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.

Wealthy Roma: The outs

We arrived in Buzescu in the morning.  We had no translator and communication was difficult, if not impossible.  After walking the streets we found a man who spoke a few words of English and he invited us onto his patio.  After several shots of palinka, the local alcohol, we popped the question: “you think it would be possible to stay here for a few weeks and document the lives of the Roma in Buzescu?  We were firmly discouraged and sent on our way.  A few hours later we woke up on a bench on the main strip… finally the palinka had worn off.  What now?  On the verge of defeat we wondered the backstreets.  “De donde son?”  Ramona yelled at us.  It turned out, a lot of the Roma had migrated to Spain to work and then had come back.  Spanish was our way in…

Shampi came to the door and started calling my name one day. She told me her brother-in-law had died and the family needed someone to photograph the funeral. At the house, the wife of the deseased cried in a room with his mother and sisters. Their three-year-old daughter played in the patio in a bright pink dress.  Florea Radu, 29, was electrocuted while stripping copper from power lines in Spain. The father dialed the airport’s number with shaky hands. They said perhaps the next day the body would arrive. Early the following morning, the women prepared food for the whole town.  Everyone came to cry.  As the day advanced, so did the expectations of the arriving casket. At night, when it was confirmed Florea’s body was only a few minutes away, everyone came out to the street to welcome him home with a chorus of wails and screams. The intensity was surreal, like a wave of sorrow drenching everyone and everything . I stood paralyzed as the car’s lights blinded all of us. Down came Florea, the cries and shouts reached their crescendo. The men washed and dressed the body behind closed doors. “Bring the photographers in,” someone shouted. We were pushed inside the room where Florea lay in a white suit and shiny black shoes surrounded by a crowd.  Everyone wanted a last photo. The next day, hundreds paraded him down the main strip.  At the cemetery, everyone visited separate tombs, crying for their own dead.

Arranged marriages were common in Buzescu.  By the age of 13, Casi was living with Sammy and his parents (in photo with yellow background).  She cooked and cleaned and when Sammy clapped his hands she was down on her knees cutting his toenails and putting on his socks.  By the age of 17, many of the young Roma men had wives and babies and were preparing to move into their own mansions.  Education was not valued and most dropped out of school early, learning how to make their own fortunes under the guidance of their parents and peers.  As the couples aged, many of the women looked after their children while the men worked in other parts of Romania and beyond.  But during holidays and special celebrations, the abandoned town came back to life as families and friends reunited.

In Buzescu, everyone knows everyone else’s business. The women are not to be seen with other men once they get married, although men can do as they please.  Most women understand the importance of being married in such a conservative society.  Mioara quickly became my friend, she was our next door neighbor.  Having come back from Spain, she found herself an old maid (she was 28) in a town were it’s not well seen for women to hold a job.  An older couple approached her and asked if she would marry their son who was then waiting for a sentence in prison. Mioara accepted at once, left her own family and went to live with them to wait for his return.  The engaged couple had talked on the phone and sent some cell phone pics back and forth.  It occurred to Mioara that she had a job for me. She wanted  a series of portraits that she could send to him in jail. And so the photo shoot started. She liked to dress up in fancy clothes and play with her hair color. We had fun. A year later, when we returned to finish the story, she told me her husband had finally received his sentence: 10 years.

We would like to thank Ramona and her aunt Dida for giving us a home in a place where no one else would. You were key in our understanding of the Roma culture and the characters of Buzescu.

We had fun editing the outs!  Please check out the story on the National Geographic website and in the SEPT issue of Nat Geo and visit Runa on FB


Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky.

First impressions

After more than a day spent between airports and planes (including an 8 hour scale in Amsterdam’s airport), I finally arrived to the place that will be my home for the next year (at least) – Israel.

I’m still a bit lost here: my senses perceive a huge amount of information and I’m trying to organize them but it’s complicated. I’m not going to lie: these last days were really difficult for me because of personal reasons and the images I chose may have a lot to do with it.

Trying to leave problems behind I started exploring the surroundings of Tel Aviv.

Wen’t to the beach, got a bit of a sun burn and made a friend.

Also went to Jerusalem and visited a market there.

People here say that there, where Jerusalem ends, starts Bethlehem. So I decided to take a look at Palestine.

Also had the opportunity to see the desert.

And finally went home and met my mother.

These are just my first subjective impressions, and are NOT intended to be a serious project right now. George Tice once said, “you can only see what you are ready to see – what mirrors your mind at that particular time” and, as you could notice, my mind is blurred right now .

One last thing, if you’re interested in photography and currently live in Israel feel free to contact me. There is a phrase I really like: “artists should get together, it helps them getting inspiration and force to do interesting projects”. And I’m sure it works with photographers, too.

Till next time!

Misha Vallejo.

Graffiti en vivo

Venders called out prices for calamari, clams, and fresh fish, as locals scoped out the selection in the old port district of Valparaiso, Chile.  This is what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years.  Like a play, they acted out their daily rituals in the alleyways of the city.  But in recent years, their backdrop has changed.  Larger than life psychedelic graffiti covered the walls of Valpo creating an unlikely combination of old-school porteños playing out their daily life amongst unending vibrant street art.

“You walk down the street and you see graffiti you respect, and you think, wow, it’s not in a magazine or on the Internet.  It’s Live!”, Teo explained with excitement.  He’s a young graffiti artist with an appetite to create.  “When you see a blank wall it’s like a bomb in your eye.  The wall falls in love with you, you have to fall in love the wall, the wall seduces you.”  When Teo, who paints with the collective “Vida In Gravita”, finds his spot, it doesn’t matter if he has time to sleep or eat.  He gives it his all until he has a powerful piece to present to the world.  But Teo doesn’t want fame.  “Fame is instantaneous.  It’s a false friend.  I don’t want to fall into an egocentric game or have my work in art galleries”, he insisted.   The beautiful thing about street art is that it belongs to no one.  It’s not a possession hidden in house or museum, but an organic growth spreading throughout the city, for all eyes to see.

Valparaiso was known as the “Jewel of the Pacific”, an important stop for ships on their long journey around cape horn, booming in the years of the California gold rush.  But when Roosevelt finally carved his way through Panama and connected the two great oceans, Valpo, was no longer needed.  It fell into a deep sleep, a forgotten port, decaying into the Pacific.  In recent years it has made a come back.  It was named a UNESCO World Hertiage Site in 2003 and tourists flock to the port for its raw unpolished atmosphere and bohemian lifestyle.  Along with the recent boom, graffiti art has leaped out of the minds of the young like an untamed tiger, devouring the city walls.

According to “Charquipunk”, one of the first artists to begin the movement in Valpo, it all began in 2000.  Artists from Santiago began experimenting in the hills of the port. It is a sprayers paradise, with infinite alleys, stairways, and slopes, allowing viewers to see the art from many different viewpoints, as opposed to a flat city.  Soon local artists, like “Inti”,  “Larobotdemadera”, and “Caos”, began to jump in the game and create art that was different, not strictly hip-hop letters, but something new.  As the art took over, and the city became a legend, artists from all over the world began to show up to leave their mark in Valparaiso.

Many of the locals have embraced this movement.  “The people want to know me, as a person, as an artist,” Teo told me with joy.  “They say, ‘hey, come paint my house.’ It’s magic.  There’s no place like it.”  The fisherman selling in the old port had a different opinion.  To them the graffiti on the wall stank like a rotten fish.  “It’s illegal,” they told me, “these people should be put in jail.”  But as sure as the fishermen will gather in the alley every morning, graffiti artists will continues painting the cityscape of Valparaiso.

Check out more pics on Panos

Thanks for checking out the post,

Ivan Kashinsky


Russia's foreign students

I went to Russia in 2004 to pursue my university studies. My intended field was in computer aided design, but soon I discovered my true passion: photography. I became more involved in photography and photojournalism after attending the Festival for Young Photojournalists in Hanover, Germany. After viewing such strong stories at the festival, I felt the need to grab a camera and record everything around me. So that’s how I started.

When I went back to Russia, I enrolled in the St. Petersburg Faculty of Photojournalism Galperin, and for my first ever serious project I chose to record what was around me – my life as a foreign student in Russia. This turned out to be the final project for my first year of photojournalism studies, but I couldn’t stop even after completing the assignment. I kept taking pictures of myself, my fellow foreign friends and other unknown foreign students. I kept pursuing this project until my final year in St. Petersburg.

While working on this project, I discovered a wonderful organization, the documentary photography network Liberty.SU, that helped me put together a small multimedia presentation with photographs and interviews depicting life in Russia as a foreigner. I’d like to give special thanks to Katya Bogachevskaya for her help. You can see the video that came out of this collaboration here (remember to set the english captions by pressing the “CC” button).

Three years after starting this project, I started editing my work, which wasn’t an easy task due to the amount of pictures and my close relationship with each of them. To begin my story I chose to put a photograph that would represent the whole scope of the idea: a grid of Russian student IDs with foreign faces on them.


During the story, I decided to play with a bit of contrasts:

warmth – cold.

Violence – love.

Sometimes, I felt the necessity of including more abstract photographs which show my state of mind at that moment. The purpose was not to be more artistic, I simply wanted to show what was going on my head, my thoughts and how I felt right then, since this was a personal story.

This was my first photojournalistic story ever, and I know it may have some mistakes, as I was not able to always “kill my darlings” (as photographer Pieter Ten Hoopen once said), but I think it’s a decent beginning in the visual storytelling business.

Part of this project was included in the collective show “The young man in the XXI century” (Riga, Latvia – 2010) and in “Young photographers of Russia” (Moscow, Russia – 2010).

In Ecuador, it was published in the Vanguardia magazine in October, 2011.

And finally, in Russia it was published in the on-line edition of the Moscow based journal Bolshoi Gorod in May, 2012.