Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Isabel Vincent : Carnival in Rio

I would like to extend a warm welcome to the blog world of a respected Canadian journalist and writer Isabel Vincent, a close personal friend of mine, with her new blog Isabel Vincent, who over the last several days, has been writing, about what else: the Carnival in Rio, with the award winning Canadian-Serbian photographer, Zoran Milich (photo credit). Isabel Vincent's chronicles and feature stories can be linked through this site, under my category 'Friends'.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Letter from Colombia: A little more India

Within hours, possibly days of signing a free trade agreement with the US, the question must be asked, can Colombia compete?. And if it can, in what?. There is no doubt that Colombia is a rich country, with plenty of natural resources logged deep within its mountains and river valleys. There are gold reserves, oil flats and emerald mines. Colombia’s fertile plateaus are ripe with fruits and botanicals. Its jungles are a natural biosphere for medicinal plants and tropical species. It all seems too good to be true. Even Bogotá, with its sprawling metropolis, is surrounded by thousands of flower plantations, where roses and carnations are cultivated, cut and exported to the streets of New York, Miami and Amsterdam. So where does it go wrong?.

First of all, Colombia is the world’s best kept secret, and the government goes a very good job by under-promoting this country. A recent advertising campaign sponsored by the Colombian government employs the slogan’ Colombia es passion’ - Colombia is passion. It’s a little red heart, that looks somewhat like a health insurance logo, or the icon for cardiac arrest.

Colombia maybe passion, but it’s the Passion of the Christ, for thousands of kidnapped nationals and foreigners in the hands of the rebel terrorist groups operating in the country. The only other explanation I can get out of the new Advertising campaign is that Colombia wants to promote the word passion, as a way of attracting tourism to this country. Colombia is many things to me, adventure, danger, eco tourism ,but 'passion' is not one of them.

Stand on any platform on the London underground or Metro North in wind swept Westchester country, and every country splashes fabulous pictures of its landmarks across giant billboards, with slogans such as ‘Incredible India’. Countries, such as Bhutan, Mali and Madagascar do better marketing than Colombia. Mind you, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie named after your country with dancing lemurs and globe-trotting penguins.

What Colombia needs to compete in the world, is less passion, and more attitude. Take India, for example. A country that ten years ago, was synonymous with leprosy and famine. Today, India is powered by intellect and values. A country that is internet incarnate. A country that is so close to heaven, that it created cyberspace in less than a decade, and whose moto ‘Incredible India’ is a huge understatement.

Today, if you want to do business, you look to India. A country full of young, motivated individuals, running on mobile technology, dancing one step ahead of myspace.com, and who speak in tongues with several Phd’s. India has invested in its greatest resource: it’s people, and not its 'passion'.

Eight percent of all 1-800 calls pass through India. Order a pizza in New Jersey, with double cheese and pepperoni, and some charming guy, named Sam Guptra in Bangalore- India’s Silicon valley- is taking your order with a smile (even though you can’t see it) and text messaging back the order back to your nearest Pizza joint on Grand Avenue. Everything these days to function, goes through India. Rent a car in Miami with a 1-800 number and you are really getting the car from Mumbai. Have a credit card problem?. No problem. India will fix it. Playing with time, is another great strategy of this behemoth of Asia. A country that is thirteen hours ahead of everyone else, is at a great advantage. While you sleep, your local bank has ‘outscourced’ your problem with double billing, to a room full of IT graduates working for Infosys, Unisys, and every other Sys known to mankind. So when that alarm rings in the morning and you call your bank, everything is in order. “Yes sir, we have credited your balance with us’. Now, you can head to work with your latte frappe, with a clear mind and a heart felt thank you to Mr Guptra and friends, who are getting ready for bedtime in Madras, after a hearty meal of curry and dahl.

Now, if this were Colombia, you would still me standing in line in the bank, thirteen hours later, waiting to see the bank manager, after having had several shots of black coffee -making you even more incredibly jumpy and nervous at the prospect of imminent bank expulsion, account closure and possible extradition to the US. All of this, because someone went on a shopping spree with your debit card number.

So, Colombia needs less passion and more India. Fewer MBA’s and sacred cows in big business, and more vision towards investing in its human resources. Given all the wealth that lies in this country, the battle is half won. If India could turn itself around in ten years, why can’t Colombia, in the next five?. It’s a question of faith, as any Indian might tell you, and of course, good banking.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The subway poems : red line

Take me upon your metal wings, my angel Cassiel,
fly me through the darkest night with a dusting
of your light, the gentleness of might.

I drew a fence around my heart,
I fled this island green, I turned against you,
to step from this dream. Be there for me,
on the other side, be there for me, at the door,
as I have died so many times before.

Take me upon your silver wings, down this thin
red line across the ocean, to the end of time.

AirTransat 767. London Gatwick - Toronto, Canada.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

'The Old man and the Sea'

Gregorio Fuentes, the Captain who commandered Ernest Hemingway's boat Pilar, sits in his favorite restaurant in Cojimar, Cuba, smoking a cigar on his 95th birthday. Fuentes, a Cuban fisherman was the inspiration for the book, The Old man and the Sea, which won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1952. Hemingway describes Fuentes: 'Everything about him was old, except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea'. Fuentes died in 2002, at the age of 104.

I came upon Fuentes by coincidence at the sea-side restaurant in Cojimar, Cuba, in 1994. I have the picture of the cake with candles, but this one is better. His eyes are more expressive 'like the colour of the sea'.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Frontline Colombia (massacre)

This is a very strong picture. And I apologize if it may offend some of my readers. It was taken in March 2000, after guerillas of the FARC slaughtered 20 Colombian soldiers in Vigia del Fuerte, a small towm on Colombia's pacific coast. I arrived in Quibdo, the capital of the province, escorted by the Colombian National Police, as the first bodies of the soldiers were arriving at the makeshift morgue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A seat with a view

Taking-off on AAirlines over South Beach, Miami on the first flight to New York's La Guardia Airport.

Monday, February 20, 2006


On Colombia's northern coast, exists the Cienaga of Santa Marta, a large body of water, with a delicately balanced ecosystem, of sea and fresh water. The Cienaga borders hamlets and towns such as Fundacion, Aracataca, and Cienaga, which have gained international recognition thanks to literary works of Colombian nobel writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez with novels such as, Love in the time of cholera and One hundred years of solitude. This literary landscape of magical realism, is refered to as 'Macondo' - a place where the fantastical meets the real. On the Cienaga, everyday, fresh water has to he hauled great distances in wooden boat - known as 'bongos' - to the inhabitants who live in the palafitic villages of this watery world. Here, in the picture, I am crossing the Cienaga, with a bongo full of fresh water to the town of Nueva Venecia- New Venice.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Frontline Colombia

Seraching for 'green fire'. In the heart of Muzo, Colombia's largest emerald mine, I came across this guaquero - miner - looking at his recent find, of a pure uncut green emerald, through the light of a candle in his wooden hut.

Monday, February 13, 2006


In 1994, I walked across the Darien rainforest between Colombia and Panama. It was a hike that lasted two weeks, through one of the world's most inhospitable frontiers. I snapped this image in Pijao, the last hamlet on the Colombian side of the border, where I was retained for 24 hours by members of an armed guerilla faction, and subsequently released, as I was shooting a book on the Darien and it's ecology.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Near the town of Leticia, on the Colombian side of the Amazon river, I came across this indigenous family at home. I was shooting on assignment for Aubudon magaine, and the afternoon light made for a rather intimate picture.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


'A splash in time'. A young diver jumps from a ghat - platform- into the sacred Ganges river at Varanasi, India. Varanasi is a city where time seems to stand still, a city at the crossroads between the sacred and the profane.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bogota - Beirut

During the height of the war against the drug cartels in Colombia (1989-1994) I photographed a security operation over the capital city Bogota with the National Police. This is the picture that ran double-page in TIME.

Op Ed: the global 'caricature'

Canadian philospher and media thinker, Marshall McLuhan, once described our world as the great 'global village'. A village which over the years has become more of a hamlet, due to the growing media trends of blogs, wikis and Wi-Fi. McLuhan with his vision of the future might not have thought that the village could be set on fire over the publication and use of images, as we are witnessing with the caricature episode of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, which has ignited the Arab world in anger and put illustrators on the front line of breaking news.

As the world reacts to the publication of the prophet Mohammed's cartoons, it is clear that there is no more powerful tool than the use and publication of images in mass media, and the power these images have to ignite our tempers, passions and fears. What would Belgian writer and artist Georges Remi, a.k.a Herge, creator of The Adventures of Tin Tin have thought of the way illustration has reduced global diplomacy to rubble?. Tin Tin and his dog Snowy were global adventurers. They traveled to the snake infested jungles of Malay and climbed the Pyramids of Egypt. Essentially they were on a mission. A peace mission. Tin Tin brought the world together through beautiful illustration and text in the minds of children and adults.
Today, we live in a world with a very different type of protagonism, an ego-centric media which despite its important role in promoting a freedom of information, has become the protagonist for igniting controversy and conflict. It's a desperate move of the media to stay omnipresent, to remain in the center limelight, when newspapers all over the world react with a seige mentality from citizen journalists, digital trends and declining readership. The images we have seen on television of the burning embassy in Syria, is a parable of the state of the media today. A burning house. Let's hope the village doesn't set on fire in the meantime. And as for Tin Tin, well, the days of wandering through the Arab lands and deserts are over. Tin Tin could not enter most of the countries today, that have rioted over the illustrations of the prophet Mohammed. He would have been denied entry or blown up by a suicide bomber. The fairytale of illustration is a figment of our common past. Today, illustration has become a powerful weapon of destruction. The fairytale of drawing reduced to nightmare.

Monday, February 06, 2006

French Foreign Legion

Racing with the members of the Legion Etranjere - the French Foreign Legion - down an estuary of the Amazon river, near Regina in sourthern French Guiana. Photographed this elite fighting force of The Houston Chronicle and Miami Herald's Tropic magazine.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Frontline Colombia

FARC guerillas in San Vicente Caguan. A green parrot joins in, on the early morning roll call in one of the rebels camps. 2000. Ektachrome 100VS on a very wet morning in the rainforest. The night before I got bitten by a killer spider. The conga...

market place

Fish market. Lima, Peru. 1999. Black and white. A thought for the day: where do blogs go when we die?.