I am an American born to a Spanish mother, and since I was a child I used to go to my mother’s village in the summer for holidays. In this village, as in many others in Spain, they celebrate the festivities, which have a religious origin honoring their saint, but now they are more of a general celebration for the whole village. Summer is the most typical time of the festivities, and it is when the villages are most crowded. Within this tradition there is another, that of the bulls. The bulls were made famous abroad by the writer Ernest Hemingway and the city of Pamplona, but in many villages they are celebrated in their own versions. The town councils and locals contribute to the purchase of one or more bulls or steers, and run around the town until they are sold out!

When I am asked in the USA what I think about this tradition, my answer is usually that it is a difficult subject. I don’t really know what I think. On one hand, I think it’s terrible, but on the other hand, I understand the tradition, even though this is not a reason to accept it. What I really don’t agree with is the torture of animals, and it is often true that they are tortured. On this occasion I want to show you these photographs and let you express your own opinions. The wonder of photography.

Bolivia has become the first country to legalize child labor to such a degree of permitting children from 10 years of age to work only with some minimal restrictions. My 10-year-old son was reprimanded at his New York City school the other day for playing truth or dare and dared one of his friends to touch his female classmates behind, which never happened because he became afraid. The principal of the school later spoke firmly to he and his friend and proceeded to explain that the police could get called and an insinuation of sexual harassment could be made. Meanwhile back in the capital of Bolivia, la Paz, on exactly the same day the revised labor law was changed I was walking amongst a cultural parade photographing people and their costumes and came across Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales who posed for me holding a young child.

Irony is a beloved tool and useful especially when helping us to think of things in a different light and in this case dissecting social problems. Child labor is considered in many ways a social and political phenomenon rather than an economic one, whilst the argument I saw on Bolivian television that same night was that Bolivia’s poverty index needed the help of their children.

Mentioning sexual harassment to a 10-year-old child is also absurd and it is far too early in their lives to have to consider such a thing.

In the Department of La Paz, there is a fascinating city called El Alto. It has a high level of poverty through a unique world on its own, with its Andinian Architecture, culture of Cholitas and the largest flea market in the world where you can find everything from a Pequin in a refrigerator to snail secretion.

Most of this fast-growing, urban center of now over a million of Amerindian people was formed by migrant workers who came here to seek a better fortune. “Cholitas” are Aymara women who have come to the city, and are also known for breaking social barriers. I wonder what Cholitas think of their children going out to work so early? Do they think that their children are sexual harassing when their young boys are teasing girls in such a manner? The Ameridian work ethic is drastically different than ours in the western world, and probably their idea of children having fun is as well. Historically Bolivian children has worked in agriculture, many of the parents of these children´s workers come from the mining towns and rural areas so it is a natural part of life from early on.

Though city life is not the same and for the most part the rural areas are not either. Children must go to school and have the right to education no matter what country, city or town they live in, what their economic status is, and should never be financially exploited. One of the most precious gifts of life is being a child and having fun. Today the Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced the Nobel Peace Prize for 2104 and it goes to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against suppression of children and young people. Congradulations.

Summer of Textures.

The Mood: Project 072019 mostly mauve, hint of mint icy grey and sandy light yellow.

These are images inspired by the new nomadic royals and I take this personal. I have fallen in love with rocks.

“My Family Book Fairy Tale” without the portraits only the landscapes. They are real found moments.

The island of Sifnos and Poliegos have been a mecca for artists, explorers and travelers for thousand of years and I am sure there is a reason why. A magnet of great power sits at its core casting its net only capturing the ones that fit into its peculiar draw. My words are not of telling a story but merely describing the thoughts that come to mind from my last visit. Sometimes it matters.

Violent Waves during a summer time experience translate into a melancholic memory inspiring enough to sit down and let the hours pass by remembering the ironic joy. Nature’s varied textures can be felt at the surfaces of crevices and holes filled half full of water. Vulnerability is beauty. Speechless makes a much bigger noise. She reminds us that we are fragile but strong.

An oval rock holds up the girl who is saving her father from the water’s reflection hypnotized by it’s translation.

I was taken to a place of no return. Energy stood still. The taste of gold with a haze of purple dust cover the pines that shadow a boat filled with people. Jealous of solitude wanting more time to think, there comes a time when one has had enough of the outer world and doesn’t crave too much more.

Slowing down rotating finding order.

Invisible feathers fall from a clear blue sky. Behind the wall is another wall that leads to four other walls. I know they are there because I have been here before. The rain will come again and wash away the shells, laying down a new beginning without the same crooked line.

They never called home

This is my second blog, a friend upon reading my first one sent me a message quoting Henry Miller, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” On this easter Sunday I see the Notre Dame in new light. The explanation of when something will become important is a mystery we secretly hold somewhere within.

It was a cold winter day which was no reason not to wander around and explore. I was deeply in love with my husband to be which made everything even more romantic than it already was on that strange and early snowy Paris February evening. Rarely does it snow in Paris nor do I travel to a destination if it isn’t for work. This time I accepted to be the kept lady accompanying her boyfriend on a business trip.  The snow began to fall at a rate that extended by eyelashes into heavy feathers. I followed the most beautiful path possible, the one that had a freshly laid blanket. Killing time until my boyfriend came back from work I didn’t argue that my freezing wet feet kept moving, they apparently had somewhere to go.

In order to keep my camera dry I only took it out at the most obvious of moments. Unexpectedly at what I thought was a bizarre moment, I was standing in front of one of the most impressive churches in the world. It was quiet, the first hours of snow has a habit of doing that. The people were motionless just like the sculptures in the park. Images were happening everywhere. The stairs that descended to the Seine river formed perfect rectangles and the branches of the trees gave the organic shapes needed to frame the perfect scene. I shot away even though the water was now rolling around on my focus screen and the lens was all fogged up. The best hour to photograph is the whitching hour and on this day the glow of it´s navy blue light mixed with the snow illuminated the tower on top the Notre Dame as a silhouette shaped like a gigantic arrow shooting into the heavens. Little did I know that a year and some time later the photographs I took of that arrowing spiral would become even more important to me than before.

Photographing the Cathedral that day would be the last time I would see her before its horrific tragedy. As gothicly ironic as it may be its history has once again burned into another dramatic tale. I don’t watch much hard news anymore in fact I hardly ever turn on the television due to the abundance of sensational news, so upon the news that this magical tower was burning I decided to preserve my memory to that very special moment I had that strange and early snowy February evening in Paris.

Life can be just like that, here today and gone tomorrow. Maybe it all does happen for some reason and to some higher ground. I would rather believe that we are given lessons to learn appreciation and respect for what we have. Sometimes it is when it is lost that we admire and value its significance even more. Hard but true, when the tower was burning up in those dramatical ravaged flames, it then became more important, not only because of it’s history and culture but the artistic world it represents.

In every corner of the world there are people who are faced with having to define their identity in order to fit in or adapt to a certain environment (whether social, economic, cultural or political). This is a concept that determines our position or situation within society. While some have the natural gift of inventing themselves, most struggle to find the identity traits that best define them.

Born in South Carolina (United States) to a Spanish mother and an American father, I have always been attracted to the subject of identity, and this is probably why I chose to become a photographer. My profession forces me to question whether the very nature of photographic work modifies our perception of reality. When we capture an image or transmit a story, is it not a reflection of our own cultural perspective?

On another level, some cities debate similarly about their own cultural identity, sometimes to the extent of inventing it. Qatar is a good example. It’s a country I visited recently and it made me wonder whether the spirit of a place can be built from an initial vision. Can you really define a city’s identity from a state of mind?

Communication and image agencies look for this kind of emotional connection as a starting point. They build corporate identities through the use of images, colours and styles seeking to convey the value of a company, what it believes in and why it exists. Finally, it is this emotional connection that creates a brand, an identity.

Based on this reasoning, I was delighted to accept Skyscanner’s invitation through Blueroom (which now represents VisitLondon) to visit London, a city with a strong identity that these companies help to forge.

When we visualize the city of London, most of us feel something very precise, an emotion based on our personal experiences and on the photos or films we have seen. Despite the fact that more than 100 languages are spoken in this capital city and an infinite number of religions, rules and ideologies coexist, London, in its unusual essence, is still definitely London.

During the journey, I felt the urge to explore this identity in unexpected things. Would I be able to capture the London spirit through the typically unusual? Determined to find out, I decided to enjoy a sunny weekend in October by touring two neighbourhoods not found on typical tourist maps: Bethnal Green and Stratford. These images reflect some of the situations that caught my attention and were a gift to my eyes.

Coautor: Carlota Nelson

Transition. The heartbeat of a nation. White elephant. Chinese motor bike cheaper than Thai. An architect and an economist stay at the Strand. An American couple ask me if there is a head monk like the Pope? Teak may soon have a better law. There are cement roads, not asphalt.

Had lunch with the doctor´s first patient. The light is soft and not aggressive, neither are the people. Hot ginger Tea. No Rotten Coffee. Mandalay fine language. Walking in the sky. Eat gold. Send a postcard. Pennywort leaf salad. Banana blossom. Lime aid. Shan State. Rachine State. Sittwe. Chin. Closed. Bad monk. Good monk. If tourists don’t enter no one knows what is going on. Shared a taxi with an architect and his wife , they were from Hong Kong. A blue car stopped to pick me up in the pouring rain.

Children hand out plastic bags. A row of people push the largest mop I have ever seen. A disco buddha with my favorite color, a bright “sea-foam” green. A fine arts student wants to practice his English. Saffron Revolution 2007. Stone emergency brake. Organized blue plastic piping. Old Paw Pounded dishes it says on the menu. Temporary houses from swollen river. Betel squirts splat the sidewalk and Thanaka stalls paint the street. Needed a bicycle for a girlfriend now I need a motorcycle. Only a few naked bot-bellied children by the river. Tiger Meat? Jew Buddist?

Buddha says if you stop your desire you will stop your suffering. Sing with a swing. Are you man enough, big and bad enough? Are you gonna let em shoot you down? Gothic arch brick. You may be reincarnated as a low life. Camera flaw. Positive energy. The big smile. Tourism can damage. Life is a passage where what we really own is our spirit the rest is just too selfish.

Here is the link of the digital version of an article that was published in yesterday´s El Pais Semanal Magazine in Spain, called “The New Face of Myanmar”, written by Amelia Castilla. Included in the post is a gallery of more of my photographs taken on the same journey.

There are two things that have always caught my attention. One is the mandatory nature of military service. I remember the first time I heard about women being forced into the military. An Israeli colleague told us about it when she was studying Fine Arts and Photography, and showed us the photos she had taken when it was her turn to do the service. I know that there are other countries that do this too, so I’m not giving Israel a callout. It’s just that my first notion of women’s military is related to this country, where I happened to take this photograph recently on a trip to Jerusalem.

The other thing that strikes me is the ease and attitude of some people when they hold a gun. I know people, and in fact I have friends who carry guns, and it is something that makes me very uncomfortable.

For me it’s very simple: guns kill. I don’t want to kill anything or anyone, and I don’t want them to kill me or anyone I love (or anyone, for that matter).

As I was walking through the commercial area in the center of Jerusalem I saw a group of kids with machine guns. They were chatting and laughing with their guns hanging on their backs. I started talking to one of the girls, the one in the photograph, and she explained that they were all military. I was shocked by the image and asked her, as a joke, if I could shoot a picture. The girl posed politely for the portrait with a big smile as she held her machine gun tightly and proudly. Personally I find the result interesting, especially the contrast between a beautiful blonde girl and the huge gun.

I invite you to share your opinion about guns and the laws that regulate them. It is a very important issue that we have to discuss and deal with in a serious way.

And please, if you are inspired, share your opinion about the power of photography as well.

una rubia armada

Unlike previous posts in which, inspired by a situation, I first think, then write and finally photograph; this time I return to my roots, first photographing and then writing.

While boring traffic jams Madrid and the big cities pollute, this facts almost always cause of noise and disputes, there are other traffic jams to be discovered.

One of them is the march of more than a thousand Canarian oxes – some weighing more than 800 kilos – dragging the traditional wooden carts, whose wheels seem about to break under the weight at any moment, full of people of all ages, roasting meat in the back and serving wine to all who pass by.

I would not dare to give a figure on how many patron saint’s festivals are held each year in all the cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods of Spain, but I can say that very good photographs can be taken in each and every one of them. When I began my photography studies at the Savannah School of Art and Design, my teacher at the time recommended that I take photographs of Spain during my summer holidays.

I had just discovered Cristina García Rodero – still my favourite Spanish photographer – and after spending that whole summer in my mother’s village, I started with the idea of a collection of holiday photographs. And today, 22 years later, I am still excited to have the opportunity to participate and photograph a party.

Invited by BlueRoom and the Tourism Office of Tenerife, this summer I had the opportunity to attend the Fiestas de la Orotava with other journalists.

La Orotava is a colourful colonial town located on one of the slopes of Teide, the great volcano that rises above the Canary Islands like a hawk. As official guests, we were invited to dress up as “Magicians”, with the regional costumes in order to fully enjoy the party together with the locals. Completely incognito, except for my camera which stood out wherever I went.

On the last Sunday of the festival, the Pilgrimage takes place, which begins at a high point in the village and descends through the mountains. Dressed as Maga, I took my camera and made my way down to The House of Balconies.

It was impressive to see the oxen facing the slope almost diagonally to the ground, using their hooves as brakes. The logical thing would be for the wagons to be driven by grown men used to working with the oxen in the fields and handling them in delicate situations, but instead many of the wagons were guided by children, orchestrating and ensuring the flow of traffic as if they were urban guards. Needless to say, the oxen are passive and quiet creatures that seem to be, in turn, proud to participate in the pilgrimage.

These are the images I captured and I have the feeling that the only way to present them was to tell a story. My favourite is the story of the boy and his ox, the juxtaposition and the graphic composition speak for themselves. The horn that seems to extend to protect the child, the admiration in the animal’s gaze, so intense and obedient. The whistle in the child’s mouth and the rod perfectly aligned with the cross. No comment!

Pictures taken with my Haselblad 501 camera, Carl Zeiss lens 50mm and slightly retouched to optimize the tone and color.

Many of us have heard about the Saharawi refugees, especially in Spain, but few of us know about their harsh reality.

They are basically nomadic tribes, Berbers from the Sahara desert mixed with Arabs, who have their own language, Hassania, and their own culture.

They settled on the Atlantic coast of Africa for many years, between Morocco and Mauritania, and were colonized by Spain in accordance with the Berlin Conference of 1884.

In 1975, under pressure from USA and France in order to safeguard “a good relationship with Morocco”, and driven by obvious economic and political interests, Spain abandoned the Saharawi people and their territories, leaving them alone to fight for their rights.

Faced with the Moroccan occupation, the Saharawis armed themselves and fought until the signing of the UN Peace Plan in 1991, which recognised the right to self-determination of Western Sahara through a referendum. The referendum has not yet taken place. In short, more than 35 years waiting for a solution, more than 20 years since the UN Peace Plan.

A real taboo subject.

Algeria gave them some 150km of desert far from the coast of Western Sahara to help keep the Saharawis together, who built refugee camps where they have chosen to live in order not to lose their identity and their culture, hoping that one day they will return to their homes in their own land. They survive mainly from humanitarian aid and their many dreams.

It is strikingly incredible that in a world that advocates democracy, this situation continues and that we as people who share this world allow the suffering of the sisters and brothers of this fellow people. A blatant case of injustice.

Every year the film community and Saharawi activists from Spain gather in the Dakhla refugee camp to celebrate a film festival, for the enjoyment of its people, showing films to send a message to the whole world that this fraternal people are not forgotten, while giving them a halo of hope and some entertainment and fun.

This year about 250 people sympathetic to the Saharawi cause travelled from Spain, by plane to Tindouf and by 4-hour caravan across the desert to the refugee camp in Dakhla.

The visitors were divided into different groups and were welcomed by families characterized by a great hospitality. They tasted their traditional meals and slept in their humble tents, which made for a unique experience. During the day, all kinds of social activities are carried out, such as clown performances in the schools, visits to the precarious hospital and its small greenhouse garden, dances and traditional parades to get to know this people better, their origins and the reason for their struggle.

The group of actors and guests agreed on a statement, which was later written by the actor Juan Diego Botto and read at the festival’s closing gala by the actor Eduard Fernández. It reads as follows:

We, the guests of the ninth edition of the International Sahara Film Festival, after having lived for a week with different families of the Dakhla refugee camp, have decided to present this text to civil society. We know that there are hundreds of statements and manifestos written for this cause over the years. We know that many people believe that words are empty shells blown away by the wind and that these manifestos are toasts to the sun destined to go nowhere.

We know that not a few people believe that this is a lost cause. But we think differently. We have learned from the Saharawis that dignity knows no deadlines and that the peaceful struggle of this people to return to their land will not cease until they are given back what is rightfully theirs.

We have learned from the Arab revolts that words are the keys to the engine of human will and that the desire of a group of people can overthrow regimes that seemed to last forever.

We have learned that the lives of nations are longer than that of the dictators who oppress them. That is why, if it is necessary to repeat everything again, we will repeat it once, or twice, or a hundred, or a thousand, or whatever is necessary to take hold of the will of civil society and move this mountain that we know is not and cannot be eternal.

After Spain left its colony in Western Sahara, this country suffered the occupation of Morocco in the face of Spain’s lacerating passivity. The occupation brought violent repression under which there was a desire for genocide. This led to a war between the Saharawi people and Morocco. This war lasted for 16 years and ended with the signing of an agreement between the parties sponsored by the USA and the United Nations.

In this agreement, Morocco committed itself to holding a referendum in which the inhabitants of Western Sahara would decide on their future. Not only has this referendum not taken place, but the inhabitants of the occupied Sahara suffer daily denial of their identity, repression, imprisonment and countless tortures for fighting for their country’s independence.

Imprisonment, beatings, rape and disappearances are, unfortunately, common practice. Moreover, the exiles of that occupation have been living in refugee camps in very difficult conditions for 37 years.

We are not going to address the Spanish rulers who, whatever their colour, have supported the Sahrawis while in opposition and have abandoned them when they came to government. Nor to those responsible for MINURSO, the UN delegation for the referendum which has shown a criminal passivity in the face of constant human rights abuses, nor to the French government which insists on vetoing time and time again any form of pressure on Morocco, not to fulfil its commitments, but even to abandon the systematic torture and repression of this people.

However, we address the Spanish, French and international civil society to put pressure on their governments and institutions to resolve this indignity which has gone on for too long.

The referendum in Western Sahara must be held once and for all. The UN must assume responsibility for the enforcement of human rights in the occupied territories before the next death is the fuse that forces the Saharawis to take a path, that of violence, which they themselves do not want.

The Spanish Government must assume its obligations as a decolonizing state and place the defense of human rights above any other economic interest. We know that governments will move nothing if they are not forced by their citizens, and that is why we are addressing them, so that stone by stone, word by word, gesture by gesture, they will join our voice in this demand, in this demand that cannot be postponed. Because we know that the only struggle that is lost is the one that is abandoned.

This photograph was taken after a shocking sunset just before nightfall, on the eve of a full moon night. That day the temperature reached 35ºC -spring for them (imagine the heat of summer)- and was partially cloudy, which helped to create a spectacular range of colours in the sky. The woman is a typical Saharan woman, dressed in traditional clothes and who comes from enclosing the goats in the stable.

If you look at the left side of the house you can see that one of the youngest goats has escaped and is half hidden watching the intruder. And if you look a little closer you will see the floor covered with “poop” from the herd.

The reason why the photograph is called “La Tata” is because she was the mother of our family and among those who formed our group were three musicians who came to give a concert at the closing gala of the festival. Er Canijo de Jerez, Juanito Makandé and Tomasito de Jerez composed a song for her entitled “I am The Tata”