Saturday, February 25, 2012

School Girl Dreams in Living Color

Puerto Rican School Girl
Barrio Rocha, Moca, Puerto Rico

My cousin never married but he always wanted to have a family. His mother fostered many children late in life. He chose to adopt two sisters that she fostered; he has raised them with the help of his parents.

The sisters once had nothing but nightmares and little hope. They had nothing to look forward to and nothing to hope for. Thanks to my cousin's love and the kindness of his parents, for his children nightmares have been replaced by soothing dreams.

The uniformed young lady in the picture above is on her way to becoming a model. That's her dream. Although she must wear a uniform to go to school, she has already figured out how make her own statement. She has found her voice. The nightmares are gone and the dreams have come in their place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We Have Faces

One of the things that intrigues me about photography is the complexity of photographing a person. The more I study the subject, the more I realize how difficult it really is to capture the many faces of the subject. The face we see may not be the face the subject wants us to see. Conversely, we may not capture the true face and essence of our subject because we've not bothered to go beyond the surface.

Photographing people and capturing them in the right light, as they truly are, requires patience and inter-personal relationship skills. It simply is not just a mater of camera, lense, and lighting (natural and artificial). For me, at least, it requires some kind of an emotional connection between between the subject and myself. 

Several years ago, I discovered the value having a conversation with my client throughout our session. The results were extremely pleasing and I decided that I would continue to use that technique. This conversational approach enables me to capture more personality dimensions that otherwise a two dimensional image would not cast.

Portraits which lack intimacy, a relationship between photographer and subject, inevitably leave the viewer flat and void of feeling. The end result is simply a testament of technique and technology.

These portraits of my friend were shot in my home studio. The intent was to capture the many dimensions of the man I know and to render images of him in a flattering context. It became evident to me quickly that it was a complicated endeavour almost like reading tea leaves. It was complicated because I had to learn to see the various sides of him. It required patience and relationship. I relied on his immediate feedback and the quickly became a collaboration between photographer and subject. We created the photographs and crafted the final outcome.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choices: In My Life

iPhone Artistry
From: The Power of Words Card Collection

Choice is the one thing that we have in abundance. Each day we awake, we face multiple decisions. We make decisions from bathing and hygiene, to selecting our clothing for the day. Some can kill us over a long period of time if we choose what we ingest daily poorly. Life is about making decisions. Like Indiana Jones, you must choose "wisely." 

Wrong or right, we must make decisions. We make financial decisions some are good and some are bad. We make driving decisions and select routes based on familiarity and celerity. We choose to speak or not. We choose our friends. We even make unanticipated career choices.

This morning, I choose to make an affirmation. I choose to believe that universe provides ample opportunities for those that actively engage life, that sustained motion and activity ultimately yield gains. Without sowing there can be no harvest. The choice lies within me to change and turn life's pages.

Today, I have less luggage than when I started this journey two years ago.  However the journey is far from over and plenty of choices lie ahead of me. Choices that contain opportunity and reward. They may even be more fulfilling than those that I've had in the past.

Nostalgia is an important part of my life. I think I will leave you today with a Beatles song, In My Life its timely to our discussion. Continue to make choices abundantly. Move confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Remember the Good Times

Good Times
Victrola at Hacienda Buena Vista
Barrio Margueyes, Near Ponce, Puerto Rico

Some things act as catalysts bringing back incredible good memories. That was the case with this victrola spotted in the corner across the expansive living room salon at Hacienda Buena Vista. It sat alone but the horn drew me in and you could hear the music that must have come from it and you could visualize the dances choreographed in that room.

My mother use to tell me of her two story home near San Sebastian, Puerto Rico. How her father had money and how they use to entertain with lavish parties and dances at their home. For a moment, as my sister and I walked across the open open room, we reconnected with her spirit and her past. We visualized what she experienced and how grand it must have been. All those excited young girls waiting to dance the evening away. Who would they meet and who would they marry?

Mom never ever forgot the good times and she had many; enough to outweigh the hardships she later endured while raising her family with her husband in an unfamiliar place. Mom taught us how to draw from the good times.

Good times are for a reason, accumulate and store them. They should not be forgotten. They serve a purpose; when times are tough we dip our ladle and draw from the well to quench our thirst and refresh our soul. Can't forget the good times. Find the good times in your life and recall them.

"Good Times" image will be available for sale along with others in my new card series: The Power of Words.  Contact me for additional information.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Power of Words

Be Still
"Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary
 to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself."
Hermann Hesse

For nearly a year, my wife and her cousin have been trying to get me to print cards with simple words and messages. After experimenting with some scenarios, I am ready to launch a new set of cards and images. They will be available soon.

"Be still" is something most of us were told as a child. As an adult, be still is an admonishment to reflect. There are times in our life that we need to withdraw, regroup, meditate, and renew. Solitude is not a bad thing. Finding an opportunity to listen to the universe by gazing at the stars may very well be the change in perspective you require. Be still and get rid of the noise. Find yourself again.

Dream On

Dream On
Rincon Lighthouse
Rincon, Puerto Rico
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who'll decide where to go.
~Dr. Seuss

One of the classic hits from my generation is Steven Tyler's "Dream On". Both the lyrics and music remain as relevant today as it did when we first heard it on our favorite rock radio stations.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming. In fact as we get older we need to be reminded to dream on. Dreams provide an outline of where you want to be. You must act to fill in all the empty spaces and complete the sketch. Without the outline you can't get there, but without action you can't achieve your dream.

Reluctantly, I've dreamt of being self-sufficient. Circumstances have forced me to pursue that dream now rather than later in life. The journey I am on is one that's more compatible with my personal interests. The only thing that has held me back is self-doubt and fear of financial failure. Now I have no room for doubt and I can only press onward in the direction of a dream long forgotten. It's good to dream but it's even better to work on them and make them come true. To all of you I invite you to: "Dream On."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine

Bridal Valentine
Mixed Media: SLR and iPhone
 (Special Thanks Courtney Kaiser Sandler and Vanessa Price)

Nearly twenty-five years ago, my valentine met me at an outdoor gazebo (altar). That day our whole family got married, Justin and Steven too. It was a beautiful day. We were surrounded by friends and family at an outdoor poolside ceremony. The sun's light was pale compared to my beaming bride. As much as a macho stud I portended to be; I choked up. Her beaming radiance touched me. To this day, she still lights up my room when she walks in.

Today don't forget the glow. Think about the magic that brought you together and imagine how less bright your world would be without each other. Forever is a long time but just not long enough. Since I also shoot weddings, I think a little Randy Travis in order. So today, I just want to say, I am going to love you Forever and Ever Amen.

Pick a tune and sing it for the rest of your life.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dry Cows

Cow Concession Stand
Barrio Rocha, Moca, Puerto Rico

While at my uncle Ismael's farm, I noticed one calf in particular. It was paying attention to no one other than his mother's utter. I was drawn to this scene and I instantly recalled an analogy told to me nearly a decade ago.

A very wise advisor took me aside once and made several quick observations about me. She asked me if my vocation was in sales. I replied in amazement that it was. She said that one her observations about sales people is that they truly want people to like them. She knew I was guilty on both counts.

To be perfectly honest, I really didn't want her observations to go any further. I didn't care to listen to what this old east Texas relic had to say. It didn't deter her as she read my face. She said to me in a twang that could make your toes curl: "In east Texas we have an expression, you can't draw milk from a dry cow."

Years later I discovered she was right. In life the issue is not that everyone is going to like you back; the real dilemma is that not everyone has the capacity to give you back something. Emotionally some folks just don't have anything to give back. You can tug at them as much as you want, but don't expect anything 'cause they are "dry".

It's a lesson I find myself repeating over and over. You might say that I am still trying to learn this analogy. I suppose it's the real reason I took these shots. This cow wasn't dry and the calf knew it. It's hard to get over the disappointment but it sure helps you appreciate those moments when the cow is not dry.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How Do You Wish To Be Remembered?

Ismael Hernández Vargas at 85
Barrio Rocha, Moca, Puerto Rico

Dad's wedding afforded me some time to get back in touch with my family and where we came from. It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I would like to be remembered. 

Voyeuristically photographers create vignettes but they aren't always true to the person in front of the camera. This presents a conflict between the subjects essence and the photographer's personal quest for perfection and beauty. At times, the photographer imposes his view on the subject. The images become an extension of the photographer's skill set and not an actual portrayal of the subject. To me the key is to capture both.

In my mind there's a difference between a snapshot and a photograph regardless of the equipment used and the photographer taking the image. For the greater part of his eighty-five years, my uncle Ismael, has led a healthy life on his farm. His pride to this day is animal husbandry. Although he doesn't need to work, he enjoys messing with his prize cows and calves.

If I only showed one image of Ismael, he would prefer not the normal smiling portrait photographers love to take, but one of him as he truly is: working and tending to his cattle or in his element outdoors.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Following The Road: Map of the Earth Driving

Camino Angosto de Rocha
Barrio de Rocha, Moca, Puerto Rico

The journey takes us full circle. This sojourner reports to you that he has made it!! He now knows that the universe takes care of those who are willing to see how it unfolds. You, my friends, have helped me on along this narrow way.

After two years of self discovery, I found that the treasure, what I sought, was deep inside of me. It was in my blood in fact. I was born to create, to survive, to thrive and to earn a living telling my stories and creating and showing my images to those willing to see and to listen. It's not just my story nor just my images; they are in fact our mutual experience.

For two years, I've been wandering and wondering. The journey took me to the depths of Death Valley and it took me to mountains of Colorado. It also took me to the valley of death and to my mother's coffin. Together, you, the reader and I, the sojourner met the milestones: the low points and the high points. From the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico and its inviting bells to the winding Roads of Moca, Puerto Rico, we have travelled together. We have even been together at the cross roads of Canadian, Texas where Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks character in Castaway) stood.

Who I am is not what I was doing before, but rather what I am doing today. I am a photographer, a teacher, and a story teller. I'm on a mission to reacquaint myself and you to a life that truly is an adventure and worth living. The best part of life is how unpredictable the road through it is. What I feared most is now what I have learned to enjoy.

A few years back when I worked at a helicopter company, I learned that Army pilots learned to navigate just several hundred feet from the ground. It is called map of the earth flying. Pilots learned to fly at tree top levels to attack and to flee the enemy. The winding roads of Puerto Rico and its hills which make the roads and cars in front of you vanish, taught me the value of relying on my intuition. Just perhaps, I too have learned map of the earth navigation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Good Life

Tio: Mino Velasquez
Rocha, Puerto Rico

While my sister and I were in Puerto Rico, we stayed with my father's sister Josefinita and her husband Mino. Both are in their late seventies and continue to lead very productive yet simple lives. They don't have much but they give an awful lot beyond what they possess for sure.

As he has his whole life, Mino gets up at the crack of dawn to tend to his cows and to cut down the vegetation with his machete. He continues to work post retirement. By seven in the morning he has already had his daily coffee at his nearby sister's house along with his brother. This is his life. It's simple; something of the past, the way the Puerto Rican campecino and jibarro lived.

His wife continues to foster children and Mino doesn't mind. Both feel that its important to make a difference. Several of the children have even been adopted by her children. They now are part of our extended family. It's as if Mino and Josefinita are the modern day Puerto Rican versions of Ma & Pa Kettle.

Before ten o'clock, you will find Mino on his porch hammock enjoying a few minutes by himself and perhaps even with his year and half great granddaughter snuggling on his chest. The breeze whispering through the palm trees soothe them both and they soon fall asleep.

They don't have much, but I feel that they have more than most. They seem to be content with their lives. They don't talk about religion they just practice kindness and mitzvah. I am proud of my family and all that they do to make the world better one child at a time and one day at a time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Romance in San Sebastian

Peering Through a Glass Door
Iglesia Catolica: San Sebastian Martir
San Sebastian, Puerto Rico

Since their migrations from Galicia (Spain) and Portugal via Brazil, my mother's side of the family has inhabited the town of Hoya Mala a parrish of San Sebastian. The town has an amazing beautiful town square which to this day remains the center of commerce and tourism.

Iglesia Catolica: San Sebastian Martir
More than likely Don Manuel del Rio and his ancestors traded coffee and cattle at the plaza mercado in the center. They might have even traded with their distant cousins from Moca, de Hernandez del Rio's. Since they were coffee growers they might have even know the Vargas's and Marques also from Moca.

These folks also share a common thread not only did they have Portuguese ancestry, but all of the last names appeared in Catholic sephardic directories of the new world. The were conversos who had fled Spain in 1492 and no longer practiced the religion. They were pragmatic and fled to the new world.

In order to keep their blood lines pure and to maintain their wealth between families, they married amongst themselves. My family arrogant and once wealthy believed in controlling and taking care of its own family. They did so for generations. In San Sebastian the names within our tree were as follows: Rios, Del Rio, Roman, Hernandez, Irizarry, Fuentes, Lisboa, Matos, and Merle. I am grateful to all of them and proud to honor their last name by my life and by recounting their history. I remain proud yet humbled by their sacrifice.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

For Those Who Wait

Rincon View at Sunset
Rincon, Puerto Rico

Photography like life is marked by time. A great photo is the blessing of the right exposure. Since we can't always physically control light, we can learn to use tools to improve the scene. In life, via maturity, we learn to change our own photograph. Maturity, life's exposure, helps us to render images that we otherwise would have missed.

My philosophy truly is a function of my own journey, my experience. In all candor, I don't always understand the events unfolding before me. What I can say is this: I choose not to miss any of them. I remain curious.

My sister, Lydia, and I spent nearly a week together in Puerto Rico. She willingly joined me on several side trips while limping on a very swollen ankle. I don't know if she just wanted to insure that I was ok or whether it was to witness my process, either way it was fun to be with her.

We spent nearly all of our time with relatives in Moca and San Sebastian. One afternoon, I decided we should go west and see the sunset at Rincon. Swollen ankle and all Lydia joined me.

We meandered through perilous curves which lead us from the roller coaster mountains to the plains near Aguada and finally Rincon. I didn't quite remember my way but I just followed my heart and the sun. After about a forty minute ride and several side stops, we made it to the lighthouse, El Faro, in Rincon.

The inscription on the lighthouse read simply 1921. It was constructed the year my mother was born. It has stoically stood its ground although it witnessed the island's agricultural decline and massive migrations to the US mainland. The storm has always been about the island economy.

My sister and I walked around the base of the lighthouse and headed towards a pier at the beach's end. We waited for the sunset together and thought about my mother's passing and my Dad's new beginning.

The sun's angle began to cast beautiful warm inviting shadows against the grasses. I explained to my sister what a beautiful image that would make. She wondered why I was focused on the setting sun. I've seen the sun set  before I explained the real magic is the light all around us. We focus too much on the setting sun and not quite enough on the details that surround it. I pointed to the pier and to the tall grass. This would make a very interesting photograph. I bet it would look like an Andrew Wyeth painting. All that's missing is Cristina.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Amor Vincit Omnia

Nuevo Esposos: Pablo Hernandez y Judy Pujols
enero 29 del 2012
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

The amazing fact is not so much that my father, at 88, remarried someone fourteen years younger; the truly amazing part is that my father is smiling again. He has found a soulmate and companion to live out the rest of his years.

They met serendipitously, by accident and fate and even perhaps some white magic, my deceased mother's nieces felt that their heartbroken uncle should not be alone. One of my cousin's, Ema, knew that her mother-in-law's sister was also widowed and wanted a companion as did Dad. The logistics seemed impossible since Dad lived in Florida and Judy lived in Puerto Rico.

For weeks after Mom's death, Dad would call Mom's and his favorite niece, also named Judy. One day that he called he spent a lengthy while speaking to whom he thought was his niece. Towards the tail end of the conversation, he realized that this was not his niece. He asked who she was and she explained that she was also named Judy but was related by marriage to Ema and that her sister was Ema's mother-in-law and her nephew was married to Ema.

Judy Pujols Hernandez
Judy and Ema have been the best of friends for over twenty years she related. Ema had told Judy about Dad and that perhaps they should meet. By the time, my father, had made the famous phone call. Each had in fact heard about the other. 

Well their conversation ended, but the next day curiosity struck Judy as she was scrolling down her cell phone the next day she dialed a mysterious number she couldn't quite "recollect". She redialed it and it was my father. The two started flirting with each other. Dad said he would like to get to know her and she said if that was the case he would have to travel to Puerto Rico and see her in her element.

The next thing you know Dad told my sister in November to make travel plans for him to go to Puerto Rico for Christmas time to "be with his family". He wanted an open ended ticket since he didn't know how long he wanted to spend there. By the way, he announced "there's a lady I met over the phone and I would like to get to know her."

December could not get here fast enough for Dad. He counted the days and kept AT&T quite busy. The man who had been depressed was now walking every day as if he was training for an olympic event. Fearless and undaunted, he moved forward with his plans. By then, she had told him that she could stay at her assisted living place by the beach in Aguadilla, and she would stay nearby with her daughter.

The day came and Dad missed his flight on Jet Blue because he couldn't find his carryon luggage after going through security. His luggage however left without him including frozen pasteles  and two pairs of new shoes (super small size) for Judy. He refused to leave the airport and go through the hassle again and waited nearly twelve hours to catch the next flight. Neither my sister nor I could cajole him to go back home and wait. In the mean time, Judy and Dad spoke again and she made sure his luggage was picked up. Then at three in the morning Judy and Dad met for the very first time. It was love at first sight.

iPhone and Icing
By the way, my father's grandfather Pelegrin Vargas Gonalez, my great grandfather, also remarried three months after he was widowed at the young age of 58. He was introduced to his new wife by his daughter, my grandmother. It seems that relatives also like to keep happiness in the family. My great grandfather lived to be 105 and had four more children. To my knowledge, Dad and Judy do not plan on having any more children. They will be returning to Florida in March and Dad and his friends will have the privilege of enjoying Judy's charm, sense of humor, social services, and great cooking.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Back to PR

Hacienda Buena Vista
Barrio Maguyes,
Near Ponce Puerto Rico

For several months, I've been silent about the purpose of my trip to Puerto Rico. As most of you know, my mother passed away last July one day after her 90th birthday. My father decided he did not want to have the last few years of his life filled with loneliness. He set out on a mission to find a soulmate for the remainder of his life. Dad with the assistance of my mother's two favorite nieces succeeded in his quest.

Deliberately, I chose not to write while I was in Puerto Rico this past week. My oldest sister and I, had many things to do during our stay. Including taking care of some of Dad's personal business (details to follow in a separate blog), visiting both sides of our family, and taking some personal time for reflection as well as continuing my genealogy work.

Our trip was filled with adventure and seasoned with dangerous roads and curves in the cordilleras of western Puerto Rico. Each day was marked by the crowing of roosters and the evening serenades of coquis. The trade winds provided their medley during the day as coconut palm trees picked up the invisible syncopation which rocked our porch hammock. This is Puerto Rico mio, the place my ancestors still inhabit and where others rest.

Victrola in Salon de Sala
Hacienda Buena Vista
My father's wedding, without a doubt, became its own marking of family history and another story to add to my blog collection. Nonetheless another dramatic moment came when we visited the coffee plantation Hacienda Buena Vista. The front of half of this home was the type of home my mother lived in and frequently described to us when we were children. She was very proud of the wealth her father had enjoyed. 

The census of 1910 led me to believe that in fact my mother's account was definitely fact and not fiction. (An older cousin, Lydia, confirmed the type of home my mom lived in.) As I viewed the records early last year, I found out that Don Manuel del Rio y Roman was indeed a wealthy man. He had servants and cooks that tended to his coffee plantation, livestock, and to his home. What he lacked in his thirteen year marriage with his first wife, Amelia Lisboa y Roman was children.

His wife committed suicide shortly thereafter on November 12, 1910 at the age of 37. Ironically, he married Amelia's first cousin, Leonora Lisboa y Cardona. Her brother, Flor Lisboa, already worked at the farm as did her first cousin, Leopoldo Matos. My great grandfather Rafael Lisboa quickly took advantage of the situation along with tio Flor the arranged for the 16 year old Leonora to wed the widowed Don Manuel, who was 38 years old. My grandmother Leonora claimed on her marriage certificate that she was  20, an obvious fabrication.

My grandfather made up quickly for lost time. The couple had fourteen children of which thirteen survived. As for great grandfather Rafael Lisboa, he quickly came to live in the two story house with his daughter. He died in bed, a happy man, in that home after asking my grandmother to fetch him some chicken soup. Stay tuned for more stories.