It is a documentary about a forgotten and traumatized village. It is forgotten and traumatized because violence and poverty do not distinguish between nationalities. This is a village in which the border is omnipresent and does not exist at the same time. This is a village where its inhabitants do not know what it means to live in Ecuador or Colombia, but certainly know what it is to live on the other side.


 

Inexistent People

[Published in Esquire Russia]

St. Petersburg, Russia.

Walking through the streets, we do not notice, or pretend not to notice them... We try not to look at them, closing our eyes as if they do not exist. They try to spend more time not getting out of their refugees. And the saddest part, is that for all it’s easier this way.

These people live on the streets, abandoned buildings or basements of St. Petersburg and the majority of them do not have documents, to prove their existence. They cannot officially work, get any kind of education or receive any doles. For the Russian government they formally do not exist, but, as they say, federal and local administration officials commonly use them as scapegoats. They are usually charged with such crimes as wallet, mobile phones and TV robbery, narcotics distribution and others.

Looking the truth in the eye, they have many problems: alcoholism, toxicomania, drug addiction, etc. But their most important addiction is the addiction to this way of life, which gives them the feeling of true freedom. And that is why they cannot, they don’t want to, and will not change anything. But even if they did, a long way is waiting for them to prove their right to exist, because in Russia there are no state or private programs to help them start a new life.

Everyone has his own story of coming to such a life and for most of them it’s because of parental violence, loss of loved ones and escape from orphanages. But it’s worthless to focus on why, it’s much more important to pay attention to the situation today, to make efforts to create programs in charge of these problems.

 

This series of photographs should serve as a proof for everybody of their existence in the present days.

 

Yachacs

[Published in Terra Incognita magazine, Ecuador]

Protected by the Taita Imbabura and the Mama Cotacachi volcanoes, Iluman, a small indigenous village in the north of Ecuador, wakes up with the singing of roosters early in the morning. This is a town of around 10 000 inhabitants where weavers and Yachacs coexist. Yachac is a Kichwa word that means "healer" but most of the times is misinterpreted as "shaman".

It is known that the Yachacs were the first indigenous people to realize the healing forces within plants. With the help of eucalyptus, plantain, chamomile, black nettle, "chilca", dandelion and horsetail they heal illnesses, fright, lovesick, bad luck, hexes and even economic problems.

On each Yachacs' house, there is a small placard with their name, profession and register number (similar to the ones doctors or lawyers have). There are around 300 legal healers in this town, but it is said that the number of illegal ones is even higher.

Each healing session costs from $25 to $100 (depending on the severity of the case) and takes from half an hour to an hour. In the premises where the rituals take place, there is an improvised altar with catholic figures, minerals and amulets. Medicinal plants, cigarettes, eggs, candles, carnations, spices, cologne, alcohol, dollar bills and even guinea pigs are also used during these sessions. The majority of the indigenous people, and the Yachacs are no exception, practice an active syncretism: a mix of catholic rituals and Nature worship. In their prayers there is a symbiosis between catholic deities and nature forces: they invoke God, the Inti (sun), the Pachamama (mother Earth), the Virgin Mary, the Quilla (moon), Jesus Christ, the Saints, the mountains, the fire, the rivers.

In a not too distant past, the Yachacs had big influence in their society; they had political power given by the community and spiritual power given by the gods of nature. They hardly had to worry about surviving in a hostile environment, because the society would provide for those who can communicate with the gods of Nature. But nowadays they deal with their heavenly given powers and earthly given struggles. Being a Yachac is just a profession that gives them a regular income that allows them to survive, which is good from one side, but from the other, it is a danger to their culture because rituals are getting adapted, making them more spectacular to attract tourists and their wallets.

This story's protagonist is the 69 year old Yachac Luz Maria Otavalo. She inherited the ancestral knowledge from her father and has been practicing as a professional healer the last 40 years. "I believe in Inti and Quilla, in the mountains and volcanoes, in the plants and rivers, in the energy of Nature, but also in God and the Virgin and in Jesus and the Saints. I go to mass every Sunday." – tells me before the next client arrives.

 

Comrades

[Published in The Other Hundred - Entrepeneurs book, Hong Kong and Resvista Q magazine, Ecuador]

Since the distant era when the camera obscura and the daguerreotype were invented, the photographic process has suffered countless changes, which have affected society in general, and the professionals of this craft in particular.

Perhaps, the last decade has been the one that has brought the biggest changes. Without going into details, it can be seen that the photographic technology has become more democratic and more affordable for society. These changes have also led to the marginalization of this craft, where the professional photographer is not as welcome as in past times. "Nowadays, everybody can buy a cell phone with a camera in it, or a "digital matchbox" with better features and more megapixels than my camera" – argues Jose Luis Paredes, one of the few artisan photographers remaining in Quito – "but less than 10% of the people know how to use them." His business has been declining for some years, and he's not the only one. The reasons are the same for all: the impossibility of competing with big photo labs because of their limited resources, high maintenance costs and the constant changes in technology. In his words, his business may disappear, and this fear is the main reason for these series of photographs. My main goal was to document the people who practice the craft and the places where they do it in the city of Quito. This craft that is threatened with extinction as a natural consequence of the progress of technology.

 

Round the clock

[Published in Square Magazine, United Kingdom]

"The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: " There is the surface. Now think – or rather feel, intuit – what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way." Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy". - Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977

Russia is the biggest country in the world, whose economy is growing with huge steps everyday. The biggest incomes come from gas and oil, but an important source (not because of the amount of profits, but of the socio-economic fact) are the local stores in residential zones of cities and villages. Many of them are opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the average russian citizen this schedules are common, people are so used to this abnormal normality and it would be very strange if it didn't exist.

There is a huge variety of stores: from pharmacies and "larechki" (small stores with food, alcohol, cigarettes and more) to flower stores, car washes, underground casinos, saunas and more.

These small pavilions are a heritage of a post-soviet era, when people started to be allowed to have their own businesses. Some people got in the oil and gas business, some got their own factories, and others opened these stores. Since the fall of the soviet regime, the russians try to work better for themselves rather than for other people.

But at the same time, these stores may be a projection (wanted or not) of dream-government, where everything works round the clock, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and where people do everything they can, to save a little money. This is a dehumanizing perspective, where the right to rest is abolished by the people itself. The most frightening part, is that society doesn't realize this.

The present series of photographs should serve as a document of this part of the Russian daily life. The photographs were taken between 00 and 06 AM in a popular residential neighborhood of St. Petersburg during the spring-summer of 2011.