Archive for September 13th, 2010

The luscious pineapple

In 1901, Ecuador’s G&Q Railway commissioned photographs from John Horgan, a Pennsylvania photographer, that could be used to attract investors to the railroad. We have about 250 of the original sepia-toned photos, and we’ve come to Ecuador with a goal of reproducing the photographs for a “then and now” collection. We’re not looking for an exact replica; we’re looking for today’s interpretation of yesterday’s photographs, to show how the passage of time affects place and people.

We start by selecting a photo to reproduce, like this 1901 photo of a worker in a pineapple field titled: “The Luscious Pineapple.”

Next, we scout a location. Some of the photos have specific easy-to-identify landmarks – a train station, a church, a monument. Those are easy. Others are more vague. Enlisting locals helps with the location search. In this case, we found two friends from Milagro that drove around with us and pointed out pineapple fields in the area. We knew this had to be in the Milagro area, because Milagro is famous for its sweet, juicy pineapples.

Once we found a field that might work, we needed a worker to pose in the photo. Finding people to pose tends to happen serendipitously. For example, while we were setting this shot up, a fellow with a machete came down the road and stopped to talk to us. Bingo!

So we had the place and we had the person; now we needed pineapples as props.

“No problem,” said the fellow, as he walked into the field and started whacking pineapples off their stalks with his machete. We used a bit of stray rope to tie the pineapples together and sling them over his shoulders.

There are usually some issues for the photographer – in some cases, it’s point of view, and Sandy has to climb up on a flimsy corrugated tin roof, or be roped up to hang over a chasm; in this case, he stood in the pineapple field getting poked by sharp pineapple points each time he moved.

We stood the machete fellow between the field and the house, with pineapples over his shoulders. Halfway through the shoot, he said, “I’m a photographer too, but I take quick photographs. You better hurry up, or the owner might come home.” Well, we’d thought he was the owner. Here is a quick close-up shot of “The Luscious Pineapple” set-up.

We gave the fellow $5 for posing for us. ”The whole thing?” he said.

And in the end, we split up the pineapples between the fellow, the two scouting guys and us, and everyone went home with luscious pineapples for dinner.

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Carving into the mountains

Today we hiked 4km to the old G&Q Railway tunnels along the Chanchán River. It was perhaps one of the most exciting days we’ve had so far.

In 1997, a landslide covered the tracks, which the government is now clearing. The landslide cut off the Chanchán River valley, and 13 years of no use has left grass and snakes to take over the rails, and rot and disrepair to take over the bridges. We had to high-wire across the rotting sleepers.

The tunnels were dark and windy. Bats nested overhead, dropping guano on the rails.

Emerging from a tunnel, we stumbled upon a construction site for the rehabilitation of the railroad. We were stopped and interrogated, but with luck were able to gain access and an escort — a Guardia de Seguridad armed with a gun and a billy club. We were also warned to watch out for snakes.

Workers in safety gear dangled from the mountainside above a new ventilation tunnel, where men drilled dynamite holes inside. Three days ago, a worker died in a landslide caused by the construction. We made friends with a supervisor wearing a red Ché Guevara bandana.

He kindly gave it to me to add to my Ché Guevara picture collection. We returned to Huigra the way we came, hiking along the rails, through the tall grass full of snakes, and over the rushing waters of the Chanchán on crumbling bridges.

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