These are photos of photos, and thus the images do not do the originals justice. Each photo has its story, with a full array of sensory memories attached to each one.
|One of the first photos I ever took where I deliberately captured a leaf with the light hitting it from behind.|
This was an elephant ear plant. The leaves of the variety that is found on the island (I think the ones we have are Philodendron) can reach 3' in length.
| Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.|
It is one of the historical places in Old San Juan; there are tombs that date back all the way to the 1800's. It is a desolate, eerily beautiful place full of the bodies of Puerto Rico's past, the people that come to life in our history books.
The ocean breeze always blows here, and you can always hear the roar and thump of the ocean against the fortress walls that surround the cemetery.
|Every couple of months, Old San Juan hosts all sorts of craft and art shows, where local artists can sell their wares.|
This was a class contest: we had to take 1 single photo that captured the essence of this particular craft show.
This photo won.
|A chocolate Lab attentively watching the streets of Old San Juan from his home. I remember what color he was because at the time I took the photo, he reminded me so much of my uncle's own chocolate Lab, Rufo.|
|My brother with his bass.|
This would eventually lead to one of my bigger projects for Photography class. The following 8 photos were part of that project.
|In early 2000, I decided to do a photographic essay of some of Puerto Rico's local bands; the project lasted about a year. This was the bass player of the local punk rock band, "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas." The band still exists! Though the members are completely different now, they still strive to bring to light some of PR's political and cultural injustices through their music and videos. If you want to hear what island punk sounds like, you can go here.|
|Lead guitarist of "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas."|
|Lead singer of "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas." His name was Tony. I loved his tattoo; I'd often see him from a distance at school, as he was working on a music degree at the time and was in my same department.|
|Trumpet player of "Kampo Viejo." I love this photo, how his silhouette is etched in light.|
For these photos, I used ASA 1600 film by Fuji.
Around 2000, Kampo Viejo was an up-and-coming Puerto Rican ska band. They had a local record deal and were trying very hard to achieve national recognition by coming over to the States to play. You did not get radio play on the island unless you had already had radio play in the US, a very stupid rule that I believe still exists to this day. They never made it; they had a really hard time finding a good manager and promoter to get them recognition on the mainland, and later there were some disagreements among the band members that I think were the cause of their ultimate demise. I honestly don't know what became of them and there are no online records to be found explaining what happened.
I dated their bass player for a year, though at the time I expressed my interest in him, I didn't even know he was in a band. He worked at the music store where I purchased my guitar strings and we'd been flirting for awhile.
My personal interests aside, I discovered ska as a genre because of this band. Actually, I learned to really listen to music, to pick out individual instruments, chords and notes, because of this band and my relationship with Victor. They were good. It was a pity they never made it. You can listen to one of their big hits here.
|Eduardo, on the left, was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer. I sadly cannot remember the name of the guy on the right.|
|Victor, Kampo Viejo's bass player.|
|Kampo Viejo's percussionist. His name was David. He was a spicy, happy-go-lucky guy that attracted girls like flies! This is among my favorite of the hundreds of band photos I took. At the time, they were playing at a skating competition, and had been told to set up in the middle of a steel skating "U". Thus, they had a ton of light reflecting back at them from the metal surface surrounding them. It was a really hot summer day; they were all roasting by the time they finished playing their set.|
You can read about both La Experiencia and Kampo Viejo within the context of Puerto Rican rock in this article. I share these with you because it is a part of the island that outsiders never get to experience unless they know where to go to listen to these bands.
That time with the bands was a very weird time in my life. When I was playing guitar and was so interested in music, I attracted musicians in the sense that I was surrounded by them most of the time; the majority of my friends were musicians. I didn't know a single musician prior to this time. It was like something about me had changed and we could scent one another out.
The day I broke up with Victor was the same day I lost interest in music as anything other than something I enjoy listening to. I never played the guitar again. And I have never been among musicians again; when I stopped being one of them, I surrendered the ability to find them out of context.
My uncle still owns a beach house in the southeast corner of the island, in the tiny, tiny town of Arroyo. Every summer and spring break, and sometimes other holidays, we would borrow his beach house for anywhere from a weekend to two weeks. To get there, we had to cross the island's central mountain range. It was always bright and sunny when we went, except for this one trip. It was Thanksgiving. It was chilly and raining from the time we left our house to the time we packed our things at the beach. The mountains, as we crossed them on the way to the beach, were shrouded in mist.
Old sugar cane field in Guayama, the town next to Arroyo. This was taken during the same trip as the previous photo.
Two rivers lead to the ocean in Arroyo, which means you can find tons of smooth river stones strewn across the beach after storms. I have a collection of them that I keep in a ceramic bowl on our dresser.
My brother. I loved photographing him, and it used to drive him crazy at times.
I think photographing him in the starkness of black and white was my attempt at keeping him in the light, at preserving the part of him that made him unique, the part of him that he was rapidly having to change in order to fit in in the world.
When my brother was born, the doctors thought there was something seriously wrong with him because he didn't cry.
He was silent. And then he laughed.
He was born laughing, a brilliant little boy that glowed with happiness and light. He could see and understand things that the average person could not. He had a sensitivity, an aura about him that marked him as different. And he was taunted mercilessly in school because of it. It almost broke him, and it's why I have no forgiveness for bullying.
We were close growing up, not like your average siblings that squabble and bicker constantly. We were best friends, partners in our adventures. We kept one another's secrets and could often speak without using words. We literally saved one another's lives multiple times in our adventures together.
I wish I could have protected him from the bullying as well.
He lives in Ohio now and is happily married; he was the first of our family to move to the great white North.
My aunt Lucy at the beach house. She was staring out the front entrance of the house towards the parking lot. I love the soft dreamy quality of this photo.
My aunt Lucy and I have always been so very much alike that people still think I'm her daughter. Not only were we alike physically; we were alike personality-wise too. We butted heads a lot when we all lived under one roof. Now that we are separated by some 1,600 miles, we get along quite well and talk more often than when we lived together!
My brother sketching while sitting out on the beach house's patio after a morning in the ocean.
My brother in the foreground and his best friend, Jerry, in the background.
Jerry. He was my brother's best friend from the time they were 6 years old, and we referred to him as the third sibling. He fit right in. He was a gifted gymnast as a child and went on to be a professional dancer and instructor. Like most of the people our age we knew growing up, he now lives in the continental US.
One more coconut, rolling back and forth on the shore with the sway of the waves.
Dried up brambles found on the beach after a storm.
A typical morning in Arroyo. My brother is in the rocking chair by the windows, his friend Jerry is leaning back on the couch. The girl leaning forward on the couch was my friend from university, Alice, and that's her little sister sitting on the couch armrest. Everyone reading. We had a strict no technology rule at the beach house, and it was us kids that had set it: we could listen to music and talk to family on the phone, but no TV and no video games were allowed. Time that was not spent physically in the ocean or walking along the beach was spent writing, drawing, reading.
Huge piles of driftwood still on the beach a couple of months after one of the big hurricanes.
Another self portrait.
That's my hand on my bodyboard, ready to go ride the waves.
There are beaches far more beautiful than Arroyo on the island, but Arroyo for me was the one place where my soul could rest, where I could find peace within myself. It was my haven. It is the place where I would want my ashes spread.
Part of that peace was obtained from riding the waves, the sport that I discovered on this beach that always kept me safe, with its sandy bottom and gentler waves. I lived for that lift-off from the sandy bottom as the wave crested behind me, allowing myself to be captured by the power of the ocean as I maneuvered my board to slice across the waves at top speed in the wake of their breaking force. I loved it almost as much as I do riding horses. You can't dominate the ocean, you can't force your will upon it. You have to wait for that wave and give yourself to it so that you can ride it. You become one with it, with one of the most primal forces on Earth: the ocean. The waves.
My bedroom at the beach house in the morning. The southern side of the island where Arroyo is located has a more arid, desert-like climate, which meant that the days were blazing hot and dry, but the evenings were wonderfully cool. You did not need air conditioning to sleep well at night; I just had a fan. My bedroom faced east and there were no curtains over the main glass windows; I liked it like that. It meant I was woken up bright and early by the fiery heat of the sun, despite the cool air from the fan. I'd lie in bed for awhile, enjoying the increasing heat as the sun crept higher in the sky, listening to the waves crash distantly on the shore, knowing that any minute now I'd be getting out of bed to get straight into my swimsuit so I could run down to the beach for yet another morning of surfing.
A generic beach photo. Except it is my beach: Arroyo.
The rearview mirror of my Toyota Tercel; I was in the passenger seat and we were coming home from the art school on a Saturday evening. It had been raining all day.
The view of the city from our backyard at night.