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.

Posts tagged Will Byers
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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White Lobster, Cocaine and Leucism

Everything Is Connected

On August 24, 2017, a Chebeague Islander (in the Casco Bay of Maine) named Alex Todd found a rarity while checking his lobster pots. The 48-year-old lobsterman, no stranger to having his story told, had pulled aboard an iridescent, white lobster - a female with a notched tail.

Alex snapped a photo, showed the bug to his folks, and set it free back in the ocean. She was V-notched on her tail, and Alex is an upright guy, so he abided the mandatory practice of returning females with such a mark. 

Since 1917, Mainers have notched tails of females found carrying eggs, to keep the population stable. As the lobster grows, it keeps the notch in its exoskeleton, forever sparing it from hungry people, well, everywhere, nowadays. 

Alex did well because lobsters are declining in the Gulf of Maine, and the difficult-to-enforce practice of preserving egg-bearing females has been declining also. For now, annual harvests total several hundreds of millions of dollars.

Modern lobstering has been in a lucrative sweet spot with the increasingly warm water temps diminishing predators, but now the water has warmed to the point where lobsters are swimming to chillier places. To lose lobsters would be a tough blow to Maine, having already lost many industrial jobs, but it's far more sad to think of Maine losing such a big piece of its identity.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua...

Over 2,000 miles away, on the Miskito Coast of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, fishermen are hauling in another kind of bounty from the sea.

Some background: The Creole and indigenous population there is isolated from central America by jungle, and so residents of the Miskito Coast feel more kindred with their Caribbean neighbors across the sea than with the other citizens of Nicaragua. Bluefields is the capital and home of about 90,000 people. Electricity is sporadic, roads are rough, and there isn't much work. Subsistence fishing is one of the more common daily priorities, but they also keep an eye out for their own lucrative harvest.

The Devil's Dandruff

nicaraguan-white-lobster-rich.jpg

Residents of Bluefields and various coastal villages often wake up early and scan the horizon for la langosta blanca. The elusive white lobster, in Nicaragua, is cocaine.

When smugglers traveling up the "country road" by sea from Colombia are confronted by law enforcement, they dump their drugs and run. Bales of cocaine often drift in the currents to the various lagoons, beaches and cays up and down the Miskito Coast.

Lucky fishers retrieve these bales - sometimes weighing 35 kg, sometimes much, much more - and trade it back to Colombian traffickers who peruse the villages for about $4,000 per kilo. This is well below the going rate, but a lot of cash, nonetheless.

Traffickers are intertwined in the economy in other ways as well, and though it is not a well-loved presence, it is considered to be a presence that provides.

The Miskito Coast is cut-off from the rest of Nicaragua in more than one way. There isn't much infrastructure, nothing that will really attract investors, anyway. As well, the indigenous and Creole population have a complicated past with the central government, and as autonomous coastal regions do not receive much support. Here, as in Maine, lobster is king.

Piebald zebra. Also,  zebras dgaf .

Piebald zebra. Also, zebras dgaf.

Wait, why was the actual lobster white, though?

The white lobster that Alex Todd caught was not albino, it was leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition, like albinism, but only results in a partial loss of melanin pigmentation. 

The easiest distinction between the two is found in the eyes. Albino eyes are totally devoid of melanin, and appear red due to retinal blood vessels. Leucistic eyes are often blue, from light refraction.

Leucism can also be partial, resulting in what's known as piebald. Piebald animals have an unpredictable pattern of pigmentation that can create an even more striking appearance.

Both albinism and leucism can make it difficult for certain animals to survive in the wild, where camouflage either helps you get your next meal, or keeps you from becoming one. Eyesight is poorer, feathers are weaker, and chances of mating can be lowered.

Both conditions happen to all kinds of critters, even humans.

White gators at Gatorland, Florida or white giraffes in Kenya or "spirit bears" in British Columbia.

It doesn't matter so much to our leucistic crustacean cruising Casco Bay, though. You can tell she's leucistic due to the hints of blue still visible on her shell, and color in her eyes. There's an outside chance a seal might make a snack of her, but, otherwise, her white shell probably won't stop her from eating mollusks until she's too huge to molt anymore.

Squirrel!

white-squirrel-in-brevard.jpg

This brings us to Brevard, North Carolina, my hometown of beer, bikes, barbecue, and banjos. There I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal to spot white squirrels prancing around.

They are neither albino nor leucistic, however. They're simply an Eastern Gray Squirrel with a coat color variant, albeit rare.

There are a few albino and leucistic colonies spread throughout the country, but none as numerous as ours. Brevard’s squirrel population, with almost one in three white, has the highest percent white of any known colony, with approximately a thousand individuals within the city limits. 

white-squirrel-festival-brevard-nc.jpg

They're protected by law, but I guess there's some wiggle room for the ones that insist on being run over. So in this case, they can't be harvested, they aren't valuable on the black market, and they get filthy after a good rain, but the amount of tourism dollars they draw is nuts.

So you see, it really is ALL connected. That's what we learned today, in this nuanced, meaningful discourse. 

What's your evidence it's all connected? 

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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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Strategic Electrification and Solar Power

An Electrifying Concept that will Save the World

It won’t be long until we power everything in the world with wind, water and sun. This is strategic electrification, and its game-changing disruptions will help us stop carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency. The sooner we adopt this strategy of progress, the sooner we see the benefits.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7  SMA Sunny Tripower inverters  flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7 SMA Sunny Tripower inverters flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

There’s hundreds of years’ worth of coal underground for us to burn, but it’s going to stay there. We no longer need it to make electricity.

Historically, grid operators have created electricity with problematic resources like coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy – but due to the emergence of renewables and electrification, the nature of the grid has begun to change.

Electricity is becoming cleaner at an impressive rate, and the time is right to electrify everything. Whether it comes from residential solar systems or our growing asset of utility-scale renewable energy systems, clean power will flow into an increasingly electrified world of devices.

Green Pastures

The beauty of strategic electrification is that as electricity becomes cleaner, so will everything we do with it. As utilities invest more into renewable energy infrastructure, electricity will steadily use less fossil fuel per kilowatt-hour of energy produced. If we power our grid with 100% renewable energy, we can nearly eliminate greenhouse gas emissions altogether by electrifying everything under the sun.

To bolster the penetration of renewables on our electric grid, and to see the biggest benefit of electrification, we need to electrify space heating, water heating, and, especially, transportation. With today’s heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and next-generation electric cars, we already have the solutions.

The Flexibility to Give

Not only will these devices be cleaner than their predecessors, they will also be more flexible, smarter. The modern grid will become smarter, too, and increased flexibility in generation, interconnection, storage and demand response around the grid will meet the challenges of a more electrified world.

The  Brunswick Landing microgrid  in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The Brunswick Landing microgrid in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The variability of certain renewable resources like wind, solar or tidal energy presents a challenge to generating power smoothly at all hours, but properly mixing those different resources from around the grid will create the flexibility needed to respond to changes in demand and supply.

Though it is also possible to import electricity across network borders to help stabilize the grid, flexible interconnection with the growing amount of residential solar electricity in our own network is the better way to meet that need. Decentralizing our grid in this way allows for power to be consumed where it is produced, lowering rates for everybody.

Battery storage is often heralded as the best solution to variable power production, and it will indeed play a part, but it is a higher priority to integrate and balance available renewable energy resources. That said, batteries are an obvious way to help, especially as their costs drop and capacities grow.

Flexi-Watts

Load flexibility, or demand response, will have a critical part of balancing a renewable energy grid, as it is the most cost effective method. Demand response programs existed in the past to balance supply and demand by prompting large, industrial customers to lower their usage at certain times of day during periods of high power prices or when the reliability of the grid was threatened.

The  Fore Street Garage  in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

The Fore Street Garage in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

Now, the world of strategic electrification has opened an unlimited number of possibilities for demand response – the internet has rendered it no harder to turn off 1,000 water heaters than it is to turn off a paper mill.  Furthermore, a smart heat pump water heater will run when there is excess solar on the grid, but not when demand is high – basically performing the same function as a battery, but at maybe 2% of the cost, since all we buy is a switch telling it to run or not.

Our devices are increasingly able to communicate across the grid and operate only when most efficient. The “flexi-watts” they run on when there’s a surplus of renewable power will enable us to keep making the grid smarter. The grid is evolving beyond supplying electricity, into a network that makes the most of its distributed energy resources.

Much like the internet changed the way we participate with our media, it’s now changing the way we interact with our budding smart grid.

A Virtuous Cycle

Traditional energy efficiency metrics, that have been improving our electronics for years now, overlook the wide range of emissions efficiencies from electricity generation. Kilowatt-hours from different sources can have vastly different emissions profiles, ranging from as much as 2 lbs. of CO2 to almost nothing.

We need to improve emissions efficiency along with energy efficiency in our shift to an environmentally beneficial grid, by expanding renewable energy.

The worthy effort to reduce usage of dirty electricity through energy efficiency programs has been the focus of our policy and incentives, but when we consider the improved emissions of renewable energy, we see that it’s better to increase the amount of electricity we use when it comes from a clean source.

Pairing strategic electrification with a cleaner, smarter grid creates a beneficial exchange that inspires more electrification and greener electricity in a virtuous cycle.

On the Verge

We stand on the verge of massive opportunities through strategic electrification, but we must recognize that those opportunities won’t be achieved through an indiscriminate focus on reducing kilowatt-hours. It’s more important we clean up our kilowatt-hours, and use them.

If regulators and legislators fail to recognize the strengths of renewables and strategic electrification in a timely manner, there could be long-term negative impacts for us and the environment. Instead they can foster long-term growth, unlocking significant economic and societal benefits by getting to work on incentives and initiatives.

The sooner this is acted upon the sooner we can see all the ways a smarter, more flexible grid can increase reliability, security, sustainability, and open new opportunities for services and business. Coal was just the beginning of our electricity – and the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can  power critical loads during grid outage .

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can power critical loads during grid outage.

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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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