Puedo tomar una foto?

It had proved to be surprisingly hard. Almost everyone said no. Some people even ducked and escaped the streets as soon as they spotted my camera. No amount of small talk by me could convince people to be in the frame. Getting any portraits in the small Andes Mountain towns of northwestern Argentina required stealing images. Maybe I was just having really bad luck. Every day.

But this lovely woman in the desert town of San Antonio de Los Cobres was different. She initially said no as she passed me. Expecting this, I just shrugged, smiled and sat down in the shade. You have to sit in the shade in San Antonio de Los Cobres. The sun in the desert at 3.8k altitude boils your skin. She takes an interest. This tall (I am about twice her height) weird alien is too strange to ignore, and she sits down next to me.

We talk. Well, she talks a lot. I answer in my basic Spanish. I like the way she laughs almost the same way I do. Her face tells the story of living in these extreme conditions. She’s lived here all her life she says. I look at her kind and warm eyes, skin cut like laser by the fierce sun and warm wind. It is very warm here today, her scarf and hat is protection. “Take my picture” she says, surprising me. I lean back so the blinding sun blows out the background. Her expression is perfectly her, the image a perfect memory of her. Wish I could remember her name.

38 Comments on “Puedo tomar una foto?”

    1. Yes, quite so, Peta. Behind every line on her face is a story; an experience, and yet she seems content in the moment, as you say. Flemming’s subtle approach (and immeasurable charm!) no doubt helped that to surface. Steven’s comment acknowledges this, too … Oh the skill of the great photographer!

  1. A llived ife mapped in the wrinkles of a woman like that reminds you that life is not merely downhill from youth. This important point seems to elude modern culture.
    Excellent photo and simple text that convey a deep point. This is what photoblogging is all about, thank you, Flemming.

  2. I wonder what she thought you were going to do with her photo. And I also wonder what was going through her mind when she asked you to take her photo, knowing she’d probably never get a copy of it. I always wonder why some people ask photographers to take their photo not expecting any in return – it seems an incredibly generous thing to do. It’s not something I would do, and it never fails to surprise me completely when it happens.

    What a great connection for you.

    Love this portrait muchly.

    1. Thanks C. She had initially said no, before she sat down. So she was now giving me a generous present allowing me to take her picture. I tried to show her but she had no interest, did not want to see it. She was just giving me a generous present.

    2. The people that really baffle me are the ones who will almost compete to pose in a picture. Young people that just really wants someone to take their picture, they’ll rush to the camera. They’ll never see the result, never get the image, not even interested. Just the rush of someone taking their picture.

      Martin Parr talked about this actually. How often people would come up to him wanting to be in his shot, how Facebook has meant everyone wants to pose and have their picture taken as it’s like a validation. Martin would then ‘offend’ them by saying I don’t want to take your picture!

    1. Thanks buddy. There actually is no shadow from the hat. We are both sitting in deep shade from a rooftop. So I manually expose for the face and keep the very sunny street behind her meaning that the background will be totally blown out – just what I want. Behind her is actually a dirt road with houses but the sun and my exposure for the shadows means I am purposefully blowing out the background.
      The light on her face is the ground in front of us acting as a nice reflector. The way to shoot portraits of people in hard sunlight is to move to the shadows.

  3. beautiful image. i never “steal” a persons image, i ALWAYS ask. i have found that engageing people in conversation first (as you did in this case) gets very good results. it is more of a sharing experience than just taking a photo and walking away. it shows caring and creates a level of comfort in your subject. i prefer (relatively )short lenses and close proximity to the subject, it allows you to get close, and that is what makes this a compelling photo. you can still see that little waryness in her eyes. good job.
    “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa

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