Fray Bentos: Epicenter of Uruguayan Industrial Revolution
Posted on January 8, 2013
By the title you might be wondering “What the f%$# is Milnor talking about?” “Where did THIS come from?” As some of you know, I ventured south to Uruguay in February of 2012 with the intention of working on a project with three other photographers. This motley crew consisted of Larry Hayden, Martin Herrera Soler and Diego Vidart. I’ll do my best to honestly describe each of these people, but the English language is limited when it comes to such a task. Larry is a wildman with a personality akin to a Death Star tractor beam. To say Larry has the ability to suck people into his creative vortex would be like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole, in other words, an understatement of epic proportion. Men, women, children, police, military, airport security, royalty, even wild street dogs are powerless against his vibe. Martin is the kid that blew the bell curve in school. He’s wicked smart and has worn a variety of hats over the years. Prone to bouts of things like meditation, creative writing, and oh ya, photography, Martin was the blood flowing through the artery of this project, and as you will see from the following videos, he has done a lot since we left Uruguay. I can’t think of Diego without thinking of the prototype for the South American creative revolutionary. He carries no weapon, only a mate´ case carved from what looked like pure ivory or human bone. Either way it was impressive. Diego, also a photographer and educator, with Martin, form something called Dokumental which serves as a documentary team coving stories all over Latin America via traditional and nontraditional means.
If you read Martin’s post on this story you will read about the realities of doing a project like this, exploring not only the subject matter but the realities of multiple photographers working the same project. As he alludes to, we never really figured that out, at least not yet, but perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. I’ve not been able to put the time toward this project that I would have liked, and I’m pretty sure that the others, outside of Martin or Diego or both, haven’t either, but again that is the reality of today, the reality of the multitask lives we are living. Martin has done wonders with his, and our content, so I suggest you take a look at his post HERE. The realities that need to be confronted, or planned, and then executed are things like who does what, when and how. We all shot stills, some color, others black and white, in addition we spiced up the formats. On top of this Martin and Diego made audio and video recordings as you will see with these films. This is a lot of content. How do you put it all together? How do you put it in a book? A rich-media book? Or maybe you do a magazine instead? Should there be a site specific to the project, or does everyone post on their native site? And perhaps most central, what is the overall goal? This doesn’t even begin to speak about things like audience, which is an entirely different can of worms. One of the great things about working today is the range of tools at the photographer’s disposal. Gone are the days of the handful of media outlets, outlets which the photographers in many ways were beholden to, and in are the days of range, but with that range comes responsibility, or opportunities depending on how you view it, that go far beyond where we were in say the 1990′s.
Film by Team Martin Herrera Soler
A story like this isn’t a headline grabber. A story like this isn’t going to get a quick magazine assignment or get people jumping up and down screaming they can’t wait to see the content. This isn’t a celebrity getting pasted drunk and puking on Sunset Blvd, something GUARANTEED to get top billing, a quick assignment, even a pat on the photographic back. But the truth is this is an interesting story and one that impacted not only Uruguay but the rest of South America, Europe and our beloved world wars to some degree. For me, this is the kind of story that even feels good, because when you work on a story like this you KNOW you aren’t going to be feeling the distinctive, competitive bite of other photographers. Working as a team, we were working alone the vast majority of the time. What this does is allow for a more natural response from the people we are attempting to work with. If you have ever been around a headline story, or breaking story, you know the locals develop, or can develop, a buffer of sorts, one that raises the hair on their back when they see a “media type” approaching. Uruguay wasn’t like that. And as you will see, many of these folks were extremely interested in being involved, telling their stories and offering up their piece of history. What you can never forget is how important the story is to the people in front of your lens. Those folks take top billing one hundred percent of the time. In reality, this isn’t what happens in many cases, but that is the professional world we live in. You can decide whether I’m a decent chap on your own, but I can attest to the other three in our group and confess they have their minds, hearts and careers in the right place. But let me get back to the first sentence of this paragraph. If this isn’t a headline grabber then why do it? You might think that is a strange question but it is VERY real if you work full time as a photographer. There are plenty of folks out there scouring the headlines for things that are just about to be headline grabbers. They look, look, look and then pounce, trying to get there first and make the story theirs, and the subsequent prizes, attention and accolades theirs as well. I don’t see anything wrong with this at all. That is how much of the journalism world works. It drives people, sometimes beyond the healthy level, but I think overall the positive far outweighs the negative. Personally, I think we REALLY need people working this way. This story simply wasn’t that type of story, but a Pangea size group of circumstances made it something we all wanted to do, things like travel, culture, experience, story, potential images, potential material, the unknown and breaking the ice of going somewhere new and looking at something we hadn’t seen before. Simple as that.
Film by Team Martin Herrera Soler
Another frustration for me was the fact I don’t speak Spanish well enough to converse with people at the level I need to really understand what is going on. And the damn Uruguayans and their mate´ fueled, insanely fast Spanish did nothing to ease my pain. At times Martin and Diego would rattle off some machine gun Spanish filled with “Che” this and “Che” that then laugh hysterically while looking at Larry and I. I know they were just discussing our being essential cogs in the wheel of the Uruguayan assignment, but still, it made me wonder. Did I have a “kick me” sign on my back? Over time I grew wary and would occasionally throw out a sentence like “Es obvio ese chico no sabe nada!”(It’s obvious this guy knows nothing.) then wave my arms wildly and act concerned. A smoke screen at best, but it was all I had.
On a serious note, projects like this are the lifeblood of what photography is for me. After all these years I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to dream them up, or work with others to dream them up as in this case(Mostly them), and I’m also still learning how to complete them, finish them and subsequently deliver them. Clearly time in the field is essential, and one trip to Uruguay does not make an essay, or at least anything painfully in depth, but it’s the spark we are always looking for. Martin and Diego carry the creative flame in a horn filled with fire, adding to the story, putting their fingerprints on it, going to sleep at night with the voices of the essay pulsing through their ears.
Collaboration is lacking in this little photographic world we are living in, so the chance to work with these other guys was a treat for me, and this is coming from someone who almost always prefers to work alone. I learned as much, or more, from listening, watching and tormenting them than I did from actually making pictures. It reminds me that the photographic life is a voyage of epic proportions, one in which at the best of times things are out of your control. Photographic life is about residue, a second skin of experience that makes us who we are and points us in the direction of who we will be.
Again, take a look at Martin’s post, check out Dokumental as well as Larry’s site (Beware that you might not ever leave Larry’s site.) and have a look a story shedding light on a little corner of this grand, grand world.