Entries tagged with “El Salvador”.


This week’s posting looks at some of the signs of life I’ve photographed over the years. Why signs? My premise is that what gets displayed in public is a good indication of the social-cultural concerns of a certain time and place.

Left Bank, Paris, 1985

The now-defunct newspaper France Soir once had one of the largest circulations in Europe, approximately 1.5 million. Parisians are known for their sophistication, so the gaudiness of the newspaper’s self-promotion seemed a bit gauche: “the BIG BINGO! with France Soir, 250,000,000 to Win.”

Paris, 1985

This scene also stuck me as a bit incongruous. A houseworker wearily lugs home food for dinner while a semi-topless girl on a billboard behind her flirtatiously laughs, “My shirt for a beer.”

A city cemetery in northeastern Iowa, 1969

A sudden, unexplained shudder or shivering, according to some superstition, can be caused by someone walking over your future grave. Nonetheless, I figured it was highly unlikely my ghost-like shadow was giving some far-off person a creepy feeling so I took my time to compose an image.

San Salvador, 1982

With FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrillas mounting an insurrection, armed soldiers and bodyguards were seen throughout El Salvador’s capital during the weeks before the 1982 general election. The political billboard these men are passing says: “All for the Homeland, Defending Justice, Together the People and the Armed Forces.”

Note the Lions Club sign at the right.

San Agustín, El Salvador, 1982.

Control over San Agustín in eastern El Salvador went back and forth between the government and leftist guerrillas for months. On this wall pockmarked with bullet holes, guerrilla graffiti warned, “Death to the Ears,” the ears being townspeople who were government informants.

San Salvador, 1982

Coming upon a patrol of Salvadoran soldiers in pursuit of a guerrilla sniper outside a Coca-Cola bottling plant, I couldn’t help but remember the 1971 Coca-Cola commercial: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Fat chance.

Alas, even though the insurrection has ended, El Salvador is still wracked with criminal violence.

San Salvador, 1982

This election center had been under fire from guerrillas earlier in the day, and the office was under heavily armed protection. With a national election only weeks away, the official slogan was: “Your vote: the solution.”

The election resulted in a rightwing demagogue, Roberto D’Aubuisson of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA party), becoming head of the Constituent Assembly (the national legislature). More significantly, days of political negotiations ultimately led to a moderate, US-educated economist, Alvaro Magaña, becoming head of state.

As time has passed, the former guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have gained legitimacy as a political party, and on March 12, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FMLN’s candidate, won the presidential election in a runoff.

Before I sign off, I should note there are many collections of public-sign photography — each different because of time and place and because of each photographer’s unique framing of the world he sees. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of Neon Nevada by newsman Peter Laufer and his wife Sheila Swan Laufer. It’s fascinating in style and concept (and available online).

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” — Rod Stewart

Cows heading toward the milking barn at Steve and Sharon Doughty’s ranch in Point Reyes Station. Of all the photos I’ve shot of West Marin agriculture, this is my favorite (2004).

The newsroom of The Point Reyes Light when the newspaper was located in Point Reyes Station’s Old Creamery Building (2004).

One day I heard something banging around in the firebox of the newsroom’s potbellied stove, which was not lit, so I opened the door to look inside. This house finch, which had apparently fallen down the chimney, flew out and started flying around the room, banging into the closed skylights.

I opened a skylight, but the finch didn’t fly out. Instead it landed on the antenna to our weather radio and perched there looking out over the world. The scene seemed so symbolic he could have been an avian journalist.

Before long a house finch outside the building began singing. The one inside sang back. After several seconds of their calling back and forth, the finch in the newsroom finally flew out the open skylight.

A Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window, Point Reyes Station (2004).

Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley (2005).

The castle was built in the 1920s by Albert Mussey Johnson, a millionaire from Chicago. Scotty (Walter Scott) was a con man, who took advantage of Johnson, as well as others. Nonetheless, Johnson kept Scotty around to entertain guests with his storytelling.

Thailand (1986).

Two mothers and their children in one of Thailand’s semi-isolated hilltribes.

A Thai hilltribe father and his son (1986).

The father is holding a Point Reyes Light ballpoint pen, which I had given him. The pens were made in 1979 to commemorate the paper’s winning the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

Thailand’s hilltribes grow opium poppies, as well as bananas and other crops. Here a man in his hut without windows — only gaps between wall boards for light — smokes opium in a pipe (1986).

Rangoon, Burma (1986).

Two Buddhists pray outside the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

Mandalay, Burma (1986).

Buddhist monks in Thailand and Burma are considered novices before they turn 20. Most live monastic lives for only short periods, a few years or even just a few days. Youths receive schooling inside or outside of their temple. Helping take care of the temple is one of their main responsibilities. Novices are not expected to be continually solemn, and these boys felt free to roughhouse with each other.

Boy tending water buffalo at the edge of the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay (1986).

Guatemala (1982).

Two Mayan girls wash dishes at a pila (outdoor trough) because their homes on a finca (plantation) lack running water. For many women in rural villages, washing dishes and clothes together at a community pila is their primary time to socialize.

El Salvador (1983).

Government forces take cover during a firefight with FMLN guerrillas. The government patrol, which had been fighting all night, was exhausted and retreating under fire.

Guerrilla-held territory — El Gramal, El Salvador (1983).

A guerrilla stops a vehicle belonging to Antel, the government-owned phone company, and then sends it on its way. Earlier in the day, an Antel driver divulged a bizarre arrangement whereby the guerrillas regularly borrowed the four-wheel-drive Toyota for night patrols but returned it to Antel in the morning. Such cooperation probably explained why an Antel manager in El Gramal said the government phone company in his area was able to operate as usual even though Popular Liberation Front guerrillas had by then occupied the region for six months.