International Women's Day

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An invitation:

Before congratulating the women in our lives; before wishing happy days left and right to those mothers, sisters, co-workers and darling females that we know; before posting our best thoughts in celebration of this day on social networks, lets take a moment to reflect upon the purpose and intention behind the creation of International Women's Day.

As long as there continues to be inequality based on gender, discrimination and bodily mutilation, denial of individual liberties and violence toward those who carry all of humanity in their womb, there is little to celebrate and much to think about. In a big scale of time, we have only begun to understand, embrace and harness the power of what I believe is the key of our survival as a species: the liberation and empowerment of women.

Behind every achievement of mankind is the love, understanding, kindness, patience, harmony, safety, forgiveness and wisdom of womankind. Nevertheless, behind every act against life itself, from wars to oppressive laws, exists either the lack of such wisdom or a skewed, unrealized, dimmed potential due to the secondary role assigned to women in our dark history.

Many of us believe strongly that our future depends on realizing that potential which exists in the lives of women in poverty: the mothers and wives of either future constructive lives or more thugs and misguided men.

Today, as we observe the enormous task before us on one of 365 days around our home star, I invite my friends, new and old, to reflect upon ways through which we can all contribute to a brighter future. Then, yes, lets proceed in celebrating one of the greatest treasures this planet has created.

 A pregnant woman rests while completing chores at her home. Islote Santa Cruz, Colombia. 2008

A pregnant woman rests while completing chores at her home. Islote Santa Cruz, Colombia. 2008

Endangered: Strombus gigas

One of the harsh realities of a place like Islote Santa Cruz is the constant depletion of resources. Among the most environmentally damaging is the sale of sea snail shells to tourists in the region. Though educational programs have been put in place to limit this practice to sexually mature specimens, no monitoring exists. As recently as a decade ago, local fishermen would easily capture dozens of sea snails after just a few hours combing the surrounding sea floor. Now, they must venture several kilometers out to sea in order to find just a handful in a whole day.

People of all walks of life can make a tremendous impact by exercising conscious restraint when purchasing mementos during their trips. This means YOU!

 A young boy sorts sea snail shells at his home. His family sells the shells to tourists and other  merchants. Islote Santa Cruz, Colombia. 2008

A young boy sorts sea snail shells at his home. His family sells the shells to tourists and other merchants. Islote Santa Cruz, Colombia. 2008

What about the livelihood of those poor people?

Many communities around the world, such as this one, are indeed very poor and have come to depend largely on such practices. Nevertheless, the laws of economics don't cease to exist even in extreme poverty. The people of Islote Santa Cruz are very resilient, resourceful and hard working. Other options for earning a living do exist in their world and many communities have discovered the importance of preserving their surrounding ecosystem in order to draw conscious ecotourism. The depletion of resources is fueled more by a lack of continuous educational programs and oblivious tourists.

Link: Strombus gigas in the News (Spanish)

Eduardo Rubiano

About Honesty in Image-Making

From time to time, the ugly pendulum of dishonesty swings from obscurity to the spotlight in the photographic industry. I'm not sure which stage of that swing scares me most as an emerging image maker.

In past times, my rouge, loose-cannon tendencies have landed me in trouble, undermining my progress in a competitive field where honesty through work is not always rewarded in the same manner as celebrity. Without naming names, as i have learned my lessons of self-preservation well, I have been appalled by what goes on behind the scenes in our otherwise wonderful medium.

Whether founded or unfounded, recent and not-so-recent exposées and rumors of image manipulation, truth fictionalization and other acts through which masterful photographers tarnish brilliant careers have brought me and other non-veterans to virtually pull out our hairs in frustration and disbelief. Images that have been revered for decades have turned out to be not everything they were supposed to be. Many of us are too aware of outrageous cases that remain, humour me, underexposed.

So what should the focus of an industry-wide conversation be? I am certain that these practices will not stop as long as ambition and self-celebratory priorities exist. In short, never. In our industry, there are more than enough past, present and future writings about ethics, scandal, punishment and redemption. Bottom lines in the business will always allow for new cases to come to light and that old pendulum will remind us of its motion yet again.

I personally feel that there will always be honest and dishonest individuals in this and all fronts of life. I don't think a sensational scandal is any worse than a small-town publication denying the usage of digital trickery that they themselves forbid or than a student using an old photo to fulfill a recent assignment.

I am not sure ethics consortiums, conferences, regulation, exposées, editorial apologies for cheating or banning photographers are what we ought to be talking about. Instead, in light of what most of us are powerless to influence, I put forth the lustful wish that each of us takes a moment to reflect upon what internal forces drive us to covet and pursue. Those internal or external forces, big and small, are the ingredients that, when unchecked, ultimately produce provocative, eloquent and beautiful photography that is presented in a less than honest manner.

Pride, regret, envy, resentment, fear... 

Let us photographers, editors and audiences celebrate in private whether we march to our own drumbeat! Let us infuse a good dose of selfless hope into our work. Never mind what others are doing. Let us just be honest to ourselves first and let us then cherish any visual manifestation of that honesty. Ultimately, I am sure, the sweetness or bitterness of our own modus operandi is for each of us to swallow alone.

May your belly be full of sweet satisfaction!

Eduardo Rubiano

In The Making - 3

"The photons found a home!"

From time to time, I run into very pleasant surprises while going through my archive. Here is another example of one of those rare occurrences when someone else captures me at work on an image that turned out well. This time, I owe my gratitude to a dear friend and colleague, the brilliant and kind biologist Jason Blue-Smith, who happened upon the scene.

We were on assignment for the National Geographic Society, during a Genographic Project expedition to the Philippines. On this day, our team, led by NG Explorer Spencer Wells, traveled to Nabuklod, to meet with the Aeta people. After an extraordinary gathering with the community, I made my way to the perimeter of the village, where I found a young boy playing basketball. A bit of patience and some contortions later the photons found a home!

 Grateful photographer at work. Photo by Jason Blue-Smith

Grateful photographer at work. Photo by Jason Blue-Smith

 Aeta child. Nabuklod, Philippines. Photo by Eduardo Rubiano for National Geographic.

Aeta child. Nabuklod, Philippines. Photo by Eduardo Rubiano for National Geographic.

Eduardo Rubiano

The Spiral

New horizons, a fresh outlook, exciting beginnings... but all so familiar. Quite simply, life is indeed sometimes like a spiral. We find ourselves hovering over old grounds or circumstances, yet at new levels of understanding in this, the amazing human experience. It is with a new kind of joy that I see how the journey has led me back to an old home base.

The sky is the same, as are the colors, odors and other sensory perceptions. There is, however, a surprising set of differences all around, most of which stem from how I relate to these surroundings. This relationship seems to be dictated mostly by what I can only describe as emerging channels. How does one harness the elements to produce or transmit visually-stimulating happenings in the face of this? A most-welcomed challenge. Onward!

Eduardo Rubiano

Reinventing Rio

From Smithsonian Magazine

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The dazzling but tarnished Brazilian city gets a makeover as it prepares for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games

By Alan Riding

Photographs by Eduardo Rubiano

When it comes to Rio de Janeiro there is no avoiding the obvious. The city may be as famous for its Carnaval, soccer, flesh and fun as it is infamous for its hillside slums and organized crime. Yet its defining feature remains its breathtaking setting. No visitor can ever forget viewing the city from on high for the first time. Even natives—the Cariocas—stand in awe of its grandeur. How could I feel different? I, too, was born there. As a writer friend, Eric Nepomuceno, put it, “only Paris comes close to matching Rio in self-love.”

Read more at: Smithsonian Magazine Online

Reserved for The Aware

It was less of a sunrise than the yielding of darkness. The question lingering over the past days had been how to achieve an image of the place that would evoke a new, fresh, different perception.

It didn't take long to realize my mistake.

The evolving emotions during the train ride along the Urubamba river were the first sign that any attempt to completely harness sensory elements would be futile. Following the flow of those waters, as if gently guided by their ancient, simple wisdom, the same that perhaps once herded an entire people in their quest to discover a platform from which to elevate their innermost longing, an overwhelming force began to rid me of my pride.

Fade to black

Upon the death of night, another machine carried us upward, crawling the impossible slant of our mountain captors, astounding monuments. The living, breathing soul of their mass revealed itself at twilight as enormous, dense lengths of fog moved at awesome, yet silent speeds through the chasms of the land. By then, and half awake, the metamorphosis to humbleness was complete.

Sharing the soaked state of all vegetation and rock formations around, we timidly walked onto the stage at the narrow plateau. Then it happened.

I cannot recall when the drunkenness began; only that I felt winded, dwarfed, defeated... weightless. No image, no tale, no text and no expectation would have ever prepared me. I suspect the same must have happened to the first humans to set foot upon the galactic launching platform that we now, in this blink among the eons, call Machu Picchu.

Thus, in decimated humor, I put my body to the earth, bowing to even the blades of grass above my eyes, and paid tribute to the stardust that forms all we know, beholden, with this modest capture.

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Eduardo Rubiano

In The Making - 2

Here is another example of the behind-the-scenes/final-product fun from Islote Santa Cruz, Colombia. This project was subsequently published by GEO Special (Germany) and National Geographic en Español.

The stinky iris warrior...

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...and the resulting shot from the session:

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Eduardo Rubiano