Language School, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
An integral part of our stay in Cuenca was Spanish instruction at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School. For the other 29 members of our tour group, learning basic Spanish was a major goal. All of us had our own guide/teacher to immerse us into the culture and familiarize us with the language. I used my own teacher, a young man named Angel, primarily as a photographic resource. He helped me get photographs I would have otherwise never made. I would meet him every day at the school, and instead of retreating to a classroom, he would cheerfully say “Vamos” and we would be on our way to another photographic adventure together. One day, I was waiting for Angel to arrive, and noticed the school’s poster, featuring a huge portrait of Simon Bolivar himself, blockaded by rhythmic stacks of plastic chairs. The name of the town itself is even larger here than Bolivar, and I thought this image would make an excellent opener for my in-depth series of impressions of this seductively beautiful city.
Central Square, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2001
A heroic statue of one of the heroes of Ecuador’s struggle for independence from Spain stands in the center of Parque Calderon, Cuenca’s main square. I photograph it here in silhouette, framed by the enormous pine trees that give the square much of its identity. In the background is the white dome of the Neocolonial Church of San Francisco, one of the many churches that stand within a few blocks of the square. I shot this image many times over my stay – I liked the look of the sky in this version.
Inca legacy, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2001
The Canari Inca, Tupac Yupanqui, founded the city of Tomebamba in what is now Cuenca around 1470 – it was said to have rivaled Peru’s Cuzco in its splendor. All that is left of Tomebamba are a few ruins and this monument to him just south of those ruins. I photographed the monument from behind, throwing the thrust of his lance against a spectacular cloudscape.
Inca ruin, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2001
Most of the Canari Inca ruins in Cuenca are carefully restored, set amidst lawns groomed as if at a country club. But a very small section of the ruined city of Tomebamba can still be seen under more primitive conditions, tucked behind a tiny museum. There I photographed this old colonial water mill built with Inca stones, its trough running towards us. My wideangle perspective makes it seem as if its stones are on the march, gradually growing larger as they approach us.
Looking towards downtown, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2001
My teacher/guide took me to one of its more distant neighborhoods known as Rafael Maria Arizaga. From there, I could view much of the city’s downtown area, and photograph the steepness of the hill upon which it sits. The tile roofs are typical of much of the city’s colonial architecture, and the blue steeples of San Alfonso church, in the heart of Cuenca, make a striking landmark. I shot this image under leaden skies – the taillights of the cars lead our eyes down the hill and into the old city.
The great cathedral, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
My apartment in Cuenca was adjacent to the city’s great cathedral. I made this wideangle photograph from my balcony, on a very rare sunny morning. The warm light seems to embrace its turrets, domes, and one of its twin towers. I was told the tower was to have been topped by a steeple, but that plan was scrapped when it was discovered that the earth below the cathedral was not stable enough to hold its weight
Morning in Parque Calderon, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
I often started my days with a half or so of shooting in the park that fills the city’s central square. There were always things happening in the park – it is a place where its residents often meet and share some time together under pleasant circumstances. I saw these men talking, and one of them gestured towards the cathedral across the street as he talked. The old wall of the great church provides a perfect backdrop for the gesture, and well as the man’s silhouetted profile.
Evening light, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2001
We only had a handful of days with lovely evening light in Cuenca. I make the most of it here, as the gilded luminance of the setting sun defines the elegant 19th century stonework on one of the several fountains in its central square. The play of light and shadow on the structure of the fountain is intensified by the curtain of water droplets stopped in full flight by my fast shutter speed of 1/320th of a second. It is also repeated by a softly focused shaft of evening light illuminating the decorative column on the building in the background.
Schoolchildren on parade, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
They approached me as a giddy mob of kids. I photographed them as they as they advanced, and as they chattered past, but my most expressive shot was this one, made after the children had moved on by me. Most of the pay me no heed – they are on their way to an adventure that has nothing to do with me. But two of the children turn to look at me as they pass. The closet child to me looks bemused, while the other schoolgirl looking towards me is also trying to figure out why I am making their picture. I liked the way the colonnade in the background swallows the entire parade as it vanishes into its darkness. The river of children becomes a stream of uniforms on the move, except for the two kids who linger a second, trying to figure out what the tall American holding a camera is trying to do.
Where old VW’s go to die, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
People seem to keep their cars forever in Ecuador, particularly old European models. I found this trio of old Volkswagens lingering in a neighborhood scrap yard – amazingly sporting the three primary colors of yellow, blue, and red. The years in the Andes have not been kind to them, but here they are, still hanging around, waiting to die.
Panama hats, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
Cuenca is well known for its hat factories. These tightly woven straw fedoras are not just for tourists – they are a staple of Andean fashion. I photographed them en masse here, sitting on their crowns, and converted the image to black and white to emphasize their severe traditional design.
Friendly farewell, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
I found these men carrying on a conversation on the street, and made many images of them as they chatted together. I moved my position in use the motorbike as a foreground layer – its dual wheels echoed the two figures standing behind it. At the end of the chat, they lifted their hands in this farewell salute – the moment that best told my story.