Other Passport Sized Photos

Antigua Guatemala 1993

Moana. October 22 1993

March 1993, Finca de San Cayetano

Moana and I were so happy doing Spanish lessons, enjoying the friendship of and social activities with other travellers and with our teachers, that we decided we would not venture out to explore the rest of Central America but spend our whole time in Guatemala.  I stayed for 6 months.  Moana stayed for over a year, eventually working as office manager for the Cervantes School. We took weeks off from our studies to travel and explore the region,  but always came back to Antigua for our lessons and to see people with whom we had made friends.

Towards the end of my stay, Moana and I did one month’s volunteer work at a child care centre on a struggling coffee and banana plantation. It was owned and managed by indigenous Guatemalans under cruel opposition from other non-indigenous farmers. There had been raids where their equipment had been stolen or damaged beyond repair, and a level of fear that was evident in their need to make armed patrols of the grounds every night.  The groups of foreign volunteers were there, in essence, to provide an extra level of security, for the many families that lived and worked on the plantation. Each day, we played games with the children, made things with them, taught basic literacy and had a lot of fun.

13 February 1993

February 1993, Antigua Guatemala

Moana and I were settling into a daily routine at the Cervantes School in Antigua, where we did our Spanish language lessons.  Initially we boarded with separate families in order to, we hoped, encourage us to speak less English.  We found that each of our families had up to 6 foreign students at a time.  The only language we had in common with our fellow boarders, who came from all over the world, was English.  We quickly gave up the idea that we would progress better if we lived apart. Moana joined me where I was staying and we walked to the school together to start lessons at 8 am each day, finishing at midday.  At some point we decided to take our daily walk home via an uphill detour to El Cerro de la Cruz, a lookout above the town with a magnificent view of the volcano, Volcán de Agua.   The first few times the steep track nearly killed us.  By the end of my 6 months there, we tripped up with little exertion.  I think neither of us had been, or have since been, fitter.

Once again no photobooths were in evidence in Latin America but yet again I needed an id photo.  After only 4 weeks in Guatemala, Carlos, the director of our school advised me to start the process of getting my visa extended. I still had two months to go but he had experience with the ins and outs of the immigration department and thought 8 weeks early, wasn’t early enough.  This photo was taken at his insistence. I was not pleased at his nagging, as I had just had a home-made haircut from a new English friend Justine and additionally was suffering from a nasty coldsore.

As it turned out Carlos was right and the nightmare of getting the visa extended only ended after 3 or 4 trips to the capital, long waits in multiple queues per visit, payments for paperwork, further payments for stamps, finger-printing and finally, a small bribe. I received the official documentation in my passport  just two days before I was due to leave. In all it took me five months to get it sorted.

Helen in Quito - 1 June 1989

This is the portrait of Helen White that I loved so much.  I remember we laughed a lot at both of the images that resulted from our sitting at the Quito photography studio.  The re-touching seemed to have transported us to another era.  I found Helen’s delightful and yet somehow spooky, as if she had been morphed with a plastic doll.  I also loved my second, hair out, result.

Quito Photo Studio, 18 May 1989

Quito Photo Studio 1 June 1989

Foto Gitano La Paz August 1989

South America, 1989

My collection includes any small portrait photograph, so where there were no booths, I sought out a studio photographer.   I had exhausted my supply of photos taken in England, so after two months on the road with my English travelling companion Helen White, I decided to restock.  The photo taken in May 1989, above, was the result of a sitting at a small atelier in Quito, Ecuador.  At the time I hated this photo.  I have never really liked my hair tied back.  However, the fact that it had been re-touched enticed me to have another go.  Helen was also intrigued by my first results, so two weeks later we headed back for my second sitting and Helen’s first. My vanity was satisfied by the second finished print. Helen’s was a masterpiece! 

Some two months later, having again depleted my supply of visa ready photos, a.k.a. swap-pics, I again found a small studio to feed my developing habit.  I didn’t choose as well, this time.  The photos were poorly focused and developed.  You can see the chemical stains in the scans.  I didn’t think they would stand the test of time, yet here they are 22 years later looking as tatty and old as the day I got them.

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