WILL BYERS | Photography | Portland, Maine

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Will Byers is a photographer and writer based in Portland, Maine. Here is a growing record of as many far-flung things as he can manage to put accurately and articulately. Music videos. Sweet links.

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Gaining Recognition

Building the CV

I'm happy to share that I was selected to be one of 55 photographers featured in Bloom Publishing's upcoming book, OPEN.

The photo they chose is from my Cementerio de la Chacarita series, and is possibly one of the best images, if not luckiest, I have ever created.

I've told the larger story about Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires, but it is such an interesting place that each photo offers its own story. This is especially true with the photo chosen for OPEN.

Chacarita Cemetery is sprawling, with many sections, eras and styles to explore. In the heart of it all there is a chapel and a space for funerals to gather.

I approached the area looking for a restroom, having wandered the grounds for a couple of hours. It was hot, so I circled the shady edges of the buildings and peeked into open doorways.

The first large room I looked into was empty except for a pedestal awaiting a coffin, and a priest. I could see through the to the other side, and heard a funeral party gathering nearby.

I sensed the need to be even more delicate, and unobtrusive. It is one thing to peacefully stroll through resting places with a camera - it's altogether different when a family is laying someone to rest. 

So I continued down the back side of the building, retaining my invisibility. At a well-shaded inner corner, I saw a doorway into a chapel. The space seemed cool and airy, despite the bright and forceful summer day.

Door #1

I approached softly to look in, thinking the space might have a photo or two waiting. One step in, maybe two, I paused when I noticed the seated clergyman. I realized that he must be waiting to perform his duties, and was messaging someone, or browsing the internet, with his down time. 

My camera was up in a heartbeat - I didn't move from the spot, centered on the massive candle stand, and zoomed in enough to still include its full height. Occasionally I get the feeling that a photo is nearly perfect as soon as I capture it, and that was the case here. I quickly snapped the frame a couple of times to ensure that one would be appropriately in focus, and then backed away from the chapel.

What Does It All Really Mean?

The clergyman stood up not long after. I had chanced upon a rare moment, surrounded by aesthetically appealing elements that were both commonplace and surreal. The holy man pecking away at a ubiquitous, modern device, kept company by "plugged-in" objects such as the facsimile of a flame, created an image that many rightfully find ridiculous, while others may find it more profound.

I don't hold the same contempt for all of organized religion in the way that many do today, though I understand where the contempt originates from. There's a lot of beauty in it. Personally, I substitute cheekiness for the cynicism some feel about this image. The image resonates with me in a way that brings happiness and contemplation. A faceless clergyman prone to the same boredom and frivolity as any other human - are they texting God? Or swiping right on Tinder?

Depending on one's perception of religion, or connection to spirituality, this image can evoke cynicism or humility. The cynics aren't wrong. We often put too much faith in our intermediaries - the leaders with comforting answers. At the same time, we are all simply and incredibly human, seeking a route to communicate with what is real and true. Are we ornate, well-crafted implements at the receiving end of a power cord, drawing energy from the universe to recreate the elements of reality that bring us comfort?

Am I reaching? Doesn't matter. It's a damn good photo anyway.



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Diana, Holga, and LOMO: Lo-Fi Toy Cameras

Cheap, Classic Film Cameras and Their Experimental Appeal

If you dig the retro, grainy, saturated look of the hipstamatic photo app for smart phones, you may be interested in the world of inexpensive, plastic medium-format film lo-fi cameras like the Holga or Diana F+. As well, photographers who want to loosen up creatively, or experiment with film might enjoy working with these lightweight, basic cameras. I obtained a Diana F+, and have enjoyed shooting some rolls of Kodak Portra 120 film around Portland, Maine.

Here's a brief run-down of some available toy cameras, and the emergence of lomography as a community and aesthetic.

LOMO & Lomography

LOMO LC-A shot by unknown LOMO enthusiast.

As I understand it, the LOMO LC-A started it all, and brought it all back. It's a Russian camera that some Austrians revived in the early nineties. They formed the Lomographic Society International, known broadly as Lomography. In their own words:

"Lomography is a globally-active organization dedicated to analogue, experimental and creative photography. With millions of followers and friends across the world, the concept of Lomography encompasses an interactive, vivid and sometimes even blurred and crazy way of life. Through our constantly expanding collection of innovative cameras, instant products, films, lenses & photographic accessories, we promote photography as an inventive approach to communicate, absorb and capture the world."

Holga

A Holga shot by Marky Ramone Go.

The Holga is the first toy camera I ever heard of. Despite sounding like a Scandinavian creation, the Holga was from China. Created by Lee Ting-mo in Hong Kong in 1981, it is largely responsible for the global swell of toy camera enthusiasts. The factory closed in 2015, and that is that. Luckily there are thousands to be found for sale, after its boom in the 2000s.

Diana

The Diana was also created in China, during the 1960s, and is now known as the Diana F+. Dianas are a little more pricey than Holgas, but they are lighter and smaller.

I own a Diana, and am very pleased with the balance it offers. Its photos have the lo-fi, bright appeal, but are often crisp and rich. The focus and colors are a little more accurate than with the Holga, but the corners are vignetted in the same manner.

It's a system camera that came with a flash, but I haven't used it. As with other toy cameras, it's all too easy to experiment with double-exposures — most of mine are accidental from forgetting to advance the frame. It’s my habit to not wind it, because of how I toss it in a backpack often, where it could fire).

It's possible to load film two different ways with a removable template. One results in 12 large square frames, the other produces 16 smaller square frames. I have yet to shoot a roll in the smaller 16 frame format.

 My gallery of successful Diana shots is below:

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A Nahuel Huapi Boat Tour

A Beautiful Ride to Isla Victoria and the Bosque de Arrayanes

There are many guided tours around Bariloche, but if I had to choose just one, I'd go for the boat ride on Nahuel Huapí aboard Cau Cau catamaran tour. Well-priced with a terrific blend of sights and enjoyment, the Cau Cau tour to Isla Victoria and the Bosque de Arrayane is an easy choice.

With this blog I'd like to give an overview of the day, and share a few photos that I'm happy with. It's early fall here in southern Argentina, and there have been more wet and cold days lately, but we lucked out with tranquil, warm weather.

Going out on the water anywhere, though, even in summer, can be colder than expected, so bring a layer. There is plenty of comfortable seating inside the cabin, if you prefer, and you can even spend a little more for the upstairs dining room experience. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

Catch bus 20 out to Llao Llao peninsula, and get off at the last stop. There, across from the Llao Llao Hotel, is Puerto Pañuelo - port of call for several boat tours. We boarded the catamaran Cau Cau, and shortly after were on our way.

The tour begins like an airplane flight: everyone seated, receiving instructions. It began to feel like a long time to be seated listening to a crew member going over relevant information (if not overly informative), but all of a sudden: freedom!

I'll admit that I didn't understand a lot of what was being said by the crew member, so it was a surprise to me that feeding seagulls from the deck is part of the trip. A significant part of the trip.

At first I wondered how so many people came prepared with crackers, but then I realized that there were a couple of crew members roving with cameras and snapping souvenirs photos that would be seen later. The birds and the crew knew exactly what to do - it was impressive to watch the whole operation. It did, however, make the top deck area very crowded and difficult to savor. For more space, stay on the main deck where you can walk entirely around the boat with relative ease.

As I mentioned, there's ample space inside to hang out. There are big windows, AC, bathrooms, a commissary, and a few tables even. Before long, though, the boat neared the Bosque de Arrayanes near mainland Villa Angostura, and the herd moved onto land.

The forest has a boardwalk through it, with a short route and a slightly longer route. It's safe for all ages and physical capabilities. Zoë's broken foot was still healing, but even with her limited walking endurance she had an enjoyable time.

Arrayanes are a beautiful protected species of myrtle native to Chile and Argentina that can live hundreds of years. Often slender and wavy, they grow in a variety of shades of orange/red/yellow and have smooth bark. It apparently bears fruit, and its flowers can produce a nice honey. Indigenous Mapuche had medicinal uses for the tree, too.

Some of the crew came along to provide information about the forest, and there was a friendly English-speaking guide who offered his services. There isn't much time allotted for the Bosque - enough for a walkthrough, and a few photos. They began blasting the Cau Cau's horn to keep everyone moving when time was up. Cau Cau then headed for Puerto Anchorena on Isla Victoria.

Your blood sugar might be dipping at that point in the day, and if you forget snacks there is a commissary that serves anything from candy bars to a jamon crudo sandwich. I wasn't overly impressed with the coffee, and wished that I was as smart as all the Argentineans who came prepared with their thermoses and mate gourds!

Isla Victoria is gorgeous. The boat arrives in a protected cove, and as you disembark, perhaps you will meet Sergio. Sergio has badass muttonchops. There's more time to explore Isla Victoria than the Bosque, and your options are a short trail loop, or a visit to nearby Playa del Toro down another nice trail.

On the way to Playa del Toro you will see cave paintings left by Mapuche inhabitants of the island. The region around Bariloche is steeped in Mapuche history. The name Nahuel Huapí originally referred specifically to Isla Victoria, meaning "island of the jaguar." No jaguars survive in the area however. If you're lucky you might spot a pudú, the world's smallest deer.

I turned around when I got to the sunny beach and had enough time to do both trails. There's a settled area of the other hike with some buildings and a pear tree. I didn't stop long enough to investigate what they were, and returned to the trail underneath sequoias and coihues. I also spotted a small cluster of Arrayanes that had an even more vibrant orange/red hue than those in the Bosque. The little I glimpsed of Isla Victoria showed me that it's an inspiring, bio-diverse, magical place.

As the afternoon light faded, we came back to the boat to return to Llao Llao. I felt content with the tour experience even though it seemed to fly by. Zoë and I have never been drawn to guided travel experiences, and being ushered around, but we felt comfortable with the ebb and flow of the day. It was nice, and genuine.

The crew wrapped up with a speech about conservation, and our place in the universe, so that was cool, too. By the time we were close to Puerto Pañuelo the sun had gone behind the mountains and was filtering through. It made for a good last photograph that I went top deck to get. It was a lot calmer up there at that point.

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A Blind Sea Dog in Portland, Maine

Loretta and the Fishmonger

When I first moved to Portland, Maine in January 2014, I found part-time work on the Maine Wharf with the fishmonger George Parr and Upstream Trucking. George and his crew are a small outfit that deliver seafood to around a dozen of the most prestigious restaurants in town. Down on the waterfront, the spoils went to Loretta, a blind harbor seal, or sea dog, who always found her way back to our wharf for snacks.

Graceful and patient, Loretta would always find her snack before it drifted down too far. Usually George, his son Jimmy, the mountain Josh, or the butcher Niles would save leftovers of Arctic char for her - first hollering to get her attention, then flinging the fish rack to the water.

I grew up in the mountains down south, and the whole experience of working on the wharf with salty, hilarious characters, and delivering to bustling kitchens during winter in a hardscrabble old city like Portland was a vivid time. Loretta was a fascinating addition - she made everything special, and completes the memory in my mind's eye.

Too broke to buy a real camera, I photographed her with my iPhone 4. She was both a regular fixture, and a disappearing act, at times. We'd wonder how she'd go anywhere with purpose, lacking sight, and then make it back. She did, though, for several years.

I started working with ReVision Energy by February 2015, and haven't visited the crew much since. I heard she'd disappeared again for a long time, presumably forever.


bluefin-tuna-tail-upstream-trucking-portland-maine-wharf.jpg
upstream-trucking-portland-maine-fishmonger.jpg

Around that time I made friends with Kazeem Lawal, proprietor of Portland Trading Co., and I would stop by his store to enjoy his music taste and ever-changing selection of impeccable wares. I couldn't afford much in his store at the time, but Kazeem never minds visitors. He enjoys conversation, and one day was telling me about his idea to create a documentary series of Portland's "unsung" citizens.

I was quick to share my knowledge of George and Loretta. The story of an authentic fishmonger on the Portland waterfront who had a loyal, blind sea dog captivated Kazeem, so I said I'd make the necessary introductions (he didn't mind - he's been interviewed before).

I still visit with Kazeem from time to time, but never caught up with him about how the project went. He's busier than ever with his store, and travels regularly to seek new and different wares, but it turns out, the project got made - the first chapter, at least. Working with filmmaker Sam Brosnan, Kazeem interviewed George not long after I suggested his story, and the video they produced is very good - though Loretta isn't featured.

When I get home, I want to talk to Kazeem about his project again, to see if he wants to do more, and maybe take on another cook in the kitchen.

As for George, I should visit him too. His partner Dana Street (restaurant dynamo of Portland), has finally opened Scales. It's on the same wharf as Upstream and Bangs Island Mussels, where Three Sons Fishing used to be, and there may even be an Upstream retail space now. I'm still grateful for the all the fish guts, scallop sorting, and sub-zero boat work that keep me gainfully employed on the Maine Wharf when I was starting out in town.

Working on that wharf shaped my experience in Portland in ways I still notice, though my life has evolved beyond the circumstances of the 2014.

 

Long live Loretta!

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Argentina's Ford Falcon: A Truly Durable Car

Shooting the Classics

This dive into Argentina's history began when I magnified my photograph of an unfamiliar classic car, and discovered what was surely a missing Ford emblem.

Playa Centenario, Bariloche, 2018.

I took a lot of photographs of classic cars while in Argentina in 2017, and I'm back at it again. The above photograph is a recent example, and the catalyst of this story. Argentina's Ford Falcon had been right under my nose.

I shoot classic cars in the States, too, but there are just so many more still on the road in Argentina. I prefer photographing cars that aren't showpieces, or that are at least in an "everyday" setting - like this spiffy Comet in West Asheville (a spin-off, it turns out).

Unlike our classic car culture, which in many cases revolves around polishing them up for a Sunday drive, Argentina is still getting a lot of use out of their relics.

At first many of the foreign models here were new to my eyes. I would know whether something was an Audi, Chevy, Fiat, or Peugeot, but I didn't go the extra step to look up the models and their potential year of manufacture. This year I decided to pay closer attention.

An Inanimate Living Fossil

So there I was in my photo-editing cave, zooming in on the grille of this yellow classic, thinking surely it was a European staple. Instead, the oval I saw, though blank, could only be the Ford Motor Company emblem, I realized.

I was a little confused, because in its body I saw the elegance of 1960s design, but its headlights belied the economy of the1980s. Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of many cars from the 80s, especially from the Ford lineup - but I really liked this car.

After several minutes of research it became clear. This was a Ford Falcon, circa 1980. Furthermore, the American Falcon didn't continue until 1980. It barely made it to 1970. This was proving to be a wholly Argentine incarnation, born from American design.

Born in the U.S.A.

But whence in America didst the Falcon cometh? Sorry - How the heck did the Falcon come to be? Before he was the controversial Secretary of Defense from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Robert McNamara was with the Ford Motor Company. The Falcon hatched from his mind in Detroit during the late 1950s.

A notorious number-cruncher, he pondered saving costs by designing a smaller car. He thought that people might prefer a more nimble wheelbase, as well.

The Ford Falcon made its debut in 1959 and was offered as an inexpensive alternative, both to purchase and operate, to the full-sized cars in the Ford lineup.

The inexpensive family car had its critics, but it was very successful against early "compact car" competitors. The Falcon wouldn't just put Ford ahead of their competition - its simple platform went on to inspire the Mustang, probably the most important car ever made by Ford.

Robert S. McNamara was made president of Ford Motor Company on November 9, 1960, the day John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon to the White House. Barely eight weeks later, on January 3, 1961, he resigned to become Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense. In that role he infamously oversaw the escalation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile in South America...

In the late 1800s, Argentina's economy grew at an unprecedented rate rendering it one of the wealthiest nations in the world. By 1914, around half of the population was foreign-born, having arrived to farm and ranch on Argentina's vast and fertile territory.

The young Ford Motor Company of Dearborn, Michigan took notice of the burgeoning market, and in 1913, Ford Motor Argentina was created as a subsidiary. Its La Boca factory rolled out a Model T by 1917, and by 1960 a bigger factory was needed to meet the national demand. The Pacheco factory opened in 1961 in Greater Buenos Aires, and still assembles Fords today. 

The Argentine Falcon

McNamara's Falcon went into production in Argentina the same year it began in the US. As mentioned earlier, the US Falcon had initial success, but it dwindled. Design changes were made to revive it, to no avail, and by its last year in 1970 it was barely the same car. 

It carried on strongly in Argentina, though. By 1979 Argentina's Ford Falcon was the highest-selling vehicle in the country, and remained so for 6 more years. The design continued to evolve, too, and became distinctly Argentine.

The tough and reliable Falcon also became a symbol of middle-class mobility, and versatility - it was popular and loved as their own. After all, only 26 of its 3,500+ parts were imported.

Birds of Prey

There's a very ugly side to this story. On March 24, 1976, in a bloodless military coup, the Argentine army took control of the government and ushered in a period of terror and brutality.  

Military coups have happened frequently in Argentina, contributing to much of the economic instability since the early 1900s. The first came in 1930; others followed in 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976.

The election of 1989 marked the first time in more than 60 years that a civilian president handed power to an elected successor.

The coup of 1976 began the "Guerra Sucia," or Dirty War. A junta ousted Isabel Perón (3rd wife of Juan Perón) and began targeting students, union organizers, artists, journalists, and anyone else suspected to be a left-wing activist. Paranoid of communism's spread, the CIA had a hand in supporting this state terrorism.

Unfortunately for political dissidents during the Dirty War, Argentina's Ford Falcon was a symbol of terror. Secret police and death squads kidnapped thousands into dark green Falcons — some 30,000 people disappeared between 1976 and 1983.

Atrocities committed by the successive military juntas created a state of dissociated insanity in Argentine society. Kidnappings in broad daylight, mass executions, and child murders were "normalized." People were disappearing into Falcons all the time and many were too terrified to do anything except pretend it hadn't happened.

In recent years, Ford Argentina has been implicated in supporting these dark regimes, which they of course deny. It is hard to deny the 2018 conviction of two former Ford Argentina executives, Pedro Müller, 86, and Héctor Sibila, 90, for the kidnapping and torture of 24 employees, though.

Since 1977, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have marched in protest of these evil secrets that were hidden in plain sight. They are still demanding answers for crimes committed, and now must also confront "alternative facts" of the modern world, spoken by those in power who wish to diminish the numbers of those lost.

Amigos del Falcon

Considering the horrors of that time, it is understandable how the sight of a green Falcon could bring back fear for the many still around who lived through it. Yet, the Falcon was also beloved as a taxi, a farm truck, and a family station wagon - a good car is a good car.

In 1997, the Friends of the Falcon Club formed in Buenos Aires. It started small, meeting monthly on Saturdays in the forest outlying the city, but has since outgrown its meeting place twice. Around 13,000 people follow the club on Facebook.

The only requirement to join is to own a Falcon that is in generally good condition. Their hope is to round up as many Falcons that are in good condition as possible, and encourage the preservation of them.

expo-auto-2017-12.jpg

I have also learned of the prestigious FanaFalcon Club, through a reader of this post — they are numerous as well, with over 21,000 Facebook members and a very active forum that pertains to all matters of their community.

It makes me happy to witness their camaradería.

A Truly Durable Car

A Ford Falcon fording...

A Ford Falcon fording...

Once I learned what the Ford Falcon was, I started seeing them everywhere. I looked back through my photos from last year's visit, and realized I had photographed several already. So I'm on a mission now, and I don't know exactly why, but I can't stop photographing these cars.

For every Argentine Falcon I see in good condition, I see at least one more that is uniquely, and spectacularly dilapidated - but so many of them still run.

After about 30 years of production, the last Falcon rolled off of Ford Argentina's line in 1991. About 500,000 were made, and I suspect nearly all of them are still out there somewhere, either getting beat to hell or maintained with love. There isn't much in between. For better or worse, this is the car that became as Argentine as tango.

1964 Mercury Comet, Asheville, North Carolina, 2014. Shot on iPhone 4.

Exhibit A. "Computer: Enhance!"

A 1960 Ford Falcon Futura.

The grille of a 1930s Ford V8 that was possibly a schoolbus. I took this photo in Tigre, in 2017, not far from the La Boca factory where it was produced almost 100 years ago. I would love to know the story behind this fly that adorns the grille.

The Argentine Falcon was the ubiquitous taxi cab of the era.

Colegiales, Buenos Aires, 2017. "NUNCA MAS" is the Argentine cry of "Never again."

I made an Argentine friend over Instagram who sends me snapshots of Falcons he spots around his town. His family loves Chevy, and auto racing, and he added:
”Mi papa era “zurdo” y que seamos fanaticos de Chevrolet tiene que ver con eso.”
which means:
”My dad was a "lefty" and that we are fans of Chevrolet has to do with that.”


Scroll down to see a few Argentine Falcons spotted in the wild,

or visit The Argentine Falcon gallery.

 

Want to read more about Argentina? Check out my experience roaming Buenos Aires with a camera for 3 months.

For more automobile history, check out The Return of the Electric Vehicle.


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Chacarita Cemetery of Buenos Aires

A History of Argentina's Magnificent, Broken-down Necropolis

In Buenos Aires there is an immense oasis sprawling over gentle slopes, and beneath the earth: a cemetery in the quiet neighborhood of Chacarita, nestled next to barrios Colegiales, Palermo and Villa Crespo. Graveyards are one of my favorite places to explore and photograph – they often have lovely old trees – this one, Chacarita Cemetery, has an origin more grim than ordinary, and is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.

Spread over 95-hectares, Cementerio de la Chacarita is almost twenty times bigger than Cementerio de la Recoleta, the famed resting place of Eva Perón and many other wealthy families. Almost half of barrio Chacarita's territory is occupied by it.

17th century Jesuits lived on the land where barrio Chacarita is today, but they were expelled in 1767 by the Spanish Royal Crown. The name Chacarita comes from the Spanish word chacra for small farms like the ones belonging to the Jesuits.

It was clear once we looked at a map that Chacarita's cemetery is massive. It is not just a dominating landmark of the barrio, but also a significant feature of the city. There are other extensive green spaces, like Los Bosques de Palermo, and numerous other parks spread throughout the city for the enjoyment of some 3 million residents, but this cemetery is a distinctly quiet place.

I didn’t really grasp the magnitude until putting eyes on it after trekking across Palermo before an upcoming move brought us to the adjacent neighborhood. Zoë and I were living in Palermo, the hippest hood in town, on Guatemala y Armenia (not far from Tufic). We had thoroughly enjoyed that arrangement, but were moving one neighborhood away to Villa Crespo to seek a different experience, and perhaps more peace.  

With what must be 30 foot high walls around much of the property, Cementerio de la Chacarita is like a fortress. I wrote about this first encounter briefly in an earlier essay, and the stupefied feeling the sunset introduction gave me when I glimpsed golden streets of mausoleums through a gateway.

I returned to explore within shortly after we moved apartments. I strolled up and down the somber streets of tombs, and quickly observed that some were cared for and others were falling apart. One mausoleum's marble surfaces would be so pristine that I could see my reflection, whereas the one next door may have broken panes of glass and trash accumulating inside.

I wove through, trying not to miss any details, and eventually emerged at a new segment of the cemetery. It didn't look like much: an expanse of grass with several large concrete awnings spread across. It was also a hot day, and I wasn't overly interested in spending much time in the sun without water, but I went out to get a closer look. 

I remember approaching a railing and looking over, down into the earth, and seeing a verdant courtyard several levels below ground. It was surrounded by layers of catacombs. I realized, then, that those great awnings were entryways down into the underground galleries of Argentina's past lives.

I returned again and again to wander the catacombs. I love the vibrancy of Buenos Aires, but silence is what truly nourishes me, and down there I found a new experience with silence that was enhanced all the more by the scenes I saw. I spent hours underground trying to be lost, trying to find every last corner and seek photographs that could describe the feeling. I was struck by the contrasts – shades of lost civilizations and brute futurism, vastness and intimacy.

Outbreak

1871 was a devastating year for Buenos Aires and neighboring cities, and Cementerio de la Chacarita is intrinsically linked to it. An outbreak of yellow fever, the mosquito-borne virus, struck the barrios near the port, lowlands, and floodplain areas where mosquitoes could easily proliferate, and soon it was everywhere. Mosquitoes are difficult to avoid even when one is aware of the threat they can pose, but at the time it was not even understood that they were the carrier. 

The Episode of the Yellow Fever, circa 1871, by Juan Manuel Blanes is a haunting rendition of the pain brought to Buenos Aires, but also a depiction of illness befalling a specific household. One wonders how many scenes like this the People's Commission had to see. José Roque Pérez is depicted in the center with with his hands clasped.

The epidemic wreaked havoc in the city, with hundreds of deaths every day during its height. Also known as "black vomit," the illness upended daily life as businesses closed, residents fled, and thieves ransacked.

The dead were so many that wagons couldn't transfer them quickly enough, furthermore, the existing cemetery space that would accept victims of the fever became full. Coffins soon accumulated at the gates as the disease spread by leaps and bounds. 

The city needed to increase its burial grounds, and Chacarita was chosen as the location for a new cemetery. Cementerio de la Chacarita was inaugurated on April 14th, 1871. The first to be buried was a bricklayer named Manuel Rodriguez.

The Western Railway quickly extended a line that would transport the accumulating dead. The train that performed this twice-daily task was named La Porteña, but became known as the "train of death."

The People's Commission was soon formed to handle the ravages of the epidemic across the city. The leader, José Roque Pérez, a prestigious lawyer shown in the painting to the left, succumbed to yellow fever along with many others who did not flee.

Over 13,000 people of the city's some 180,000 residents died in just several months, before the cold arrived and killed off mosquitoes. Normal life resumed in time, but this quote from Guillermo Hudson's "Ralph Herne" indicates that the city was haunted by the catastrophe for years after:

"...But the years of peace and prosperity did not delete the memory of that terrible period when during three long months the shadow of the Angel of Death extended over the city of the nice name, when the daily harvest of victims were thrown together — old and young, rich and poor, virtuous and villains — to mix their bones in a communal grave, when each day the echo of footsteps interrupted the silence less often, when like the past the streets became desolate and grassy."

Cementerio de la Chacarita has since become a place of worship and remembrance. Everyone is welcome in Chacarita, from the less-fortunate to the famed. The soil there is for intellectuals, artists, boxers and ordinary people. Cementerio de la Recoleta, which turned away victims of the epidemic, has always been more aristocratic and exclusive. 

While Chacarita receives more residents than Recoleta, it has far fewer visitors. During my time there I never saw any other rovers like myself, just visiting relatives, caretakers, and a funeral gathering. I found it comforting that it's still a very personal place for Argentines. I felt privileged to explore the grounds and tried to maintain a respectfully low profile.

It was inaugurated as the "Cemetery of the West" in 1886, but its popular name stuck, and it was officially renamed in 1949.

Over the years its mausoleums became equally as splendid as Recoleta's, with an abundance of styles and design. Its grandeur endures, but has become worn down in many places. Though some of its aging is serious, I never thought of it as anything but beautiful.

Recently the union workers formally expressed their concern about the aging. There is a degree of abandonment, and water damage, which has resulted in the crumbling of masonry and deterioration of ceilings.

The underground galleries are the most worrying in regard to potential structural issues. In many ways they are lovingly tended to, but there are damaged ceilings and broken floors all around. As well, many of the elevators are out of order, lights are missing, and there are pigeons nesting all over. Saplings have sprouted in odd places and some of the gardens are in need of pruning and attention.

I do not know when the catacombs were built, but based upon some of the building methods and mechanical features I would guess it was in the 1960s. Thinking back on how many nameplates I passed, I could've looked for dates to try to ascertain a general period of time, but the number was overwhelming.

Around the world there has been a shift, over the last few decades, toward cremation instead of burial. It seems this and the correlating decline of visitations have contributed to delinquency in payments for the niches of the galleries.

The declining number of burials and visitations signifies a cultural change in how people remember their loved ones. This could be confirmed by the florists that are found around the outside wall. Those who come to leave flowers in the tombs and in the niches are often elderly people who still retain the customs of other times.

If Cementerio de la Chacarita is to remain a safe and beautiful place, it may need monetary help in a big way before much longer. For now, in its massive underground breezeways there is a pull between the polished, sterile spaces that are both immaculate and neglected, and the lush groves that are at the same time cultivated and wild.

I'll conclude with with this description I wrote after my first day in the catacombs:

"Daylight filters in from the surface with the chatter of swirling green parrots, all else quiet. There is an allure to staying in the cool air of this geometric cavern, wandering what seems like an unknowable layout, but much of the sense of calm I feel may be reliant upon this subterranean library of the dead's frequent connection to the sky and wind."

View more photos from Chacarita Cemetery

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Street Photography in Buenos Aires

Exploring the Barrios of Palermo, Villa Crespo, Recoleta and Chacarita

In 2017 I had the chance of a lifetime to explore the neighborhoods or barrios of Buenos Aires for 3 months, while living in Palermo and Villa Crespo. The freedom to go out everyday and practice with my Fujifilm X-T10 helped grow my confidence in composing shots on the fly. Here I'll share my lengthy experience exploring the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and practicing street photography for the first time.

Is This Real Life?

It had been a long time in the making for Zoë, but we had only recently met, and fallen in love, when she learned she had received a Rotary International scholarship. I remember her nerves when she first brought it up, before it had been granted.

She didn't know how it would go for us, given that it would send her to South America for 3 months, twice. I assured her I would be joining her. I am lucky to work for ReVision Energy, an employee-owned, B Corp solar energy company in New England, and they are supportive of their employees leading full lives. They approved my leave of absence and the game was on.

We left icy Maine in late January, dropping into steamy summer in the city of Buenos Aires (Bs As, as the cool kids say). We had a week to explore before I started Spanish language studies with Academia Buenos Aires - mostly we figured out where to withdraw money, where to find groceries, and how to navigate the subway, but we also had plenty of time to run through huge neighboring parks and swim in our building's pool. The 3 months ahead of us felt endless.

Though a partly cloudy day here, this became my Maine babe's tannest February yet.

Turn Me Loose

I was soon roaming block after block of Palermo (where Borges lived and wrote), experimenting with street photography. Language schooling went for three weeks, and was rigorous, but afterward I was completely untethered from having to show up anywhere. I realize how rare a thing that is.

I have been pushing myself to get better at photography for a few years now, developing my eye and technique, but time to really immerse into a practice is usually scarce. Here was a chance to shoot until I was exhausted, to dig into a new culture and explore one of the famous cities of the world. I had been dreaming about this prospect for months.

Everyone should exercise their own degree of caution, but I will first say that I never felt unsafe while walking Buenos Aires with my camera, often off the beaten path. The core barrios are a little rough in areas, but I never sensed the type of desperation that could lead to a mugging. Just check your surroundings and be conscious of other people, but not to a paranoid extent. Never, however, leave your camera unguarded at a cafe, for instance, because I have no doubt that non-violent crimes of opportunity could happen in nice places - especially Palermo Soho, where wealth is on parade.

Also in my favor: the mirrorless Fujifilm X-T10 I carried is small and reminiscent of film SLRs from decades ago, and so on that level I felt comforted that my gear did not shout, "DIGITAL! EXPENSIVE!" As well, at 6'2" I am not a small man, either, so I'm aware that I also experience a certain privilege of physical wherewithal. Nonetheless, I had 3-4 different people across the city tap my elbow to express concern for my camera. I thanked them and assured them I would be careful, but privately it never matched up with my intuitive sense of safety. Like I said, the core neighborhoods are not desperate places, especially during daylight hours, and even big city Argentines are often remarkably genteel people.

I did not explore La Boca. It has huge appeal, and you may be very interested in seeing it, so just know that it is widely advised to stick to the beaten path there. Probably wise to join a tour group, even.

Casual breakfast views of Palermo, Villa Crespo, and on the fringe, Chacarita.

Battery Steele is a decommissioned WWII bunker on Peaks Island. I took this with an iPhone 4 while working a carpentry job out there my first summer in Maine. I was beginning to look for photographs everywhere I went.

A Little Background

Northern New England and its difficult moods have contributed a lot to my interest in photography. After a substantial stint in Vermont, there was Downeast Maine over the fall and winter of 2013, where, from the deck of a Dutch mussel boat in the Mt. Desert Narrows, I captured brilliant skies, and scenes of austerity and silence that felt otherworldly to me. 

In 2014 I moved down the coast to Portland, a fortified harbor town that still has the hardscrabble community and salty, weathered aura of an early colonial city, I imagine. I kept seeking scenes possessing what I could only describe as "magical realism," having some hint of energy from elsewhere.

Don't Sweat the Technique

Plaza Armenia rap battle, Palermo, 2017.

Hunkering down and photographing New England in this way without any major trips elsewhere for a couple of years made me feel like I had a particular style that would carry over wherever I went. It turns out that shooting in new places requires me to redefine my awareness and style, and that's alright because I'm finding that the observation involved is something I'm pretty good at.

In Argentina, I had nearly 100 days to explore, immerse, and absorb. Cumulatively this was as much time as I'd ever shot anything anywhere, and it wasn't long before a new style started coming through. But it wasn't until I went inside Cementerio de la Chacarita, or Chacarita Cemetery, during the second half of our trip, that I realized what was missing from my work: a project... but hold that thought!

I roamed the neighborhoods for a month or so before I found Chacarita Cemetery -  I was always searching for old facades, tree-lined streets, funky cars and stylish Argentines to photograph. There's no shortage, and I feel confident saying Buenos Aires must be one of the coolest cities to practice in. There's such a juxtaposition of style and decay, Old world and New.

If I could have more time to photograph Buenos Aires' streets again, I would push myself to seek more photos of Porteñas, the women of Buenos Aires. I can remember sweet pairs of elderly mothers and grown daughters walking arm in arm, or young women enamored with enormous, studded platform sandals that boosted their height, and I wish I had a photo that captured it.

I suppose it was shyness, in part, that kept me from aiming my camera at the women of Buenos Aires, and in a way I was overly sensitive to the idea of how some women might be uncomfortable with a stranger snapping shots of them. There's nothing wrong with respect, but I need to get past my shyness, or the thought that people are largely against having their photo taken.

There was one occasion when Zoë was with me that we asked a pair of nuns for their portrait. They reluctantly obliged, and smiled, and then requested that the photo never be published! It is too good to not share it, someday, perhaps. 

I'm practicing approaching people for portraits a lot more nowadays, and often they're happy to oblige, and are maybe even flattered. If they don't want to, they just say, "No," and life goes on! After the portrait, I feel like I should offer a copy to the individual, to make it worth their while, but I usually don't act on that feeling. How do the other photographers reading this approach that situation?

The Gates of Chacarita

All of that exploring led to my first significant project as an emerging professional photographer. We had seen an immense cemetery on the map, close to our upcoming neighborhood, Villa Crespo, and thought about doing long runs around it, since we were leaving Palermo and the traffic-free parks nearby.

Chacarita Cemetery's corner gate, 2017.

I love graveyards (cemeteries, dolmens, sarcophagi, etc.) so one evening just before we moved apartments, I went far out to go have a look at the cemetery. After a lengthy walk past boutiques and kioskos, across train tracks and thoroughfares, I approached a quiet corner of a massive wall as the sun moved behind it. "CEMENTERIO DEL OESTE" is engraved above a large gate, and through it I saw golden streets of mausoleums.

Still In Awe

I was fairly stupefied by the size of the wall. I followed a silent, tree-lined span of it to eventually find a central front gate. The hours were 7 am - 5 pm. I couldn't wait to tell Zoë. I had a feeling this was where I needed to look, but I still didn't have any idea what really waited in there. 

I'll tell that story, soon, but suffice it to say, this was my first project, and the first time it felt necessary to put words with my work.

I've yet to write an artist's statement but I'm beginning to see how helpful in can be in attracting an audience. Lately I'm noticing that having a better idea about what I like to shoot has made me better at describing what I'm looking for. I feel that as I get better at creating images, and honing my expression, the seemingly distant notions of having my work valued as art or being sought for hire will begin to happen naturally in recognition. So, make work, share ideas, and maybe someone will dig it.

What say ye?


Read more about the truly amazing Chacarita Cemetery


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Stereography and Japan

From Feudal Isolationism to Global Excellence

I stumbled upon these old colorized stereographs showing facets of mid-nineteenth century Japanese life. For those of us who aren't easily prone to motion sickness, a GIF rendering of a stereograph is an exciting way to experience an image so that it nearly seems like the three-dimensional sight we receive through our binocular vision -- it is especially so for me when the image reveals another realm or cultural era.

Stereography was brought into public use by Sir David Brewster of Scotland in 1851, as the lenticular stereoscope. Simply put, two photographs are made a small distance apart, and when viewed simultaneously will create a left and right eye effect. Brewster was an accomplished intellect who experimented with optics in a myriad of ways, also giving us the kaleidoscope. (Curiously, despite his scientific proclivities he was among the first to speak against the theory of evolution.)

Europe and America could not get enough of his novel invention and over the years millions of stereographs were produced with the latest photographic processes and equipment, beginning with the daguerreotype print. Even Queen Victoria couldn't hide her excitement upon stereography's mainstream debut at the Great Exhibition of 1851. (This first world's fair was held in London and housed in the incredible Crystal Palace, something akin to the world's largest greenhouse.)
 

The lenticular stereoscope followed Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy after he strong-armed feudal, isolationist Japan into opening their ports for trade in 1854. These colorized stereographs were thus created in this period when the Victorian world was freshly enamored with this visual experience, and when they were first becoming aware of a culture that had long been preserved from global influences.

The newfound might of the American navy exposed the weaknesses of the long-running Tokugawa shogunate, which was still holding power with its traditional tools of war. For better or worse, it was not long after these images were made that Japan began transforming into the modern imperial power that the United States Navy met again in the Second World War.

 

Today Japan is one of the most technologically sophisticated nations in the world, with a long history of excellence in precision optics engineering. They are also home to a few mobile phone manufacturers that are among the elite developers that continue to propel smartphone technology forward, and imaging capabilities are part of this evolution. 

Stereoscopic technology has continued into the Internet era, being utilized by phone manufacturers as early as 2002. With the arrival of ever more powerful processors, Samsung, LG, and HTC have all produced 3D-enabling smartphones.

There is not yet a large demand for these devices, and it remains to be seen if excitement for stereoscopic imagery in some form can be renewed. In its time it was the most remarkable way to convey an image, but everyday smartphones can now record in time-lapse or slow-motion, instantly deposit images into a virtual cloud, and can even generate augmented reality (I'm looking at you, Pokémon GO). With so many citizens of the world holding a powerful camera in the palm of their hand, there will be no paucity of images for future armchair anthropologists like myself to peruse. I hope to give them something worth looking at.

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