I attended Billy Howard’s Documentary Photography workshop at RMSP in 2009 with the hope that one day I’d have the opportunity to put what I learned into practice. That day came this past December as I joined a team of researchers from the state of Washington and the University of Nicaragua (UNAN) to photograph and assist in an eight-day project to evaluate a new type of coffee collection bag designed to ease the back strain of harvesters. Despite numerous obstacles, the project was successfully carried out on two coffee farms in the rural mountains of northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras – the precise area in which the Contra-Sandinista civil war was staged in the 1980s (think back to the related Iran-Contra affair).
Needless to say, the photographic opportunities were as ripe as the papaya we ate every day, which means it will require more than one blog article to share the experience. In the eight days of the project and an additional eight more days I spent in the city of Leon for fun, I depressed my shutter button over 3,000 times. One thing I learned right away after reviewing my images: not all of them or even a high percentage of them were masterpieces (dang!). Like in photojournalism, oftentimes you take the less-than-ideal conditions and situations you’re dealt with and shoot it the best you can in order to tell the story. But it does pay to be open and alert (and even anticipate) the interesting compositions, beautiful lighting, and spontaneous happenings that can make images even more compelling.
This is what I brought along with me to capture and back up the images: a Canon 7D camera; 70-200mm 2.8 IS, 28-75mm 2.8, and 10-22mm 3.5-4.5 lenses; 580EX Speedlite; 1.4 EF Extender; 500D Close-up Filter (for macro); twelve 8GB CF cards; Canon G11 10MP point and shoot camera and SD cards; assorted batteries, lens caps, and cleaning supplies; Nexto 160 GB battery-driven portable hard drive that receives CF cards directly; and a Kata R-101 bag to carry it all. I did not bring my computer for weight and safety reasons, and I brought my Rollei carbon fiber tripod but it was mainly used to support an antenna for the research equipment.
Here are a few images as a way of introducing you to the people, the place, and the project.
Next article: Diving deeper into the coffee growers’ lives.
Tags | coffee, Documentary Photography, Nicaragua, Photojournalism, Steve Russell