Summarizing the Covid-19 pandemic with just eight photos is very difficult, especially in a city where there is no gasoline, water, gas, not even money to buy everyday products or pay for public transportation. I’m referring to the city of Porlamar, Isla Margarita, where shooting the streets is no easy task because people are aggressive and get upset when they see that their photo has been taken. You have to use your cunning, try to go unnoticed, use discreet cameras, like my little Nikon 1-J1, which I hide on my person in order to make the images as real as possible. In the top photo that I titled “Mother’s Love,” we see an exhausted young woman who has collapsed with her two children and fallen asleep in the middle of the street because of the stress and fatigue of the pandemic.
I keep walking under an inclement sun, making my situation harder, unpleasant. I mingle with people. Some of them ward off the Chinese virus with their masks, while at the same time shielding themselves from the burning rays of our king star with an umbrella, reminding me of the story of “The Umbrella Man” by an English writer of Norwegian descent, Roald Dahl.
Now I see the street differently, it has transformed into a new world where I see the elderly pushing grocery carts around, containing a few belongings and their “loved ones.” It’s become commonplace to see grocery carts on the streets of the city, but now they are used to transport just about everything except food. They immediately bring the food shortage to mind, a crisis that is causing much suffering here, especially for children and the elderly, many of whom have died from malnutrition.
Other people on the streets work preparing and selling food. In their gaze, I see a plea for us to buy their goods and while this seller lets me take his photograph, another passerby gives me a strange look, wondering what I’m doing. His gaze is a mixture of surprises, it is an accurate reflection of hunger and the hardships that Venezuelans are going through, and not only because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As I come around a corner, like a premonition, I find a large sign next to the symbol of peace painted on the garage door of an automotive workshop that says, “Live and let live.” At that very moment, I see an old woman walks slowly in front of the sign, her head hanging as if she were tired of the pandemic situation, leading me to think that the title for this photograph should be: “Covid, leave us alone”.
“Covid, leave us alone.”
After almost two hours, walking and mingling with people, a religious woman in a mask appeared. The nun immediately reminds me of a famous saying attributed to God: “Take care of yourself, and I will take care of you”.
“Take care of yourself, and I will take care of you.”
I look at my watch and two hours have now elapsed amongst the crowd, in the heart of the city of Porlamar on Margarita Island, in that chaotic place that I have come to call The Underworld because of what I’ve seen. In a now reflexive act, I clean my hands with alcohol and think once again: Why do I take a chance at 66 years old, an age when, if I happen to get the virus, it would be very difficult for me to survive, more so in a country where medical services are lacking and medicines to treat such conditions are practically impossible to get?
As I drive back to my house, my mind keeps reviewing the day’s images like in a movie and again I wonder not just why I take the risk, but if I would do it again.
Immediately, I know the answer is YES because God made photographers to document this kind of event and its effects on our societies so that the world never forgets them.