Let me introduce you to our interim photographer.
This is Promotora Luzmila’s daughter. She comes with us on house visits, during which Luzmila reaches out to her neighbors, offering them health advice and providing treatment when appropriate. The thing is, Luzmila’s daughter—like any other 6-year-old I know—gets bored watching her mother work all day. To divert her energy, and so preempt her from interrupting our work, I let Luzmila’s child play with my camera. Yes, the big, fancy digital camera. Here I present to you Luzmila’s daughter’s artistic output.
First lesson for our National Geographic photographer-in-the-making: your eyes’ movements don’t actually steer the camera. I show her how to aim before taking a picture.
Better, my dear, but we’re still out of focus. Press halfway down, hold, and then all the way. That’s right! ¡Con más fuerza!
We’re getting there! I’d love to tell you that the reason this picture shows no defining features of the patient is because of our young photographer’s concern for patient privacy. Unfortunately, it’s due more to the unwieldiness of the big, fancy camera.
This next photograph gets it right. The patient is trying hard not to laugh at the child’s frustration with the unwieldy camera.
Finally, we’ve arrived at professional standards! The photographer figures out how to use the big, fancy camera just long enough to capture this gorgeous picture of her mother. Mom, too, is trying very hard not to laugh at her child’s frustration with the unwieldy camera.
On a roll now. National Geographic, here we come! Mom taking off her gloves after treating and wrapping a cut.
The big, fancy camera is safely returned to my hiker’s backpack. And, we have successfully prevented the child from interfering in Luzmila’s work.
The walk down the mountain to Ollantaytambo takes two hours. Two long, lonely, dusty hours to ponder what I have just witnessed: a child from the rural Andean community of Pilcobamba encountering Big, Fancy Camera.
It amazes me that our technology has become so advanced that a 6-year-old child without any photography experience can take (close to) National Geographic-caliber pictures. Does this mean that we’re democratizing art? Maybe not. If I hadn’t been on a community visit, would Luzmila’s daughter have gotten the chance to create a spread for Nat Geo?
These lofty, philosophical questions are quickly choked out of me by the mountain’s dust. Instead, I start to ponder questions that are more immediately relevant:
What troubles lie ahead for these remote communities, whose children will have known iPods, Coca Cola and Big, Fancy Cameras before they know clean water and basic medicine?
When you think about it, are NGOs like SVH/Ayni Wasi somehow competing with the tourist industry for the Andean children’s interests? I sometimes have the feeling that, instead of becoming promotoras, the children might prefer a corporate career that could get them closer to buying their own kingdom of Big, Fancy Things.
On days like today, I wonder which team they see me on. Is my camera more impressive than the education I bring?
Perhaps we’re not in a competition at all. Perhaps the children will use the opportunities offered by the world of Big, Fancy Things for their communities’ benefit. Can you imagine? What if one of them actually did attract Nat Geo to the scene?
The trail down to Ollantaytambo is not long enough for me to come up with answers to all of these questions. And frankly, I’d rather eat arroz con pollo and take a cold shower than do any more philosophical pondering. Don’t think I’m leaving you hanging, though—I’d love to revisit this conversation. How about we talk more on the way up to Huilloc next week? In the meantime, we here at SVH/Ayni Wasi are interested to hear what you have to say. Let’s crowd-source! Please talk with your friends, have fun with these difficult questions, and shoot us an email at email@example.com, or leave a comment with your thoughts. Let’s get a good conversation started here.
– Written by Community Coordinator Katherine Un