I was a newbie at documentary photography when I went to Nicaragua last December to shoot a project for coffee harvesters (please see last month’s blog article), so there was no way I could have anticipated what unfolded in front of my eyes the deeper we got into the project. What I didn’t know going into this was that when you return to the same place and people over and over again photographic possibilities emerge because you get to know your subject and your subject gets to know you.
My job going into this project was ostensibly to document every aspect of our research project. But the longer I was there, the more I relaxed into my role and began to recognize and anticipate the light, and the more the coffee farmers and their families tended to invite me into their lives. As a result, my photos “on the side” naturally became more intimate and revealing.
For example, on the afternoon of the fifth day of our project, I found myself sitting outside under the overhanging roof of the golden brown adobe building where the workers stayed with their families. The sun was bright but we were in the shade as the pickers came in one at a time to do their muscle tests and have the EMG electrodes and wires removed after a day of testing.
Each man stopped long enough for me to fire off a few close-ups with my 70-200mm lens, a shallow DOF, and on-camera Speedlite flash (to compensate for the backlight). Despite the chaotic activity around me, it became my own personal portrait studio with golden light reflecting off the earthen walls and the time for me to focus on their remarkably unselfconscious eyes. It was magical, I knew it, and I didn’t want it to end.
Of course, it did end, and we moved on to other things and other opportunities arose to shoot their kids, wives, and animals in a similar light. But the “portrait session” made an imprint on me for how the light, the subjects, the right equipment, my readiness, and my recognition of what was unfolding all came together at the same time. And it would not have happened had I not been coming back day after day. I can only imagine what may have emerged had I been able to stay longer.
Next Month: Yep, Nicaragua has bugs (and snakes!).
Tags | Coffee plantations, Documentary Photography, Nicaragua, Steve Russell