Below you’ll find the photo essay that I submitted to a National Geographic photo journal competition over at WorldNomads.
The Introductory Essay
Photos often capture a single moment in time, but great photos have the ability to tell an evolving story. Exceptional photography reveals a continuum in the subject’s past, present and future, and becomes an art when it invites the viewer to feel and contemplate the scene within.
By American standards my family isn’t wealthy, but I learned the relativity of wealth while traveling. I gained a new perspective by living with some of the two billion people who survive on a dollar a day. After these tremendous experiences, my attending university, teaching English in China, and buying a nice camera suddenly felt like astounding privileges that many people only dream of. The beauty of travel is the people that we meet along the way. Everyone has a story to tell, and particularly in the ‘Global South,’ these stories inevitably center around the improvement of their own lives.
Before entering a developing country, I try to understand their political and economic development. What have they already achieved and how do they want to continue advancing? Have they been able to help themselves, or are they dependent on outsiders for assistance? My natural interest in observing human transformation led me to study anthropology where I learned when and how it was appropriate to participate in social and economic change.
When I arrive in a new country, my camera snaps freely during my first interactions with the new host culture. The excitement of photography is in the simultaneous development in front of the lens and behind the viewfinder. A camera is an intersection of change between a photographer’s internal transformation and the unfolding human saga in the larger world.
My camera is an ever-present companion in my travels, but I feel as if we are still becoming acquainted. With it in-hand during particularly spectacular moments, I feel blessed at the opportunity to share a piece of the diversity, beauty and strife that we collectively create. Travel photography is the best and only way that I know how to educate and inspire positive action in myself and in others.
The Photo Essay
Welcome to Ganquis, a town located in the high cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes. Although the town has a dirt road connecting it to a highway about an hour away, it is very rural, not even appearing on most maps. The children’s faces are chapped because it takes around 15 years for their skin to adapt to the chilly, windy environment.
We came to Ganquis as a group of students from university associated through Engineers Without Borders. Ten months prior to our arrival in Ecuador was a period of intense planning since our project involved sophisticated engineering. It isn’t easy to design a gravity-fed water system that descends nearly 3,000 vertical feet of steep Andean mountains. The force behind the water would have literally ripped the system apart without pressure break tanks like this one.
Although we applied our technical skills and labor to the system, the locals soon showed us who was boss. I felt that I was making a formidable accomplishment as I hauled a 100lb. bag of concrete around the mountain at 14,000 feet above sea level until I was passed by a man about half my size carrying two bags! This picture captures a local woman in a rare moment of repose.
These two women, Maria and Consuela, faithfully prepared an early breakfast for us before we set out and a tasty dinner after we returned from working on the system. Even though they had grown up in Ganquis and understood the material luxuries of a life in the city, they have chosen to stay in the village and focus on family life.
One of the central ideas behind our project’s goal of sustainability is that the village should be self-reliant in the construction and repairs of the water system. This crew became the first to construct a tap stand on their own. As the concrete dries, their confidence and happiness exudes from bringing clean drinking water to Ganquis for the first time.
Thanks for reading.
You can see a couple more photos from my EWB trip to Ecuador HERE.