#WalkingTheLAwash

I invite you to listen to the voices of Anastasia and Mark.  Their words and my photos will give you a first look into my journey down the LA River. These first two chapters, which are still in progress, have taken me deep into the lives of others.  I’ve seen and learned so much. I give thanks to the people who have opened up and allowed me to witness their reality.

The LA River has been a source of life for people since the time of the Tongva, who built 45 villages near its shore. When the first Spaniards “discovered” the river, they gave it the name that would eventually be passed on to the city of Los Angeles.  Following the flood of 1938, practically the entire river was cemented over, fenced up, and turned into a forgotten wasteland, unused by the public. 

Now, eight decades later, a movement to turn the river back into a place where communities can celebrate nature, art, and outdoor activity has gained momentum. The plan to revitalize the river is being pushed by Eric Garcetti, the mayor of LA.  The world famous architect, Frank Gehry, has started plans to give the Los Angeles River a makeover. The project may cost the city billions of dollars.  But if it is successful, it will turn this desolate cement canal into an exciting green space that locals and tourists can enjoy for years to come. It intends to connect the communities of Los Angeles through bike paths, parks, and communal areas. 

There is a heated debate about whether gentrification, which is already happening in areas along the river, will ruin LA or change it for the better. Will it “white-wash” the neighborhoods lining the river, stripping them of their culture and sense of community? Or, will it bring thousands of jobs and help to wipe out the violence, drugs, and gang activity that have come to define many of the neighborhoods lining the great vein of LA?

 I’m going to walk the whole fifty-one miles. From Canoga Park, where the river begins, to Long Beach, where it empties into the sea, I will document neighborhoods like Compton, East LA, Frogtown and Studio City. The focus will not only be the river, but more importantly, the lives of people inhabiting the communities that surround it. The journey will celebrate the diversity of Los Angeles as well as explore themes of poverty, race, and social economic status in a time of change.

*Thanks to Karla Gachet (@kchete77) and Michelle Gachet (@mgachet) for editing this multimedia project. 

*follow the journey on Instagram: @ivankphoto

How "Al otro lado" came to be

"You're gonna get mugged, kidnapped or killed!" - This 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.

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.

I wanted to tell the story of people who were forced to flee from a conflict and live in oblivion. My strategy was to portray the banality of everyday life from a subjective point of view. These are images that do not show violence in a literal way but give the viewer the feeling that something is about to happen. These are images subject to interpretation and various readings, just like literary work. From the beginning it was clear that the project would be called “Al otro lado” (On the other side), since this is the way villagers here refer to their home, the other side of the river, Colombia.

I made three different trips to Puerto Nuevo and after the last visit I had about 6000 photographs. Editing down the work took a lot of time, effort, tears and sweat. More than a year later and with the help of Spanish editor Claudi Carreras, we managed to finish a tight edit that I believe tells a strong story. The book is divided in five chapters and each tackles a different aspect of the town: the village in daytime, the Escobar family (nothing to do with the famous Escobar), the children of the town, the Baldeón family and the town at night.

During my stay in Puerto Nuevo there were times I felt extremely bored because almost nothing happens during the day. For me, boredom was one of the most important creative engines I had there. I was so bored that I started taking pictures of objects found on the streets. I also asked people to show me their family albums and made pictures of the photos inside. During the editing process I decided to make facsimiles of these objects and include them as visual prologues to the chapters. Each prologue is deeply related to the theme of the following chapter.

After the editing stage, we started designing the book with the help of Brazilian designer Mariana Lara Resende. This process was really important since we wanted everything to make sense with the concept of the book: the pictures do not have white frames because we wanted the viewer to feel the pictures continue outside the boundaries of the book; the paper had to have a rough texture to resemble the concrete texture of the unfinished houses in Puerto Nuevo; the gray color had to do with the same issue; the bellyband had to resemble a plastic tablecloth that does not fit really well to the table and so on.

At the end I am really happy with the result and I believe this couldn’t be achieved without the help of Claudi Carreras, Mariana Lara Resende and the crew at Brazilian publishing house Editora Madalena, to whom I am very thankful.

“Al otro lado” was recently shortlisted as one of the 40 best author photobooks by the Rencontres de la Photographie Festival in Arles, France. Areview of the book can be found at the website of the Photographic Museum of Humanity.

If you would like to purchase the book you can find it in our Facebook store. If you are in Brazil you can find it in Livraria Madalena in Sao Paulo or Rio; in Argentina you can find it through Turma de Fotografía in Buenos Aires and in Ecuador you can get a copy at the Librería del Fondo, Librería Rayuela and Casa Mitómana.

Lastly, I leave you with some images of the exhibition at Quito's Contemporary Art Centre, curated by Anamaría Garzón, which will be open until August 28th.

Mis relaciones femeninas

Estas fotografías son un homenaje a lo femenino. Siguiendo un camino de encuentros con mujeres en diferentes escenarios de vida, termina con una ofrenda de fertilidad a la tierra.  En mi familia abundamos las mujeres de todas las edades. Entre todas nos influenciamos y curamos.  En mi profesión, he conocido y aprendido de muchas mujeres. Conocí a la mujer princesa, a la bruja, a la de tacos, a la aburrida, a la que tiene poder, a la de caderas anchas, a la mal hablada, a la tecno-cumbiera, etc. Son estas las mujeres con las que siempre busco alianzas, porque ellas son el eje y fortaleza de todo pueblo. Entrar a una situación ajena a la propia no es fácil. Ir a un lugar en el que no se conoce a nadie, no se habla el idioma, no se entienden códigos sociales y culturales es peligroso. Sin embargo, cuando se crean lazos de confianza entre dos mujeres nada es imposible. Ellas me han abierto puertas, han compartido sus vidas y sus secretos, y se han convertido en canales de comunicación. 

Agradezco por todas mis relaciones con ellas y pido siempre poder reconocer el poder de lo femenino. 

 

My female relationships

This photographs are a tribute to the feminine.  Following a path of encounters with women in all stages of life, it ends with an offering of fertility to the earth.  In my family, women of all ages are abundant. They all influence and heal each other. In my profession, I've shared experiences and learned from many women. I have met the princess and the witch, the one with high heels, the bored one, the one with power, the one with broad hips, the one with the dirty mouth, and the techno-cumbia dancer. It is them whom I always seek for alliances, because they are the axis and strength of every place. Entering realities different than your own is not easy. Going into a place where you don’t understand social codes and can’t even speak the language can be dangerous. However, when there is trust between two women nothing is impossible. Women have opened doors for me. They have shared their lives and their secrets, and have become communication channels. 

I give thanks for all my relationships with them and ask to always recognize the power of the feminine.

 

Interlude: The Time in Between

Karla and I just moved to California.  We have always lived between two worlds. Between the North and the South.  Between the Condor and the Eagle.  Shifting from one to the other is never easy.  Although the change can be exciting, the culture shock can give you a hard kick in the ass.  After twelve years in Quito, Ecuador, this jump has been extremely difficult, more so than we imagined.

Just after we made the leap, the Photographic Museum of Humanity asked Runa to take over their Instagram feed for a week.  Instead of posting photos from our archive, we decided to make an original and spontaneous series called “Interlude”.   Working with Misha, who is still based in Quito, we playfully documented the moments of our everyday life. We used this project as a type of creative visual therapy. It was a time to breathe in the “in between”, and create for the sake of creating.

 

Kawsay Ñampi: Exploring human life along the Manta - Manaus route.

Recently I embarked on a trip to explore human life along the future commerce route Manta-Manaos. This will be a multi-mode route that is supposed to compete with the Panama Canal connecting the Pacific port of Manta in Ecuador with the Brazilian port of Manaos located on the Amazon River.

Some feasability research has been done, always studying the financial and commercial part of the project. I thought that this could be a good excuse to study human life along this way. And for this I will use my preferred tool: photography.

Until December 2015 I will be documenting human life in the following cities: Manta, Quevedo, Latacunga, Tena, Shushufindi, Puerto Providencia, Puerto Nuevo Rocafuerte, Iquitos, Leticia, Tabatinga, Manaos and perhaps some other small towns along the way. This will be a roadtrip of around 2.500 Km that will allow me to explore South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and hopefully, towards the end of the journey, I will understand this region (my region) better.

In the next couple of weeks I will be posting my findings in this blog. But take into account, these are not end results, but the research process.

Welcome on board!

First stop: Manta

Manta is an Ecuadorian coastal city that hosts the second biggest port of the country. The port works almost exclusively for import, since there is no developed industry in the city that could fuel an export business. The city is also proud to be the "Tuna Capital of the World", a title well deserved since this sort of fish drives most of the economy here (although I wonder who gives a city such titles: UNESCO? UN? Selfproclaimed? If you know something, please let me know).

For this first post I will show some of the pictures I made on my first day in town (September 2nd, 2015). The images are in chronological order and there are already some interesting relationships between photographs.

This is the process, not the end result.

The Kawsay Ñampi project is one of the winners of the grant "Fondos Concursables" from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

 

Next stop: Quevedo.

Misha Vallejo

#ProjectMiBarrio

Recently, I decided to do a project.  I began documenting my neighbourhood using only my iPhone.

Warmi y Bloques  (Woman and Blocks)   ||  El Ojo del Consumismo  (The Eye ofConsumerism)

Warmi y Bloques  (Woman and Blocks)   ||  El Ojo del Consumismo  (The Eye ofConsumerism)

I’ve been living in Ecuador for about nine years now.  It’s been a wild ride with sky-high highs, rock-bottom lows and everything in between.  I’ve spent a large chunk of my life on the Equator.  During my time here, I’ve traveled throughout Ecuador and Latin America working on assignments and projects.  I’ve been hopping from country to country, assignment to assignment, always on the go.   And just when things started to slow, it was time to go back to California and visit family and friends. Home, in Ecuador, has been a place to rest, regroup, and prepare for the next journey.  I had never really stopped to examine how wonderfully funky my home was, until I moved to Rumihuaico.

Lavadora de Carros (Car Wash)   ||   La Selva de Asfalto (Concrete Jungle)

Lavadora de Carros (Car Wash)   ||   La Selva de Asfalto (Concrete Jungle)

Zapatos de Taco (High Heels)   ||   Listo para el Horno (Ready for the Oven)

Zapatos de Taco (High Heels)   ||   Listo para el Horno (Ready for the Oven)

#Rumihuaico, #Tumbaco and the surrounding #communities

Rumihuaico is a barrio near the city of Tumbaco, and ever too close to Quito.  It’s the kind of place where everyone says hello to their neighbour.  Walking down the street, you are transported to a far-off time, where little old ladies dry seeds on their patios, men drive by on old rusty tractors, and kids play outside into the night.  Just down the road is the city of Tumbaco.

Not too long ago, Tumbaco and the surrounding neighbourhoods were nothing more than vast farmland.  In recent years, there has been a mass migration from countryside to cities.  With this population shift, Quito has spilled over into the surrounding valleys.  What once were agricultural fields, are now parking lots and shopping malls.  Foreigners and wealthy Ecuadorians have begun buying large chunks of land and settling up in the hills.  Quito’s international airport has been moved down to this valley, leaving Tumbaco smack in between all the incoming flights and Quito.  This has heavily increased the traffic and has led to the construction of a super highway that will run through the area.

Despite the exponential growth and the rise of fast-food joints and global pop culture, parts of this area maintain the qualities of a small Ecuadorian pueblo.   Tumbaco and the surrounding areas are a perfect example of the old vs. new, chicha vs. diet coke, or cockfights vs. movie theatres.  It is a fusion of the old generation and the new generation, a chaotic mixture, which I am a part of.  I plan to document my daily journey through this rapidly changing area, and I’m going to do it all with my phone.

Vacaciones (Vacation)     ||    El Guerito (White Boy)

Vacaciones (Vacation)     ||    El Guerito (White Boy)

Comida Rapida (Fast food)    ||   Trabajando con los Padres (Working with the Parents)

Comida Rapida (Fast food)    ||   Trabajando con los Padres (Working with the Parents)

#iphoneonly

Why use my phone?  That’s a good question.  If I’m investing my time and taking this project seriously, why not use a camera with some major megapixels? I’m taking a chance and this is an experiment.   Less than a year ago, I had no idea what instagram was, and I would have laughed at the thought of using my phone for a project.  So, why use a phone now?

1)   I always have my phone.  Whether I’m walking to the local store to buy a beer or driving through the car wash, it’s in my pocket.   How many times have I seen a beautiful moment unfold before my eyes and thought, “Shit, my camera’s in the house”! That’s not a problem anymore.

2)   It’s less intrusive.  I already stand out here.  I’m about two feet taller than everyone else.  It doesn’t matter what I wear or if I learn the local slang…I’m still the “Gringo”.  It’s a lot easier to shoot with a phone without being noticed, especially when you’re doing street photography.

3)   It seems appropriate for this story.  If this is a story about the old vs. the new, a personal story about my place in this neighborhood, it seems like an interesting idea to use an iPhone.  That’s what this story is about, the shift. This includes rapidly changing technology and the digital revolution, which is happening all over the world, including  in #Rumihuaico.

4)   Mass Communication.  This is an amazing opportunity.  Because of my connection with National Geographic, I’ve been able to link people back to my instagram feed.  I now have 37 thousand people receiving this story on their phones.  @Natgeo has 2.4 million followers and @thephotosociety has 114 thousand.  Never before have I had the opportunity to share my work and my ideas with so many people! 

5)   It’s live.  People all around the world can watch this project as it develops and comment on it.  That’s cool.      

(There are plenty of reasons not use my phone for this project, but I’ll save that for another blog)

Una Moto en la Noche (A Motorcycle in the Night)     ||    Fumando Basuco: Smoking Cocaine Paste

Una Moto en la Noche (A Motorcycle in the Night)     ||    Fumando Basuco: Smoking Cocaine Paste

La Parada del Bus (Bus Stop)    ||    El Sendero (The Path)

La Parada del Bus (Bus Stop)    ||    El Sendero (The Path)

Thanks so much for checking out this post!

-If you have instagram on your phone, follow this project live @ivankphoto

-If you don’t have instagram, check it out online

-Runa now has its own instagram feed: @runa_photos

-check out runa on FB

This project is part of a collective project with Karla GachetMisha VallejoIvan Kashinsky, and other Ecuadorian photographers called “De Generación”.  Stay tuned as the projects develops!

 

About festivals, contests and grants

Warning: This post is written by a beginner professional photographer and many of the thoughts may be too subjective, inexperienced, inaccurate or even wrong. Reader discretion is advised.


This is probably the best epoch for photography: this craft has never been more democratic, the amount of (new) photographers is overwhelming, the quantity of photos produced everyday is astonishing and the quality is fairly good (not only because of faster cameras and lenses). So, what are the most important things to do while starting in the business of photography? You have to be good and get noticed.

I am not going to talk about the first point, I’d rather focus on the last one. In order to get noticed (by photo editors, curators, agencies, galleries) contacts in the field may be very handy, but the question remains, how to get them? As I see it, a powerful tool to start are the photography contests, festivals and fairs… BUT, there are just too many to choose from and nothing secures that if you enter a contest and then get chosen, you will have success and your photographic career will take off. In fact, the probabilities of being chosen in a contest AND successfully launching the career are pretty low and demand LOTS of work. But you lose nothing trying, right?

That is true, unless the contest has an entry fee and then you could lose both time and money… Nowadays there is an increasing market in photography contests and festivals, which is good in one hand. On the other, there are also lots of contests and festivals that exist only for business sake. So the dilemma for a cub photographer is whether to spend those last 35 Euros in our pocket on a thing that has lots of possibilities of not bringing any benefits, or investing that money in photographic materials or food (yeah, photographers also eat).

I am not sure if I want to create a big debate about this topic, but I want to illustrate recent experiences I’ve had in this field:
One of the contests to which I applied, replied saying that they did not choose me due to the big amount of entries they had this year, but encouraged me to participate in their next events. They said that they broke the record of submissions and had around 5000 applications. If we multiply that amount by 35 Euros (for the first 5 images submitted and 3 more Euros for each additional) we reach to an amount of nearly 200 000 Euros (or perhaps more). Sure, the contest has to pay judges, organizers, has to buy prizes, print images and catalogues, etc. But I am reluctant to think this will cost that much, bearing in mind that the contest also has sponsors. Another contest told me (I’m pretty sure it was their robot secretary) that they were “impressed by my work” but did not choose me. As means of keeping me interested they offered a 10% discount for their next contest. A contest in which I was selected last year, wrote me asking if they may use one of the selected pictures in a slideshow this year in a gallery opening in New York where lots of curators and editors are supposed to attend. I was excited, but they told me that if I agree, I had to pay $60 for 4 seconds of exposure in a slideshow next to hundreds of other images… Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, this might be a pretty good business, and I agree with that.

The capitalized market has taught us one thing: if you don’t risk, you don’t get any benefits. So, to what extent should a photography enthusiast (cannot name it professional because he’s not earning any money from it) risk it’s often limited wealth? It is my opinion that before risking any money, the enthusiast should get as much information from the organizers, judges and previous events as possible. And this is why I am writing this post: to share with you my knowledge about trustworthy contests and for you to contribute if you know something that I don’t know (or to tell me if you think I’m paranoid).

I would recommend applying for every free contest. That is if you have the time to prepare your entry for each individual one. I think there are as many formats to apply as there are contests, so this may be a really tedious and time-consuming work. I would also recommend applying to every major contest like the World Press Photo, the POYi or the POY Latam (if you’re from this part of the world) or the Sony World Photography Awards. It is true that the chance of winning is small, but nothing is impossible as shown by some of my close friends and colleagues. And finally, I would like to recommend these contests (feel free to add other contests or festivals in the comments bellow or in our Facebook page):

 

Anthropographia

 Human rights through visual story telling.

http://www.anthropographia.org

© Giovanni Cocco http://www.giovannicocco.it

© Giovanni Cocco http://www.giovannicocco.it

Athens Photo Festival

Two categories: Stills and Multimedia. Not attached to any particular theme. Deadline July 31st.

http://en.photofestival.gr/calls-2013/

© Jan Banning http://www.janbanning.com/

Bursa Photo Festival

Photojournalism. Sadly, due to the protests in Turkey, it is uncertain if the festival will take place this year.

http://www.bursaphotofest.org/

© Misha Vallejo http://mishaka.com/ 

© Misha Vallejo http://mishaka.com/ 

Delhi Photo Festival

Not attached to any theme. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/delhi_photo_festival_2013/home.html

© Alessio Momo http://www.alessiomamo.com/

Emerging Photographer Fund

Photojournalism prize awarded through the Magnum Foundation. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.burnmagazine.org/emerging-photographer-grant/

Foam Talent Call

For young contemporary photography. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.foam.org/foam-magazine/talent

© Alejandro Cartagena http://alejandrocartagena.com/

© Alejandro Cartagena http://alejandrocartagena.com/

Fotovisura Grant

Contemporary photography. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://grant.fotovisura.com/

© Misha Vallejo http://mishaka.com/ 

© Misha Vallejo http://mishaka.com/ 

Getty Images  Portrait Prize

A new grant from this large agency. I’m confident the results won’t disappoint. Deadline August 5th.

http://grants.gettyimages.com/

Leica Oskar Barnack Awards

For young contemporary photography. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.leica-oskar-barnack-award.com/en/#

© Evgenia Arbugaeva http://www.evgeniaarbugaeva.com/

© Evgenia Arbugaeva http://www.evgeniaarbugaeva.com/

Night Contact

Mainly for multimedia. Deadline 15th July.

http://www.nightcontact.co.uk/

Premio PHotoEspaña Ojo de Pez de Valores Humanos

Mainly photojournalism. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.ojodepez.org/

© Ohm Phanphiroj http://ohmphotography.com

© Ohm Phanphiroj http://ohmphotography.com

The Other Hundred

Photojournalism and portrait photography. This year’s entries are closed, but worth trying next year.

http://www.theotherhundred.com/

© Alejandro Reinoso http://www.alejoreinoso.com

© Alejandro Reinoso http://www.alejoreinoso.com

The Photographic Museum of Humanity

All kinds of photography. Each month new on-line exhibitions and highlighted photos.

http://www.photographicmuseum.com/

10PhotographicMuseumOfHumanity_CesarMorejon.jpg

Keep in touch for more monthly posts about photography and remember to follow us in Instagram @runa_photos and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RunaPhotos

If you know of any other contest, grant or festival that you trust, please write the link on the comments below or in our Facebook page.

Until next time!

Misha Vallejo

Sirens and booms

This will be one of the most difficult posts, but it won’t be about politics.

The first time I heard the sirens, I was with my mom discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict in her room. At the beginning we did not understand anything. It was as if there was this big and loud ambulance and it wouldn’t pass by… And then we heard the BOOM. For me, it was one of the loudest and scariest noises I’ve ever heard, and not because of the noise itself, but because of the effect it produced in my mothers face: a panic effect i’ve never seen in her.

We went running out of the appartment, and on the stairs we found our neighbours already standing there with their faces also marked by surprise and fear. The imaginary “no-conflict-bubble” surrounding Tel Aviv was gone.

In the following days, life in the city continued: children went to school and adults to their jobs. But you could feel the tension and fear in the air, especially during the sirens and booms.

Yesterday, after the explosion of a bus due to a terrorist attack, I went for a walk through the city. The tension was higher than ever. People were always on their phones, whether reading the news or trying to reach for the loved ones.

I thought that this should be a good time to inspect local bomb shelters, just in case.

Gladly, a ceasefire was reached at the evening and life is getting back to normal. Yeah, there are still some jets and helicopters flying around the city. And yeah, I still get scared with any loud noise. But I hope it will pass and peace will last… although there won’t be a bubble anymore.

I hope that next time I’ll post about something more positive.

Misha Vallejo

Sancho: The little jeep that could

Yesterday we traded you in for another.
 

You will always be remembered as the jeep that took us to the end of the world… and back.

sancho.02.jpg

Nobody thought you’d make it. You climbed the Andes of Peru in search of the Condor Gods. You choked on the dust of the Altiplano, resuscitated by a helpful and knowledgeable Bolivian man. You swam through the fingers of the Napo River and crossed the driest desert in the world. You battled the endless wind of the Patagonian roads and triumphantly crossed the Straight of Magellan. There we sat in the Land of Fire, peering out of your fogged-up windows, watching snowflakes fall from the sky. Together we smiled. We were half way through the longest journey of our life.

When there were no hotels, we rested our sleepy heads below your red roof. If we needed a better vantage point, we climbed up on your back feeling your metal indent below our dirty shoes.

You where there for us. With all our belongings inside you and more strapped on top, you were our faithful companion. For that we are in debt to you.

And now we’ve traded you for power steering and automatic windows. We’ve traded you for cushy seats and a bump’n sound system. Sancho, you must forgive us.
Believe us when we say, “Sancho, you will NOT be forgotten”.

Until next time,
Ivan Kashinsky

Yachacs

“We photographers are changing the World. Be sure that whenever you grab a camera something interesting will happen”. That’s what I heard Russian photographer Aleksandr Belenkiy say at the end of a workshop. He couldn’t be more right.

It all started when I decided to do a story about Ecuadorian shamans but had no contacts whatsoever. So I followed Belenkiy’s advice. I grabbed my camera and travelled to Iluman without knowing what would happen. In this small town, next to the famous city of Otavalo, in the northern highlands of Ecuador, lives a population of about 7000. Around 300 of them belong to the local “Association of Yachacs” (Yachacs means healers in the indigenous language, Kichwa).

I arrived in Iluman and began to walk around, trying to find some Yachac that would let me photograph him. I was a bit lost and confused until Diego introduced himself and asked if I needed any help. That’s how he became my guide in this town and showed me where the most famous Yachacs lived.

The rest is history. I knocked on many doors but nobody would let me in. Some Yachacs told me that it was not possible because my presence would disturb their sacred rituals. Others just wanted my money. Finally I found Luz Maria Otavalo, a 60 year old indigenous Yachac, who agreed to let me photograph her. So I visited her during 8 months and this is what came out:

This is my first solo multimedia project, so please feel free to comment, critic and share. You can follow us on our Runa FB page: https://www.facebook.com/RunaPhotos.

Till next time.

Misha Vallejo

From La Clementina to La Mama Grande

During the last blue moon in August, fifteen foot flames ate up our home.  What is left of the hundred-year-old hacienda house named La Clementina, still sits on the edge of the Cañón del Chiche. At the bottom of it, the river with the same name snakes through muscular Andean mountains. Two months after the fire, I finally find the courage to write about it, my heart beating at the level of my throat.

I miss it. I probably always will.

The natives of America call it grandfather fire, because it’s wise and older than humanity itself.  The grandfather filled up its lungs with air and decided to ignite with one blazing blow all of our physical memories. In twenty minutes, it all turned to dust. Years of collecting masks, cups, heart shaped rocks, postcards, spears, sea shells, journals, drawings, movies, magnets, poison darts, feathers, ponchos, blow guns, photo books, coins, skulls, dead insects, saints, devils, photos…  I guess we liked collecting. All of a sudden, you become clean of everything. You feel like you were given a blank canvas, like a new born baby. And you feel sad and glad.

You would think the worse part about the fire was losing your “stuff.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t. There was deeper damage that went beyond what is replaceable with a trip to the mall. It started creeping on us slowly.  We ignored it and went on with life. We found a new home, bought new clothes and logged into our facebook accounts. But it just wasn’t the same. We were pissed and depressed. To the point of wanting to scream, escape, break up, or sleep… just sleep.  I lost a lot of my archive.. so I didn’t feel like shooting.. ever. We were living inside a dark, burnt-down dimension. The foundations of our relationship had been shaken. And we didn’t feel like asking for help, we just mourned in silence.

Recently, I went to La Clementina to visit my ex neighbors who have become like family to us. The house was clean of all our stuff, no debris, just house again. I walked through all the familiar rooms trying to find our smell. It wasn’t there anymore. Just cold empty rooms. There was a huge hole were our bed had been. The wind sang to me of old times that were no more. As the night fell, we built our own fire in the garden and sat under the avatar-looking tree. I looked across the garden at the dark and silent house. Through the broken windows you could see the ghosts of all times sliding from one room to another. I decided I didn’t want to live inside the burnt house with them anymore. I asked the moon for clarity.

I feel like I can finally move forward. Our new home was named after a grandmother, La Mama Grande. Its small and cozy and reminds me of a womb. Its a good place to heal and with it new neighbors have come and the bonds are getting strong. Our cats are finally home with us again (they went wild and almost left us for the canyon) and they seem peacefully content in their space. Today we leave to shoot a story we have been working on for some time. It feels good. A day at a time as they say. Good thing your house only burns down once in a blue moon.

Text by Karla Gachet, photographs by Ivan Kashinsky.