El Gringo. Gringo fotógrafo. I am the only gringo in my barrio. I carry a camera, wander the streets in some sort of half-crazy driven way and I am a tall blond Scandinavian alien. Basic sentences in Spanish escape my lips attempting to explain who I am and what I do as a photographer — more than once ending up making people think I work for a newspaper. “El gringo habla castellano” is a sentence I hear followed by big smiles all around as I struggle to understand the Argentinian flavour of Spanish. Needless to say I get noticed in my barrio. And get a name. El gringo fotógrafo. I am in Salta, Argentina, november 2011.
I’m here because…well, I’m here. Escaped Buenos Aires, arrived and took a liking to the dry, hot and dusty Salta with the fascinating barrios and amazing surrounds. Seemed like a good place to hole up and work for a while, so I rented a house in a quiet tourist-free barrio and Salta becomes home for 5 weeks. My barrio is 12 blocks or so from the touristy plaza and out here it is a different world. Mostly slow and subdued but it is barrio life, the energy is also here, life without filters. I like it.
I wander the streets possessed. Haunted, tormented and driven. Trying to come to grips with street and documentary photography, trying to clear, unlearn and defragment while learning to see afresh, see differently. My photographic work has stalled during2011, I want to pursue new directions, start over, re-invent — reinvent as I always do when I get tired of something or tired of myself. And as usual, I have no patience and want to be good at this right away. Patience, young jedi. I must learn things my way, even if it’s the opposite of how everyone else do it. Have to do things my stubborn way.
Salta in Summer before the rains is a grid of dusty, hot desert streets and I wander them every day. I search, I look but am I seeing? Seeing anything?, capturing anything?, making any pictures worth remembering? My combination of being obsessed and self-torturingly driven with no patience whatsoever means frustration sets in — but I must keep walking, shooting. Some days, I have light but do I have a moment? Other days I have moments but no light. Actually I cause moments. By simply appearing I change what is happening so that then becomes the moment. Often I end up photographing people reacting to me. Some days this is great fun. Other days I cannot quite cope and have to retreat. El gringo fotógrafo.
The rhythm of the street and the quality of the light dictates the day. Light here is almost straight from above and desert harsh for most of the day, leaving only a short window of light with any direction. Occasionally, beautiful storms arrive and leave again quickly. “It’s either too warm or too cold here in Salta” my neighbor says. He also says a lot of other things that is lost in translation.
Not really knowing what I want nor knowing how to get it but trying to un-learn and then learn becomes my thing. I could do with some guidance with storytelling though but that is to come later in the Peru workshop. That’s how I operate. Always teach myself things. Not always the best way, but it’s my way.
I wander the streets waiting for something I can make a picture out of. At times, the streets in my barrio are completely deserted feeling like a post-apocalyptic world featuring only me and street dogs. A perfect image of my nomad life. They know me, the dogs, and leave me alone. Just have to keep walking, keep looking, trying to see, shooting. Always make some pictures, even if they’re bad pictures and get me down, at least I am making pictures. Salta is in a remarkable location in northwest Argentina and I also visit a lot of surrounding towns. But the real work is done back on the streets, in my barrio.
As I get home at night I view the work of the day. Most days I have nothing. Damn photography thing kicked my ass. Again. Then once in a blue moon I make something I like. And I also ‘cheat’ and make a few portraits to keep my spirits up. The portraits are actually hard to come by though, most people refusing pictures. The next day the streets call me again.
Good images are far and few between. Great images are rare and take a lot of work and dedication, takes a lot of pictures that do not work to get those very few that do. Daniel Milnor has tried to drill this into my head. Looking back at Argentina, there’s maybe 8-10 images or so I really like. That’s good for a months work, I feel now. Of course, I felt frustrated at the time but that is probably the way I always have to feel to really work, and push myself. Too content, too satisfied, and it is probably apparent that I have stayed inside some comfort zone I should have stepped out of long ago. So the road continues.
This road goes on. Goes all around the world. So much still to see and learn. Actually the more I see, the less I know, the more I must learn. Forever searching, chasing the light, learning, looking, trying to see.
The last 3 images are from the town of San Antonio de Los Cobres, an interesting mining town north of Salta and worthy of it’s own blog post some day. View more images from Argentina in my Argentina image archive