Monday, April 7, 2008

The Road to Bolivia

After an headache of a visa process for Bolivia, Eric and I finally got the go ahead to enter Bolivia. We hopped a midnight bus that drove us from Salta to the northern border of Argentina and by 6 am we were standing on the border looking into our next country. There are a couple immeadiate things that pop into mind when you first come across Bolivia. First off it was freezing. The early mornings in a high alititude desert are a rude awakening for travelers that have been in a climate of 80 degrees in Chile and Argentina. Once off the bus, we quickly unpacked our winter coats and began to warm while we breathed in the crisp, dry desert air.

Steping across the borderline to Bolivia was an instant transformation into the unknown. It´s a litteral step into a third world. Nothing like I have ever seen or experienced. Decaying, mud brick buildings aline narrow streets where women in the tradition clothing carry huge loads of produce or crafts they will attempt to sell at market. Children play near their families claimed chunk of sidewalk for selling goods with homemade toys or harass the numerous stray dogs that try to sneak off with some food or some unattended garbage.

This is the first place I have been called ¨gringo¨.

It is hard to describe the feeling you get when walking through the local markets or dust covered streets of Bolivia. I have a couple of things going against me when trying to blend in. I am a six foot, muscular 240 lb, blond haired, blue eyed American walking around with a photographic hand cannon of a camera in a sea of 4-5 ft tall, black hair, dark skinned, natives. I stick out like a sore thumb. When I walk through the markets, people stop what they are doing a follow you with every step you take. Their faces show little emotion. I wonder if they despise me or if they are just super curious.

This has presented a difficult challenge for me as a photographer. My goals when shooting a situation are to be seen and then forgotten. It´s the persuit to become invisable. This allows me to photograph them in a way that you would never now I was present. Genuine. Natural. Candid. How ever you want to call it. I have found this a very difficult thing to do here. Almost everyone prefers that they not have their picture taken. Any time a raise my camera, I get women yelling at me to stop or they give me strange looks. My broken spanish is unable to convince them of what I am trying to do. I can´t disapear here and I struggle with trying to make a good picture. It makes you really appreciate the talents of National Geographic photographers.

Almost all are friendly but with these anti photo reactions, I wonder what lies under the surface. I think about what people who may look like me have done here prior to my arrival to give them a certain opinion of gringos. I wonder how I can change their opinions.

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