Lost and Found in Bahia
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil 2015
I’m in Bahia. I feel the dry sea salt in my lips and around my eyes. I love to have returned to this land that has such a special place in my soul. My wanderlust here continues thanks to my students!
I love the group that destiny has sent my way: a wonderful combination of old and new students.
As always, I’ll lead them to gouge the entrails of this city of lights and shadows, where destiny brought me ten years ago for the first time, for no apparent reason. Now, I know why! It has been a boon to shoot here after the tragic departure from Cuba. It bespeaks of what was in store for me although I didn’t know it back then.
My photographic life would have been much harder without Bahia!
I take the group to the market of Sao Joaquim, the core of afro-brazilian culture where people come for fresh produces to prepare their daily food impregnated with African flavors like dendè oil and fierce spices. The market is no longer what it used to be when I first set foot here. A stupid World Cup has prompted a face-lift that has partially wiped out its raw, ancient past. It’s now a shadow of what it used to look like, but some sections have been partially spared, they still linger there precariously. I invite my students to look for those special moments, not only for the sheer beauty of the place, but also for its wondrous people both sellers and buyers that crowd the market daily and provide its magical atmosphere.
David says:”It’s my kind of place. I could stay here forever!” I smile back.
After a couple of hours we move to Bomfin by taking a bus under the scorching afternoon light. Packed like sardines we enjoy the ride.
We take a break at the restaurant with the beautiful view and share bolinhos, moqueca and beers.
We then explore the beautiful, spacious church of the Senhor de Bonfin with its area of ex-voto for answered prayers. Myriad pictures plastered on the walls, wax limbs, eyes, breast hanging from the ceiling. We all try to extricate the essence form this apparent visual chaos.
With Calvin, David, Elke, Frank, Linda, Mark, Monica, Sandra, Santiago and Tamar we travel to Itaparica island to finally photograph the celebrations in the abandoned church for El Señor de Vera Cruz. It’s amazing what we manage to see and photograph. Lit candles everywhere. Children running in and out of the decrepit walls that nature with its vigorous roots has spared from oblivion. Bent images of the Virgin rest next to small clay-figurines of saints. What a spectacle!
The group is gelling in a beautiful way. We have very intense editing sessions; we look at some of the students’ past work. We do taut selections, strip all superfluous images from their projects. I show the dummy of my family for the first time. Each student takes it and study each night and then gives me feedback the next day. I learn a lot from it.
And we eat well every night at the Italian restaurant by the beautiful, fine sandy beach next to the posada where we are staying. Along with the food we have our favorite drink: caipirinha. We will continue to do so all along the workshop. Ruben, the caipirinha king, will prepare the most unforgettable ones for us as we smile, embrace, cry and engage in many soulful conversations! And then, there are the therapeutic hugs that my sweet Sandra dispenses to all of us daily. She teaches what a good hug can do. They accord so much closeness, they brake barriers, they show that life can be simple and beautiful. They are wonderfully addictive and we all need them. I’m seriously considering hiring her in each single workshop! Jaja!
We finally head out to Cachoeira, the colonial town that has become the umbilical chord of my rural work in the Reconcavo Bahiano. Lately, Ive been feeling that the level of intimacy that I’ve been slowly reaching here is coming close to the one I used to enjoy so much in the rural part of Cuba. I’d have never imagined that this could be possible.
A glint of of happiness shines inside my soul. I look at all my students hanging out with some of the families in the villages we are visiting. I like that they are not just photographing, they are interacting, they are sharing life, giving something back: love, care, food.
Through the years, I’ve come to realize that this is the ideal way of taking pictures. I glean it more and more as my life unfolds. I’m happy to have been sharing it with my students. The pictures of our group Lost and Found emote what we all lived.