Growing up, I was always interested in photography. I read photography books that suggested equipment I didn’t have and didn’t have any chance to obtain. I used my simple Smena 8m to make the most out of my desire to take pictures. A great part of my allowance went toward commercial developing of my cheap b&w rolls. My love for photography was mostly unrequited.
But this picture of the little Peruvian shepard boy by William Albert Allard shook my world and gave me the inspiration to follow my dream. While in Peru on assignment, Allard saw a boy, inconsolable because a taxi had killed a couple of his sheep. The photo generated a huge response when it was published n the National Geographic in 1985. American readers donated money to replace the sheep and fund the local school.
Indeed, this picture moved me deeply the first time I saw it, two decades after it was taken. The curled lips, the face that showed the hardship endured already, the utter desperation of the current loss which seemed to go beyond the usual everyday setbacks. It reminded me my son’s face, as well as the faces of countless boys I have seen in Latin America bracing for their own survival. I still get emotional every time I look at this photo and it is placed very high on my all-times scale of photographic artistry.
Allard later wrote, referring to that occasion, that he was proud to be able to give back to those whose pictures he took. It is true that when we take pictures, we take something from those we capture: maybe their privacy, their self-created identity, their own view of themselves. In Latin America many people believe their images should not be in possession of others they don’t trust, even if they don’t believe in black magic.
I certainly would not want my personal pictures to be kept by those I don’t trust. Eduardo probably didn’t want to be seen crying by an audience; it’s a moment of diminished dignity for a Peruvian boy. There is a difference between poverty and helplessness, or admission of vulnerability. Yet it was exactly this picture that helped in his moment of tragedy.
I am often aware of this paradox in my photography. I think, though, that it’s more accurate to say that pictures are made, not taken. They create an image, an impression, an appearance rather than just register what is already there or account for it. Allard’s picture of Eduardo influenced other people’s perception of a moment, a piece of the world, a person. It’s a heavy burden of responsibility for photographers when they create pictures, more so than other visual artists, because their art is assumed to be a truthful reflection of reality.