Celtic cultures believed in thin places, these were “mystical places or ‘thin’ places where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.”1 There a few thin places in my own life. The first one is the Adoration Chapel, where Our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament; it is there that God is present among us and the opportunity to be close to Him and pray with Him is absolutely amazing. The other thin place, outside of Church, is not necessarily a fixed space, but more of one that I create with my camera.
I have been taking photographs as a pastime for many years; it brings me a lot of relaxation and an opportunity to express my creative side. I really enjoy architecture, so photography gives me a chance to play with angles and shapes that challenge the eyes of the viewer. When it comes to capturing people, or even particular places, something magical happens; I come closer to the people, I’m drawn into them because I am able to, so to speak zoom into their life, or at least a moment of their life. This is particularly true when I travel.
When I travelled to the communist island of Cuba in 2017, I was very exciting to visit a place that I had been wanting to for years. I grew up with very close Cuban friends and have always been fascinated by their culture, particularly their history, views on politics and focus on excellence; I love Cuban food and music and many of their films, like Suite Habana, Fresas y chocolate, Memorias de subdesarollo.
Usually, I am always hesitant to whip out my camera and start taking photos wherever I go because many people do not like their photo taken; there’s a sense that I am taking something from them in a very impersonal way when I snap away without real consideration or true acknowledgment for the person I’m photographing. People are not objects or animals, meaning that they are not “on display” at a museum or in a zoo, where I can just show up and take their picture. I have to be more sensitive than that.
To connect with real people in real situations is a complex matter, especially when one attempts to do so through a camera lens. There’s a lot of suffering in Cuba, a lot of poverty, a lot of hidden turmoil; for a photographer, Cuba can and does have an aesthetic appeal that stimulates the senses, but if not taken in a proper way, a photograph can leave the viewer outside of the image. Photography should invite us into it, into its setting, into the lives of the people.
I’ve learned that the photographer first has to live in a space before capturing it; one must talk to the people, laugh with them, hurt with them, sing with them, dance with them even. It’s only after making this personal connection that the photographer can truly focus on taking the first photo. Once I follow this procedure, the space that takes place within my camera's frame, the place I create with my art, this becomes my thin place. I am then able to capture its essence, its “soul”. The image in the camera's viewfinder travels through my eye and into my heart and soul; it's here that the world without connects with the world within. The "subject" is now a part of me and I a part of it. I am the other. @latinofilmmaker
1 Mindie Burgoyne, “About the Thin Places Blog”, at Thin Places, Where this world meets the Eternal World, www.thinplace.net (March 1, 2020)