Visiting exotic places as a photographer can sometimes pose challenges for their non-photographer accomplices. For example, a photographer's backpack is always going to be a few pounds heavier. Walking through a market, or down any interesting street for that matter will take double the amount of time than it should. And I know you're hungry, but dinner will have to wait until after sunset is captured.
I've always been aware that these habits probably get on the nerves of anyone who has been on a trip with me, but the hard-copy memories are always worth it. When I heard about Photographers Without Borders -- an opportunity to travel with other photographers while using our talents for good -- I knew this was something I had to pursue.
The journey took me to Pistishi, Ecuador. It's a small community that was once the third poorest in the country. Recently, the government opened a train station close to the community giving the village an opportunity to attract tourists and create jobs. I travelled with two other photographers and our mission was to capture images and video that the village could use as tourism material. I couldn't imagine a more perfect way to travel and experience a country.
I was greeted in Pistishi by a young boy proudly showing me a beetle the size of my hand. This wasn't your average volunteer experience. The village wasn't equipped to host volunteers, we would truly be living within the community for the next couple of weeks. It was an incredible feeling knowing that I wasn't just taking photos for myself, but photos that would hopefully convey the beauty that surrounds these wonderful people and the village and help them in the long run.
Travelling with photographers can sometimes result in very ridiculous conversations like this one:
"I love laundry."
"Me too. My favourite laundry shot was in Naples."
"Mine was in Ghana."
"I love when laundry is backlit."
Aside from being excused from having nerdy conversations about dirty clothes, there are a few other benefits that come with travelling alongside two talented photographers. The three of us had distinctly different styles. My photos have never been technically perfect, but more so focused on capturing a moment or a feeling. I was in awe of the equipment the other photographers used and their abundance of knowledge.
If it wasn't for them suggesting we wake up at the crack of dawn to take landscape photos before the fog rolled in, I wouldn't have taken some of my favourite shots. I was inspired by their talent and drive the entire time we worked together, and I think in turn that made me a little better at my craft.
The time was well spent getting to know the people in the village, eating delicious fresh food and playing with the school kids. The process of capturing Pistishi left me with beautiful memories. One day when visiting the kindergarten class, I managed to line up a few kids against a wall basically communicating in charades and broken Spanish that I was taking their photo. They took my instructions very well. So well, in fact, that as I crouched down to take the photo at eye level they all crouched down with me thinking this was still all a part of the instruction. That photo did the trick anyway.
Towards the end of the trip my camera was filthy, my legs were covered in bed bug(?) bites and my arm injury was throbbing. (I may or may not have fallen off a horse and into a barbwire fence.) I had reached a little bit of what one of the other photographers calls a 'cultural dip' and was ready to explore a bit more of the country before heading back to Canada.
As we got on the bus I felt a bit of relief and comfort knowing I was heading to a new destination and a clean bed. We got on the highway and my eyes wandered from unfamiliar face to unfamiliar face, but there was a family that caught my eye. A mother, father and small girl sat together excitedly looking out the window.
The father had his wife and child wrapped up in a magenta blanket with a lovely Ecuadorian pattern spread across it. You could tell they were very poor, but they seemed so happy to be on this bus. I started making up stories in my mind about where they were going and why they were so happy. Perhaps they were visiting family they hadn't seen in a while, or maybe seeing Cuenca was a special trip.
I couldn't take my eyes off of them. I was mesmerized by how much love was present in that moment and between the family members cuddling up. It was a familiar feeling because it was the same type of interaction that resonated within the village of Pistishi. This was the first time in a while I observed a moment without capturing it. But I realized that although I was leaving the village, the love received from the people of Pistishi will remain with me for a long time.