Archive for June 2012

It is OK to look how you feel   Leave a comment

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

I wrote recently how I discovered something new about people who live in another culture who are not exposed to the cultural customs associated with photography, like smiling on queue for the camera. We have become quite expert as a society in hiding our true emotions, especially when they are permanently recorded on a medium like photography.

The Shipibo children of Peru, who live along the Ucayali river in a remote area of the Amazon rain forest expressed a range of emotions when confronted with a camera, and to my surprise and delight they were always genuine, vulnerable and completely honest. I have many pictures of smiling, truly happy children, but have chosen to show three here that are anything but.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

It is impossible for me to strip away my own deep-seated cultural filter, to interpret what these images say to me outside my upbringing and “trained” eye. Yet what I love about each of them is that they challenge me to do so. While I have the benefit of having personally met and interacted with each of these children, I am still moved by their expressions. No doubt there were many moments of pure joy and happiness that I captured, but at the moment these images were taken, these children looked how “I thought” they felt. Only they can say for certain.

 
© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

The picture above is my favorite picture from the trip. I snapped a half dozen pictures before the young girl stared off into the distance, reflecting on something only she knew. It is a reflection of my own feelings of my experience; sometimes melancholy, sometimes deeply moving and most certainly thoughtful and introspective. Visiting a culture vastly different from my own, certainly one as remote as this, forced me to see myself and the world I live in, in a very different way. I knew it would be a gift I would leave with, forever shaping and challenging my notions of human expression.

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Posted June 29, 2012 by Paul Coffin in Art, People, Photography, Portrait, Travel

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Mother and Child   Leave a comment

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

There is no doubt, that the special bond between mother and child is universal. This is not more evident than when a child is held by their mother and her gentle embrace supports them in her arms, the security of that embrace reflected in the child’s face.

The beauty of any art form is the discovery of something new and unexpected, and the revelation of how that art communicates in a way words alone cannot. I had several such discoveries while in Peru I will share in the coming blog posts.

Today, I wanted to focus my thoughts on the mothers of the remote Shipibo village in the Amazon rain forest, that I encountered while in Peru.

Discovery #1

Without exception, the mothers I encountered who were holding their babies wanted to have them photographed. They often raised them to just below eye level and shielded much of their own image in favor of their child’s. This was puzzling to me. It is not entirely unusual, but I sensed that the preservation of the image of their child was more important than the image itself. It was a record of their existence, that I believe they intuitively understood carried with it the permanence of longevity.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

Discovery #2

The beauty of a “real smile”.

It is understood, at least in North American culture, that when a camera is pointed in your direction you should smile. It is an odd custom we have developed. Many a family portrait has been taken, with one or more unhappy family members forcing a smile; a smile not able to mask the truth in the image. The people in this remote village were not so trained. Indeed, often, I found myself smiling from behind the lens in the hopes of coaxing even the most subtle of smiles. Ironically, it worked, and the results were less about posing and more an honest response to my delight in taking their pictures.

The children in particular were fascinated with seeing their own image in the displays on the back of the many digital cameras being handed around while we were there. They too were not “programmed” to smile, so when they did it was genuine.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

I have always had a thing about smiley eyes. I used that expression once while we were in the village and one of our teens pointed out this was a favorite term on the Next Top Model TV show. How unfortunate, that once again we should package and program the simple idea of how eyes can reflect a smile, sometimes even more so than how lips can. Despite that disappointment, the image above is one of my favorites. The intensity of the mothers eyes looking at me (and not the lens) reflects the sincerity of the moment.  It was a moment in time I was blessed to me able to capture and to subsequently share here as a small gift to her.

How ironic that these pictures should find themselves on the world wide web. These mothers may never know, but these images now reside in the worlds largest and longest lasting archive, a lasting record of them and their children and the tender moments they share as mother and child.

Posted June 27, 2012 by Paul Coffin in People, Photography, Portrait, Travel

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Pucallpa – The industry of the River   1 comment

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

I’d like to say that the boat we boarded to begin and end our mission on the Ucayali river, was moored on a  dock in an area that was suited to easily boarding and departing, but unfortunately, it was not. Instead, we literally were pushed up against a muddy, much polluted river bank in between the fisherman’s loading area and a local boat builder. It was not what I had expected, but it did offer some interesting views of a world more foreign than I have ever visited.

The days started early for those that made their living from the river, and the constant sound of the humming motors, like a whir from a lawn edger or ailing lawn mower, was my wake up call. Sunrise cast a warm glow over an otherwise dirty and exhaust smelling embankment, with hard working men carrying blocks of ice, bananas and what looked like saw dust to each of their boats.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

The conditions were harsh, hot, humid and exhausting and yet somehow, through it all, I managed to get a smile from a local fisherman as I peered though my lens and snapped his picture.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

No matter the conditions, whether in the village, on the river bank, in the city or in the local tourist towns, people smiled at me. I didn’t for a second ever feel resented or reviled. It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. It would be easy for me to judge those I encountered and compare their lives to mine, but that would have been presumptuous and egotistical. Instead, I accepted their happiness for what it was, a celebration of life.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

It is odd now, a week later to reflect on that world, as it was then and is now. Mine, a fleeting presence, left with an indelible mark.

Pucallpa Peru   1 comment

Catedral de Pucallpa 

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

The beginning of my second week in Peru, I flew to the river port city of Pucallpa, Peru, where I boarded the boat that would take us to the very remote village of Santa Rosa on the Ucayali river.

This image of the interior of the catholic cathedral was taken hand-held and of course is a HDR photograph.

Mass was spoken in Spanish and we were clearly the only foreigners in the pews.  The week I was there, it was the week prior to the feast of Corpus Christi and the people were preparing to celebrate the event. We were greeted with smiles and felt very welcome. One gentlemen even invited us to stay the day to take in the fireworks and celebrations taking place later that evening; regrettably, we could not stay.

I have been very fortunate to travel with work, but I must say, Pucallpa was among the most remote and certainly most foreign of any city I’ve visited. It was not a clean city and was very much a fishing community surrounded by a more industrial environment. Densely populated and feeling very third world, it was none the less a place that the people seemed happy living in. It was difficult for me to unravel my North American sensibility from the experience and not to judge it by that bias. Despite all that, there were places of beauty, as there always are, in surprising settings.

Machu Picchu   Leave a comment

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography
 

I recently returned from a two week trip from Peru, where I had two vacations in one. The first week I visited Machu Picchu and the second week, I traveled six hours up river from the city of  Pucallpa into the Amazon rain forest to help build a church in a Shipibo village along the banks of the Ucayali river. I’ll post more pictures from that part of the trip in the coming days.

After a plane to Lima and then the next day to Cuzco, we took the train to Aquas Calientes to spend the night before getting up early for the sunrise at Mach Picchu. Unfortunately, and I suppose as is typical, it was clouds, heavy fog and rain. The sunrise would have to wait for another time. After five hours of miserable wet and rainy weather, during which time my camera barely made it out from underneath my rain poncho, the sun finally broke through and my second trek through the ruins began.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

As many of my frequent blog visitors know, I am a big fan of HDR photography, and I knew the only way I was going to capture some new and unique images of a location that must be photographed thousands of times a day was to capture the place using this technique in liberal, albeit not over the top fashion.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

The most challenging aspect of my photography that day, was avoiding the many hundreds of visitors in the ancient ruins. In one instance, I waited for close to 40 minutes in the hopes of capturing the sun-dial without the distraction of the throngs leaning into it in the hopes of extracting some cosmic energy. I pulled two shots off.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

Machu Picchu is truly a magnificent wonder. The Inca’s were clearly master masons and their work remains today as a testament to that dedication. The Princess’ Palace is one such area that illustrates their mastery.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

At every turn the vista’s that greeted us were amazing and it is not hard to understand the many reasons the Inca chose this location to build the Palace. It was a sight to behold.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

It was one of the most amazing places I have visited and will forever be an adventure to remember.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography