Portraiture is about the invisible but irresistible feeling between photographer and subject, the way it pulls them together into making an image. In my experience, the result is determined by how and where I meet my subjects, what they are doing at that moment, or how they perceive their own role in the process as well as that essential truth about themselves that always remains at their core.
In summer of 2011, I set up a makeshift studio in the courtyard of the Spanish Cultural Center in Antigua Guatemala. I used indigenous woven fabrics for backdrops, which I hung in a landscape of four hundred year old churches, eroded walls with washed out layers of pastel colors with a horizon line of volcanoes looking down the beautiful colonial city. People simply walked into the studio as they were, and I would catch the moment when they are willing to be photographed, not for a photojournalist or commercial photographer but simply for himself or herself. After asking for some basic personal information, I let my subjects take the lead, offering them a minimum of direction. It was a sort of performance and collaboration where I sought to be receptive to their desires and their energy and sense of excitement so that I could translate it photographically. Some days, I would leave the confines of the courtyard and venture out on the streets with my mobile studio.
Among many others, I met a group of students coming back after school; an indigenous family coming from their small village to the city to sell hand-made card and which never had a family photo taken before; fashion model wannabes; little girls playing at being fashion models while waiting for the chicken bus; a couple having an intimate conversation after the Sunday mass; cheerful ceviche street vendor; boys in a school band walking back home after rehearsals for the Independence Day Parade; volunteer firefighters refilling water for in their tank after extinguishing a fire; hungry gang members having a quick bite of fried chicken and washing it down with an oversized bottle of Gallo, the national beer all the while turning away and hiding their faces from the camera; an elderly couple who came to the cultural center for a holiday outing; backpackers on the way to leadership workshop; a humble girl balancing a basket full of snacks to sell on foot around the city but with the face and self-confidence of Mayan princess; a gay couple who looked like father and son; a woman who so very excited to have a studio session with me but at the same time was terrified of having the photograph publicly shown because of her escape from domestic violence in the past. All of them were walking into my studio regardless of their age, gender, education, skin color, or occupation and shared a special moment with me.
During my trip I learnt that indigenous people in Guatemala believe that every time they are photographed the camera steals a small part of their soul. Knowing this made me feel guilty whenever I photographed people or even objects.
My deepest appreciation and gratitude goes out to each and every one of the 211 people who trusted me and agreed to trade a handful of their soul in exchange for one of my photographs.