For a span of seven years, I photographed on the island of San Andrés, its people, the architecture and the rich tradition of Cock fighting. San Andrés Island of Colombia is the home to three fighting rings; this small island has a tradition of cock fighting, which comes from its Spanish and Portuguese ancestry and from its influence coastal cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta. I learned of San Andrés through my ex-wife who shared with me her experience of life on the island as a young adolescent. Her stories spurred my desire to visit the island and eventually the first journey was set, and my love affair with San Andrés began.
The photographs from this series entitled, “Cocks” were made during the summer and winter breaks from teaching. This site-specific project depicts what I called a double portrait of fighting cocks. At first glace you see a rooster who embodies personality and at the same time a stage is apparent which references the world that surrounds it. Using my camera as an ambassador, I am privileged to explore the tradition of cock fighting, learn about the handling of roosters, and consequently integrate myself socially to an exclusive community.
I first heard about the tradition of roosters fighting as a child, listening to my father’s stories of his cock fighting adventures in Cuba. One of his tales was about his friend Julio (El Chino) Chane, a man who cared for his roosters even more than his own family. According to my father, Chane’s family often went to bed hungry because he would spend money on the roosters’ feed and vitamins rather than on food. Years later, I discovered a short story with a similar plot, “No One Writes to the Colonel” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, about a poor couple, whose son was killed in a civil war leaving behind a champion rooster. The family is conflicted because they do not know whether to sell the bird right away to make ends meet, or to fight the bird and stake everything for the possibility of becoming rich. I wanted to experience first-hand the essence of these stories.
I am intrigued by the entire sub-culture of cock fighting, which considers this event a serious sport. When I began this project, my aim was to first learn the rules and regulations from a primary source by becoming acquainted with the islanders. One player who greatly influenced my perception of cock fighting was Wolly Thime, an avid participant admired by all in this circle of fighting roosters on San Andrés. Wolly owns over seventy fighting roosters all considered an extended part of his family. Each cock had a unique name such as El Machetero, Nelson Mandela, Coño and La Virgen. Naming the birds is a ritual event, it occurs during the debut bout where the bird displays characteristics associated to warriors which then the owner can extrapolate from in naming the bird. Wolly Thime exudes pride as a successful bird owner and breeder and his roosters directly or indirectly reflect this attitude.
To better understand the spectator’s perspective, I spent most of the time watching the fights, the breeders and the ritual of bird grooming. This made a great difference in the creation of this project, I could integrate myself better to this harsh environment and my appreciation of the subject heightened. My presence with the camera and all its’ accessories was not unwelcomed; on the contrary, I felt accepted by the entire cock fighting community. In my photographs, I create a aa rich visual quality and an appearance of depth through a technical innovation of a bracket with multiple flash heads. The different projects that I create in San Andres and the images produced from these projects can be consider as having a documentary style referencing the history of photography. In the Cocks project, I reference the Teutonic affection for sorting and cataloging depicted by the portraits of August Saunders, and the photo reproductions of crime scene images taken in New York and Paris in the 19th century. My portraits of the fighting cocks evoke the hidden horror of the spectacle, which is mentally produced by the individual viewer.
My goal with the project is to produce images that respect the cultural tradition of Cock Fighting in San Andrés without imposing a westernized ideology concerning the cock fighting practice. This attitude allows me to pay close attention to the birds, the bird handlers and the ritual of bird grooming. In this way, I am uncovering through a visual understanding the meaning of this sub-culture, which is an important part of my Hispanic family heritage.
El Coco Loco
As soon as you arrive to the Island of San Andres, Colombia you feel as if you have stepped back in time; at a glance everything around you appears to be run down; this is of course comparing it to what we see in the United States. Even though the appearance of things on the island looks somewhat dilapidated, you find great pride from the islanders with what they own no matter how it looks. Everything seems to slow down; the way people walk, the way they eat, the way they drive and even the way they party. No matter where you are walking the sound of the ocean can be heard coming from all directions, the smell of the flowers and the salty ocean are constantly around you and everywhere you look there is a photograph waiting to be taken. These photographs are a work in progress touching on the aspects I call the Lost Structure. Island style wooden houses have a long rich tradition in the Caribbean and on the coastal areas of many countries that are close to the equator, including Cuba. Recourses are scarce, making the constant maintenance to these wooden houses difficult; importing the necessary wood is more expensive then readily available concrete, making repairs an economical constrain. Wooden house are cool inside and beautiful outside unlike the concrete houses, which are very hot, damp and create an eye sore. Unfortunately, economics are changing the structure of the houses in San Andres from wood to concrete where the wooden house is becoming a lost structure. As a photographer I want to visually capture the transition over time by creating images of the changing culture of San Andres’ structures. Time is a complex component of photography and the only way to visually experience the flux is to photograph the same locations, in several phases.
Casa, Joel y qul.......
Crab, Bread fruit and plantain
Lost structure, Orange Hill
With the natural resources depleting around the world it has become increasingly important to safeguard those resources still available to our community. We are often reminded daily through the media that around the world there are communities less fortunate then we are with little to no access to the natural resources that sustain daily needs. With fresh waterbeds drying up, such as the river Jordan that is slowing to a trickle in some areas, over One Billion people throughout the world struggle daily to obtain fresh water for their families.
The river Jordan in the Middle East is slowing to a trickle, which represents what over One Billion people throughout the world struggles daily with, obtaining fresh water for their families.
Like so many fresh waterbeds around the world our very own Lake Okeechobee is in danger as well. Located in south central Florida, Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake in the continental United States after Lake Michigan and is the largest lake in the southern United States.
The name Okeechobee is derived from the Hitchiti (Muskogean Tribe) words “oki” meaning water and “chubi” meaning big which literally translates to “Big Water”. Since the surface of the lake is above sea level, the lake is enclosed by a 20 ft high dike built by the Army Corps of Engineers after a hurricane in 1928 breached the old dike flooding surrounding communities and claiming thousands of lives.
Lake Okeechobee covers 730 square miles and is a shallow lake with an average depth of only 9 feet. At its capacity, the lake holds 1 trillion gallons of water and its waters are somewhat murky because of the nutrient enriched runoff from the surrounding farmlands.
After a decision to lower the lake in anticipation of hurricanes that did not materialize coupled with a serious drought the lake dropped more then 4 feet to it’s all time low of 8.82 feet in July, 2007. Sugar cane, vegetable and other growers struggled to get the lake water they needed for irrigation.
As nature frequently warns us of our limited recourses we often take for granted the simple recourses such as water. Lake Okeechobee is now controlled by a computerized, man-made water lock system that maintains the lakes’ water level in both the rainy seasons and in drought. It is my aim to photograph not only Lake Okeechobee and its importance to Florida as its main fresh water supply but also the people who have made Lake Okeechobee their home, residing at the waters edge.
At this time the main thrust of Blue Gold is not only to show the landscapes of Lake Okeechobee associated to water management but to also show who is the main cooperate of water consumption, which is the sugar cane industry.
Lake Okeechobee is invaluable to Florida’s citizens and their daily needs. In an average day, it takes 530 gallons of water to produce enough food for just one person. Lake Okeechobee truly is “Blue Gold”.
Requiescat in Pace
Death does not discriminate. On the surface, this project has neither race nor gender, which in theory should create a utopian arena. However, this is a space of mortality. Deep within my psyche I know that this body of work is about questioning spirituality. The tactile-like images of wrapped bodies on cool stainless steel gurneys and in refrigerated storage compartments produce a visceral response, which is the primary focus of this project.
The portraits are highly descriptive, depicting bodies—completely wrapped in white bed sheets or plastic--in the cold and sterile space of the morgue. Looking at these bodies, one is struck by their similarity to Egyptian mummies. Closer attention reveals their differences; scrutinizing many wrapped bodies, I easily identify the different parts, the head –being the most recognizable-, torso and lower limbs. If one compares the cloth that is soft and appealing to the stainless steel that is cold and repellent, a visual struggle arises amidst the surfaces. The photographs that document the interior landscapes of the morgue as well as those that depict dead bodies bare an acute account on humanity’s universal vulnerability. There are tools, containers, fluids, plastics, cloth, transparent tape, hoisting devices, gurneys-- items used for examining the body and not the soul.
The descriptive nature of the material within these photographs provokes an instinctive response. For me, the photographs reference memories of growing up as a Catholic and my experiences with death; the shrouded bodies allude to religious rites and symbols, and the bodies that are suspended in mid-air echo the resurrection of Christ. I have received similar responses to these images from others as well: a Turkish woman explained that my photographs reminded her of how bodies are wrapped for burial in her country; some Jewish viewers have said that the images of wrapped bodies in the refrigerated storage compartment remind them of the ovens in Nazi concentration camps.
I am fortunate to be able to produce images that can stir up such visceral responses. Since the beginning of this project I have struggled with questions about life after death, yet the intense investigation has left me ever more confused. I have come to realize that part of my difficulty in relating to death is being able to reconcile the mysteriousness described by religion and the cold finiteness associated with the world of science and medicine. My ultimate question is: if our souls ascend to heaven, do we take our knowledge with us, and, if we cease to exist after death, why are memories of our existence left behind?
The Beauty of the Uncommon Tool
The Beauty of the Uncommon Tool workes on concepts of seeing and perceiving. The works of Walker Evans’ tools, Karl Blossfeldt’s formal composition and Neil Winokur’s saturated color background influences these images. The objective of these photographs is to take the tools out of context and place them in an ethnographic setting. These photographs are mechanical in form and express both sensual and primitive ideas. The tools may also take on a second meaning as sculptural or figurative objects. They are elegantly produced, rendering a tactile sensation. You see one thing and might perceive another.
Since the very first time I went into a surgical suite, I was fascinated with the dramatization of the entire process. I compare the surgery to a play or a musical where there are actors (the doctors, nurses, surgical technicians), props (the bed, surgical instruments and equipment), the stage (the surgical suite or room), and the lighting (surgical light, head light, room light). From the beginning of this project I wanted my images to ask more questions than to give answers. In my work, I show the drama of the surgery rather than the gore. Once an image spells out its meaning, there is no need to continue to view it. Therefore, my photographs make the viewer ask questions about the work coming up with their own conclusions. Can you believe what you see?
Death is always reaching out to us in ways that are tangible. The fetus position from birth replicates itself, as we get closer to death. Our blood that runs through the bodies by a muscular pump called the heart can expire within seconds by a knife or a gun a needle or a pill. Time; yes, the one that passes day by day, second by second can in fact be cruel to the psyche because the more time you have had the closer and more noticeable death exists. Death can either be the mystery described by religion or the cold finiteness associated with the world of science and medicine. My question is this: if our souls ascend into heaven, do we take our knowledge with us, and, if we cease to exist after death, why are memories of our existence left behind as photographs?
Venturing out at night around Miami with my camera, my eyes wildly chasing behind a range of visuals, I recall childhood trips to the candy store. My father would allow me only one sweet from the countless varieties, which made the selection a difficult and often overwhelming one. Today, I traverse the streets of Miami and the suburbs confronted with a similar challenge.
For many inhabitants of Miami, the trees that surround us are like a public backyard, a common place for all within the community. Described beautifully by Charles Baudelaire, the commonplace is “charming…productive…exciting;” however, the qualities that make it such can only be appreciated if one is in tune with one’s senses.
I feel informed by a myriad of environmental facets because my attention to detail is heightened by what I see, smell, hear, touch and taste. Each static image preserves that moment in time, deleting the continuity of adjustment, which is characteristic of Miami. I have titled each photograph with the Latitude and Longitude of their precise location enabling one to return to the accurate location over time.
Burning Bush, visually questions the struggle between landscape in a large city like Miami and the intrusion of man. With these photographs, I attempt to highlight the conflict felt by the viewer’s experience of that which is inclusive and that which remains exclusive. The trees in my photographs are heroically depicted at night taking on an eerie, lonely, silent moment that is later shared with the viewer. I reference painting with light rather than oils.
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As I venture along the river with my camera, my eyes wildly chasing behind a range of visuals, I recall childhood trips to the candy store. My father would allow me only one sweet from the countless varieties, which made the selection a most overwhelming and often difficult one. Today, I traverse the banks of the Miami River and am confronted with a similar challenge. My eyes are open to the infinite repository of stimuli, which are as attractive to my senses now as the endless rows of confectionary delights had been for me then.
For many inhabitants of Miami, this body of water is like a public backyard, a common place for all within the community. Described beautifully by Charles Baudelaire, the commonplace is “charming…productive…exciting;” however, the qualities that make it such can only be appreciated if one is in tune with one’s senses. I look for the common that has changed. The little vine that barely sprouted out of the crack on the side walk a month ago is know overgrown, swallowing the chain link fence and obscuring the view of the river. To be able to appreciate a moment like this one is when I feel strongly connected to the words of Charles Baudelaire.
The panoramic format is ideal for this project as it emphasizes the planar quality of the landscape associated with South Florida. I photograph the landscape along the riverbank layered with chain-link fences, vines growing wildly, marine containers and the surrounding neighborhoods. As I venture along the river, I feel informed by a myriad of environmental facets because my attention to detail is heightened by what I see, smell, hear, touch and taste. I perceive what could be considered mundane in a new way. Fine-tuning my senses is one of the processes necessary for creating meaningful photographs. The struggle I am dealing with in making these pictures comes from the abundance of objects from which I can chose to frame and make a still image. The predicament is not only choosing which image to frame, but the importance on making a static image. Making a static image means that I am stopping time, which means that I am deleting the continuity of change, which is strongly associated with this area. An example of this, which I know must convey in my photographs, is my craving for the unique light quality of South Florida. For that reason, I am dedicated to capturing and recording this bright and blaring radiance so harsh on the eyes.
The pictures convey the subject as being excluded from participating in the daily functions of the river and excluded from visually accessing the river by mazes of objects which block a direct view of the water. I purposefully display the differences between the river and what blocks the viewer from the river, and intentionally make people absent, although it is during daytime, a time assumed to have tremendous amount of human traffic. This opposition creates an emotional tone described by the audience as eerie, lonely, uneasy, mysterious and morbid, all characteristics thematic of my work in other projects. With my photographs, I attempt to highlight the conflict felt by the viewer’s experience of that which is inclusive and that which remains exclusive.
Portraits of Pits in Miami Dade County where owning this bread of dog is illegal.
Where Men Gather
As I venture past the numerous barbershops of Miami, I recall what I felt as a child when on Saturday mornings my grandfather took me along to visit his barber. Through the smells, sounds and noises I am overwhelmed by these memories every time I enter a barbershop. I want to make these memories into reality and in order to achieve this I would have to produce images that would remind you of an event worth remembering. The barbershops are an infinite repository of stimuli as attractive to my senses now as they had been for me then.
At present, I am photographing the exterior façades of the barbershops standing vividly with its surroundings that represent an urban Hispanic landscape. My investigation searches for the iconographic symbols that represent the long history of barbers and their relationship to their community. This interest has led me to find that the barber pole directly associates the barber with the first Western surgeons because of the intimate relationship with hot towels and cutting devices. Barbers not only were experienced at cutting hair, but throughout history served as bleeders and hired murderers.
I am also taking photographs of the interior of these barbershops, making images that show the camaraderie between men. My aim is to depict this as a place where men feel free to express their feelings about an array of issues: from politics to marriage, current events to baseball, and religion to health. The images are mainly conceived of as portraits of an individual, a group, or the instruments.
As I work, I interact with each person that I photograph, in this becoming a collaborative work made by the sitter and myself. Visual detail is heightened in my photographs by what I see, smell, hear, touch and taste within the Latin barbershop. Every component essential to the structure of each photograph could be savored visually as when one enjoys the most delightful treat.