Photography on The New Yorker cover

The New Yorker is not known for using photography on its covers, but it has happened, first with a William Wegman photograph of a weimaraner dressed as Eustace Tilley (Feb. 21 & 28, 2000), and then last week for the Spring Style issue, with a series of four photographs combined with a line drawing by Christoph Niemann. For March 30, art editor Françoise Mouly has gone back to one of her favorite cartoon artists, Barry Blitt, featuring Hillary Clinton in “Clinton’s Emoji.”

I, on the other hand, have chosen to continue Mouly’s new tradition of using photography, if only with an image that looks as if it could be an illustration. I took this photograph at the subway station near Connie Island or on the subway on the way there, I don’t quite remember.

I have an idea for an illustration of Ted Cruz, which I was going to do for this week’s cover, but the airplane crash in the Alps left me with a somber feeling. Perhaps I’ll revisit Cruz for the next cover.

If you know of any other occasion when The New Yorker has used photography on the cover, please let me know. Thanks.

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NASA’s Photos Which Inspired a Generation Go to Auction


Clyde Holliday. The first photograph from space, 24 October 1946. “The horizon as photographed at an altitude of 65 miles. At this point the camera was theoretically 720 miles from the horizon and the picture shows 40,000 square miles of space”, 24 October 1946 (APL caption). Before 1946, the highest pictures ever taken of the Earth’s surface were from the Explorer II balloon which had ascended 13.7 miles in 1935. The official boundary of space is the Karman line which lies at an altitude of 62.5 miles (100 km). This historic photograph was taken by a 35-mm camera developed by Clyde Holliday of the APL and fitted on the 13th V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. This is “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a spaceship” wrote Clyde Holliday in National Geographic in 1950.

Before NASA started taking and showing the world pictures from space, it was up to our imagination to picture our home planet. Once NASA went into space with a camera, our imagination got a boost. On October 24, 1946, NASA launched a rocked with a camera (above) and we could see, for the first time, the curvature of the Earth. It was easier to accept that our planet was really round. You can now own a piece of this photographic history, as a large collection of photographs from NASA’s Golden Age goes up for auction in London this Thursday, February 26. You can bid online at the Bloomsbury Auctions website for one of the hundreds of prints, with bidding starting as low as £200.


The largest area of Earth hitherto photographed at one time, from Nebraska to the Pacific, October 1954. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in) This composite photograph is made up of 310 prints of 16-mm motion picture film exposed about 100 miles above the Earth. The camera was in a rocket fired from White Sands in October 1954. The area shows about one and a quarter million square miles of the Earth.

It took eight more years for the world to have a picture of the Earth as a globe, thanks to a composite created from 310 prints (above). Now we could actually see that the Earth was round.


Buzz Aldrin. First self-portrait in space, Gemini 12, November 1966. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA S-66-62926 in red in top margin Illustrated: Space p.71, Cortright p.184. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.

From the hundreds of photos being auctioned, I was drawn to Buzz Aldrin’s self-portrait (above), which has the look and feel of a selfie, except this was done with a very expensive space Hasselblad. Today’s mobile phones have more computing power than the spaceship Aldrin is in, so the legend goes.


The phases of the Earth during an entire day, ATS I, 11 December 1966. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA Goddard caption on verso. ATS transmitted the first detailed whole Earth photographs and relayed from 23,000 miles images at various hours showing the “phases of the Earth”.

I grew up with pictures of the Earth from space, and I can only imagine what it would have been like to see the sequence of photos above back in 1966, or the first high-quality color photographs of the Earth below, taken in November 1967.


The first high quality colour photograph of the whole planet Earth, ATS III, 18 November 1967. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x10in), NASA Goddard ATS stamp and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso. “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available – once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known – a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, speaking in 1948. The entire disc of the Earth, photographed by the revolutionary Multicolor Spin-Scan Cloudcover Camera. Even at this relatively short distance in time, it is difficult to imagine the impact it had on the public who responded with real emotion to this first image of their planet in its true colours. Edgar Cortright selected this photograph as the frontispiece for “Exploring Space with a Camera” published the following year.


First colour photograph of the Crescent Earth, Apollo 4, 9 November 1967. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered MSC AS4-1-410 in red in top margin The photograph was made when the Saturn V third stage was orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 9,745 nautical miles. “Beautiful though they were, Apollo 4’s pictures didn’t make much impact in the press. Today, though, Apollo 4’s ghostly image of the Earth’s globe, pale and breathing, like a child in the womb awaiting its first human witness, has a peculiar fascination”. Earthrise, pp86-87 Illustrated: Exploring Space, p.199


William Anders. First Earthrise seen by human eyes, Apollo 8, December 1968. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA AS8-14-2383 in red in top margin. The celebrated view of planet Earth appearing over the bleached lunar horizon. “There was nothing in the plan for an Earthrise photo. Indeed, we didn’t even see an actual Earthrise until, on our third orbit, we changed the spacecraft’s orientation to heads up and looking forward. As we came round the back side of the moon, where I had been taking pictures of craters near our orbital track, I looked up and saw the startlingly beautiful sight of our home planet “rising” up above the stark and battered lunar horizon. It was the only color against the deep blackness of space. In short, it was beautiful, and clearly delicate”. W. Anders. Illustrated: The View from Space, p.98, Space p.83, Newhall pp136-137. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

I remember the picture above because my father was publishing El Año del Automóvil and he was so fascinated by it that he requested a copy from NASA which he could use in the book. And I love the image below. It inspires my imagination. I would love to be up there, looking down on creation.


Russell Schweickart. David Scott stands in the open hatch of the CSM, standup EVA, Apollo 9, March 1969. Vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption and “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, numbered NASA AS9-20-3064 in red in top margin. “I took this shot of Dave Scott taking a picture of me at the beginning of my EVA on Apollo 9. It captures just a bit of the fantastic beauty of the Earth juxtaposed against the infinite black of space. In the foreground is that amazing combination of human and machine that is enabling us to emerge into the universe out of the womb of Earth”. R. Schweickart. Illustrated: Space p.84, Spacecam p.40, Great Images in NASA (online), Moon p.160-161. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions


Panorama of the lunar horizon at the terminator over the Sea of Vapors, Apollo 10, May 1969. Mosaic of three vintage gelatin silver prints, 30 x 36cm, image 27.5 x 28.5cm, numbered NASA AS10-32-4819 to AS10-32-4821 in black in top margin. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions


227. Panorama from landing site 1 to the lunar terminator, Apollo 10, May 1969. Mosaic of twenty-eight vintage gelatin silver prints, 29 x 224cm, image 25 x 215cm, numbered NASA AS10-31-4527 to AS10-31-4559 in black in top margin. Landing site 1 was one of the possible destinations for Apollo 11. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions

And I bet the collages of the moon surface inspired David Hockney to create his “joiners”. The one above can be yours for an estimated price of £4,000 to £6,000, the same estimated price as the iconic image of Buzz Aldrin almost touching the surface of the Moon.


Neil Armstrong. Buzz Aldrin prior to becoming second human being to set foot upon the Moon, Apollo 11, July 1969. Large-format vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, borderless, 60.5 x 50.5cm, “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, NASA HQ caption on separate page, [NASA negative number AS11-40-5866]. “We opened the hatch and Neil, with me as his navigator, began backing out of the tiny opening. It seemed like a small eternity before I heard Neil say, “That’s one small step for man . . . one giant leap for mankind.” In less than fifteen minutes I was backing awkwardly out of the hatch and onto the surface to join Neil, who, in the tradition of all tourists, had his camera ready to photograph my arrival.” Buzz Aldrin. Illustrated: Moon p.193, Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.


Neil Armstrong. Portrait of Buzz Aldrin with the photographer and the Lunar Module reected in his gold-plated visor, Apollo 11, July 1969. Large-format vintage chromogenic print on fibre-based Kodak paper, borderless, 61 x 51cm, “A Kodak Paper” watermark on verso, NASA HQ caption on separate page, [NASA negative number AS11-40-5903]. A Man on the Moon, the legendary image. Illustrated: Moon, frontispiece. £8,000 – £10,000. Reproduction, © Bloomsbury Auctions.


Pete Conrad. Alan Bean with the reection of the photographer in his visor, EVA 2, Apollo 12, November 1969. Vintage gelatin silver print, 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10in), NASA MSC caption on verso, numbered NASA AS12-49-7278 in black in top margin. Alan Bean holds a container of lunar soil in his right hand. His Hasselblad camera is mounted on the control unit on his chest. Illustrated: Full Moon plate 69, The View from Space p.46.

I love the above photo of Alan Bean by Pete Conrad for many reasons: the reflection, the sharpness, the really cool Hasselblad camera. And the frame below of John Young sliding around in the lunar vehicle in the name of science is just fun. Go ahead and bid, and you could own one of the 692 lots from NASA’s Golden Age.


Charles Duke. Lunar Grand Prix at Descartes, EVA 3, Apollo 16, April 1972. Two vintage chromogenic prints, one on fibre-based Kodak paper, “A Kodak Paper” watermark, numbered NASA S-72-37002, one on resin coated Kodak paper, “A Kodak Paper” watermark, numbered 72-H-649, description printed verso (2). The rover gets a speed workout by John Young to test how the vehicle handles in the Moon’s one sixth gravity. The views are frames from motion picture film exposed by a 16mm Maurer camera held by Charles Duke. £300 – £500

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The Pure Beauty of John Baldessari, and Michael Govan

John-Baldessari-by-Isaac-Hernandez-7303I have done my daily painting this week, but I haven’t photographed them yet. May this photo of John Baldessari serve as consolation until the sun comes out so that I can reproduce my new seven paintings.

John-Baldessari-by-Isaac-Hernandez-7310I appreciate John Baldessari. He’s certainly pushed the envelope, perhaps not on the direction I would have pushed it, but nevertheless I can say that his art has been a contribution to me. He had an exhibit at LACMA titled Pure Beauty; I wondered if he was referring to himself. So I tried to capture his beauty in this photographs. If you missed his exhibit, you can always buy the Pure Beauty book. Or a Pure Beauty bar of soap (only $15). Or other Baldessari parafernalia from the LACMA shop. If you’re not into buying expensive soap, but you like art, and photography, you can always visit LACMA. They always have wonderful exhibits.

John-Baldessari-Michael-Govan-by-Isaac-Hernandez-7380I photographed Baldessari with LACMA director, Michael Govan, who I once interviewed for a magnificent story published in Art Press France (both in English and French): “The Architect, the Museum Director and the Billionaire.” I interviewed Govan once again for a story on Surrealist Women.

I like Govan. It’s always fun to talk to him. Or to take photos of him, taking photos of John Baldessari:


Funny thing, just like Baldessari, I’m also a photographer and painter… It’s just that Govan hasn’t chosen to put my art in his museum just yet.  If you can’t make it to LACMA, you can always contact me to schedule an Isaac Hernández studio tour.

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Kurt Russell and His Wine

Once upon a time, I received a phone call from Janice Kleinschmidt, Deputy Editor at Palm Springs Life. She needed a photographer to illustrate her story on Ampelos Cellars and Vineyard, the organic winery that makes Kurt Russell’s Gogi wine, and is located in Lompoc, California. Ah, and Mr. Russell was going to be there.

Kurt-Russell-Gogi-wine-5125It was one of those dream assignments, being playful and partying with Janice, Kurt and our hosts Rebecca and Peter Work, the winery owners. Kurt’s mother, sister and son were also there, as well as my assistant for the day, Katherine, and some of Ampelos employees. It really felt like one big family. Since Kurt shared his special Gogi wine with me, I brought him a bottle of “Conde de Lipa” Rioja wine from my family. Kurt was nice to work with, even posing on top of the wine barrel, when I kindly told him of my idea for a portrait. It was a party. But it was also work. They say that you reach bliss when you cannot distinguish work from play. This day felt very much like Nirvana. And the results shows that we weren’t just slacking. Janice did a wonderful job with the intimate story of Kurt’s love for wine.

Kurt-Russell-Ampelos-vineyards-5393After photos and lunch at the cellars, we went to the vineyards. The party continued. At the time I was doing a series of 100 self-portraits, and at the end of the long day of shooting photos, I realized I hadn’t done my selfie of the day. At the risk of sounding dorky, I asked Kurt if I could do my self-portrait with him. He agreed and below is the result.

Self with Kurt Russell.

Kurt Russell and I (self-portrait).

You can see a larger selection of photos from the day in a gallery at the Mercury Press archives.

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Photo shoot for Wall Street Journal Mansion


This 1929 home had fallen into disrepair. Gretchen and Robert Lieff brought it back to life.

Robert Lieff bought this home with his then wife, Carole Lieff, in 2004 for $4.5 million, spending another $2 million in renovations. They say home remodels are very tough on relationships. A year later the marriage ended in divorce, and Robert’s ex-wife kept the house. Robert went on to marry Gretchen, a supporter of UCSB Arts & Lectures, and one of my personal mentors. When the house went on the market, Robert knew he had to have it. He bought it back from his ex-wife in July 2012 for $10.5 million. And then it was many months of work to bring it back to its original beauty, investing $300,000 just to clean the grounds alone.


Welcome to Los Sueños, also known as the Douglas Home.

When I first saw the house at the housewarming party, I knew it had to be in The Wall Street Journal. It didn’t take much effort to convince Nancy Keates, a writer there I’d worked with before, to write a piece on this magnificent mansion. Robert and Gretchen were very gracious to let me photograph the house. The story appeared in the WSJ on December 13th.


Many of George Washington Smith’s original sketches and drawings are held at the Architecture and Design Collection of the Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were very generous to let us browse through the ones of the Douglas home.


Original designs for the black-marble tile on the gallery.


Robert Lieff enjoys some peace in his beautiful garden


The gallery that greets you as you walk into the H-shaped home stuns.



At the end of the gallery, the beautiful bedroom, complete with a living area, two master bathrooms, and a giant walk-in closet.



The unique bathroom floor was designed by Lutah Maria Riggs, who collaborated closely with Mr. Smith.


One of my favorite hidden details of the home is the water tower right above the garage, which is now a romantic four-room apartment/guest house, with one room per floor.


The first floor of the water tower serves as living room.


Bedroom on the top floor of the water tower.


The view of the house from atop the water tower.


The stunning square pool is one-of-a-kind in Montecito. There are plenty of stories about the many Hollywood parties that occurred here when it was the home of Columbia Pictures’ CEO during the 1980’s.




The living room is covered with cedar panels for a very striking effect, with views to the yard on one side and the interior patio on the other.



Detail of the original marble fireplace.


The striking original chandelier in the living room, crowned by trumpet-playing mystical creatures.


Gretchen Lieff was adamant about preserving the original oak trees on the 3.36-acre property, bringing one of them back to life.




The kitchen was remodeled in 2004.


The dining room has room for 18 guests, and there’s always plenty of Lieff wine to go around.



One of the rooms downstairs, bathed in light from the garden patio.




Did you know?

George Washington Smith was born in East Liberty, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1876, on George Washington’s birthday. He studied art and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. From 1895 to 1897 he attended Harvard University to study architecture, but never graduated.

He made enough money in the bond market to retire by 1912 and move to Europe to be a painter. After traveling throughout the continent,  he settled with his wife in Paris, where he studied painting at the Académie Julian of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. The outbreak of World War I brought them to New York City in 1914, where he continued painting. His work was widely exhibited across the US.

They visited California in 1915 to see one of his paintings exhibited at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, and ended up in Montecito, California, where he bought a property and built his home to resemble the houses he had seen in Andalusia, Spain, during a trip in 1914. The result, later known as later known as the Heberton house, was so striking that soon after completion in 1917 his neighbors asked him to build houses for them. An essay on this home was published in Architectural Forum in 1920, bringing him national attention.

His plans to return to Europe after the war was over and his painting career were sidetracked by a new career in architecture,  with the assistance of Lutah Maria Riggs who joined his office in 1921.  He become one of the most respected architects of the time, credited for the Spanish-Colonial Revival movement.

Before he died in 1930, he designed and built hundreds of homes, including the 1926 Jackling Home, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought in 1984 and planned to have demolished in the year 2000. After years of legal battles, Jobs was given permission to build a new home in place of the Jackling Home as long as he allowed investor Gordon Smythe to disassemble the home first to move it to another location. The project was never completed as Jobs died of cancer a few months after the disassembling began.

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Self as my Great Great Grandfather

Isaac Hernandez, self-portrait as my Great Great Grandfather, oil pastel on paper, 2010 (in progress). 35.6×43.2cm (14″x17″).

Back in 2010 I started a self-portrait as my great great grandfather. My friend Bob Porter wrote a poem then. He came to visit again yesterday, and we decided to start a collaboration with poems and paintings.

Isaac Hernandez. Self as my great-grandfather, the Conde de Lipa. Oil pastel on paper, 2010-11.

Isaac Hernandez. Self as my Great Great Grandfather, the Conde de Lipa. Oil pastel on paper, 2010-11. 35.6×43.2cm (14″x17″).

It was 2011 before I could complete the drawing/painting, and before I could finally shave off the silly beard. It looked good on my ancestor, but not on me (and I couldn’t get the beard to curl on the sides like he did). Here’s Roberto’s poem:

©2010-13 Bob Porter

Out of the shadows
Like twin brothers, those eyes.
Visions of egalitarian turtle eggs
The taste of upright turkish coffee
The smell of onions, turmeric and coriander
In his dilapidated briefcase,
He carries an old, musty typewriter
He chews tobacco, from Georgia,
He carries a letter from Nietzsche, or is it de Tocqueville? carefully folded in his inner vest pocket
He dreams of revolution and Robespierre
Bonfires and barricades in the street
The sounds of gunfire and the sights of twisted lovers
But the eyes are not sure
And so he waits and watches
Longing for an answer
Or a clue…
Longing, longing…
Waiting, watching…

My great great grandfather, that’s my father’s great grandfather, was Polish. And he was also a pioneer photographer. He also had the title of Conde de Lipa and photographer to the Queen of Spain. I always thought it was a good story, but didn’t really gave it much importance. But over the last few weeks I’ve become obsessed with his life, researching why Captain Ludwik Tarszenski went to France and then on to Spain. It turns out he was some kind of war hero. But I’m not going to write more about him here. You can read about him in Wikipedia or in On with the show.

My box of good oil pastels is lost and I’ve been feeling anxious about it; I thought I was going to start biting my nails. Finally, I just went and bought a new one with the Art Essentials’ gift certificate I received for Christmas, from my friend who I gave the pig painting to. It was kind of weird synchronicity. I gave her oil pastels on paper and she gives me a paper worth oil pastels.

Finally, I had oil pastels. I was ready to paint/draw. We were also having a party with many guests, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. If I didn’t get my fingers dirty in oil pastels, I was going to go mad/der. I knew I had to entertain guests, so I did it the best way I could: they got to watch an artist at work. And some where inspired to create art. How great is that? At one point, I was retouching the painting, while Bob was writing the poem above, inspired by the painting, and Emma Jade was playing the piano.

Luis Tarszenski, Conde de Lipa, photographed by Amalia L. Lopez, one of his pupils.

I had the picture above on my phone’s screen while I painted the self-portrait, in order to keep a similar perspective and light, to inspire the mood, and to copy the suit. I also combed my hair to match Ludwik’s, but backwards (on the reflection of the mirror).

Even though I had a new box of oil pastels, I ended up painted with some left over colors I found: acid yellow and blue. I always try to use up all the colors in a box set; as I run out of my favorite colors, I use colors that normally I wouldn’t use, forcing me to try something new. I didn’t really want to paint it in black-and-white, because I tried those “colors” recently already, and I thought it would be boring to do the same thing again.

Since everybody says my paintings look like Van Gogh’s (I think they look like me, but I appreciate the compliments) I will bring up the painting that Vincent did of his mother from a photograph on view at the wonderful Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and what he wrote to his brother, Theo: “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.” This painting was in my mind as I drew myself as Conde de Lipa, but I hadn’t looked at it in years, until now. I didn’t remember the palette that Van Gogh used, but I remembered his words: “I cannot stand the colorless photograph.”

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Lotusland 1.4

In my recent trip to Madrid, I started a series of photographs with an aperture of 1.4, which provides for a shallow depth of field. So far, I’ve used a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm 1.4 Canon lens. I’m still working on a selection from the Madrid photos, but in the meantime I thought I’d share this collection from a day trip to Ganna Walska Lotusland, in Montecito, California. A group of friends were invited by photography consultant Molly McDonough, as she presented her last tour as a student before becoming an official docent.

Madame Ganna Walska, a colorful Polish opera singer, purchased this 37-acre estate in 1941, and spent the rest of her life transforming it into a safe haven for plants. After Walska’s death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanical garden dedicated to the preservation of plant species and education. Since 1993 it’s been open to the public. Members can tour the gardens on their own. All other visitors need to sign up for a tour, at 10:00 AM or 1:30 PM, Wednesday through Saturday between February 15 and November 15. To schedule a visit, call 805-969-9990 during regular business hours. You won’t regret it.

IsaacHH-130118-1577      IsaacHH-130118-1560


IsaacHH-130118-1452       IsaacHH-130118-1477


IsaacHH-130118-1413      IsaacHH-130118-1394


IsaacHH-130118-1360      Lotusland. Montecito, California. January 18, 2013. Photo: ©

IsaacHH-130118-1357      IsaacHH-130118-1351

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My Love for Peru

Milagros in front of what was to be my home in Lima for a few days.

Love for Peru invited me, all expenses paid, to document the not-for-profit work they were doing in a community of shantytowns in the District of San Juan de Lurigancho, on the outskirts of Lima. I was to stay in a hotel with a group of American volunteers, and travel each day to Nueva Esperanza, the name of the community encompassing nine different shanty towns, or asentamientos humanos, as they call them in Peru. But I asked to stay in one of the cardboard shantyhomes instead. I wanted to experience the life of the people I was there to photograph.

When I arrived, I was blessed and welcomed by the community, and soon named vecino Isaac, which I took as a compliment, as the other volunteers were addressed as hermanos. During the seven years that Love for Peru had worked at Nueva Esperanza, none of the volunteers had ever asked to stay there. My vecinos welcomed me with open arms and were very grateful to have someone listen so intimately.

I was very present to the fact that it could have been me landing in such circumstance. I could have been born here, living the daily hardships of living in a cardboard house, not knowing what I was going to eat that night. Or of having to go to the bathroom every day in a hole in the ground, watching for the giant rat that might come out of said hole.

Betsabé, president of the Nueva Esperanza communities.

This was made very clear when I met Betsabé, then President of New Hope. She had grown up in a middle class family, and even had a maid, but her mother lost everything when she divorced her alcoholic husband, since divorce in Peru was a big no-no back then. Now Betsabé lives among the poorest of the poor, putting in countless hours visiting with neighbors to learn what can be done to improve their living conditions.

Marina, my first host mother, and her cardboard home.

At first, I stayed with Marina and her beautiful family: her children Marisol and Yhon, and her granddaughter Yamilé. All four of them normally slept in two beds; Marina with her granddaughter, and Yhon with his sister. But Marisol took the night shift at work and Yhon slept with his mom and niece so that I could have one bed to myself. Never mind that theirs was a cardboard house with dirt floors; I felt right at home. Marina’s the most generous human being I’ve ever met. She fed me the largest portions of her delicious food. She gave me the only candle in the house so I could write my diary while she cooked in her coal stove in the dark, When I left her home after a few days, she cried.

María, Juan Carlos, Christian and Carmen Rosa, my second host family.

Later I stayed with María, who lives in one of the new homes built by Love for Peru: four wood panels over a cement floor, covered with a thin tin roof. As in many homes here, her husband was also absent, and she took care of all the children on her own, including seven-year-old Carmen Rosa, who’s severely handicapped, needs to be spoon-fed and wears diapers. She can’t walk or talk, and never will.

With the economic crisis we think we have it difficult. But my neighbors in Lima are really living day by day. I hurt myself playing soccer with the children one evening; boy can they play!  When I came home with a bloody knee, Maria sent her son Juan Carlos running to the neighborhood store. He returned with two individually wrapped diapers for Carmen Rosa (one for the night, and one for the next day) and one single Band Aid for me.Then offered me some cologne to disinfect my wound. Luckily one of the American volunteers had given me a less-painful disinfecting wipe, just in case.When I came home with a bloody knee, Maria sent her son Juan Carlos running to the neighborhood store. He returned with two individually wrapped diapers for Carmen Rosa (one for the night, and one for the next day) and one single Band Aid for me.

As the Americans were leaving me behind the first evening, they treated me as a hero for being so brave as to stay while they went back to their hotel room, with showers and clean sheets. But, I’m no hero. I only stayed there for a few days. My vecinos are the heroes.I left a piece of my heart there. It was truly an eye-opening experience. I’d wanted to document life in a shantytown for years, part out of curiosity, part to show the world what’s hidden in plain sight in many cities of the world. Once I was crazy enough to hail a taxi from the U.S.-Mexico border and tell the driver to take me to the nearest shantytown, where I proceeded to try to convince the first family I found to let me stay with them for a few days. They thought I was delusional, and I took the same taxi back to downtown Tijuana, with only a few exposed frames of black-and-white film in my camera.

Yhon, my host brother, contemplating his neighborhood and his future.

I’m still moved by the generosity of my adopted community in Lima. They gave me the best of everything, and made due with less food to make sure I had plenty. I get goose bumps remembering my neighbors, displaced from the green Andean mountains by wars involving terrorist groups, drug cartels and the government.

My neighbors in Lima were a rich community in love, and in respect for their neighbors. But they were poor in possibilities, in opportunities to improve their lives and living conditions, and in their environment. I don’t miss the never-ending brown palette of dirt and pollution. During my time there, the ground was brown, the sky was brown, even the few plants that sweet vecina Basilia kept with love where covered in brown dust. The sun never shone completely through the murky skies, and the light always seemed as if filter by a sepia veil, a veil created by cars burning unrefined oil and the refuse from unregulated factories. The lack of green really got to me. When our group later landed in Cusco and Machu Picchu for a tourist visit, I felt guilty. I wanted my vecinos to be here, after all this was their green land, not mine.

A blue sky, green plants, clean rivers and oceans add real richness to our lives; they should be a human right. This wealth I’m afraid is not measured in a nation’s GDP. If I could do anything for the people in Lima, the ones who made me an honorary neighbor, I’d give them colors: blue skies, white puffy clouds and green trees; I’d give them Machu Picchu.

Thank you, my vecinos for opening your hearts and your community. It was an honor to be in your company. I will always remember you, Basilia, Marina, Betsabé, Yhon, Marisol, Milagros, Selene, Christian, Juan Carlos, Yamilé… And Maria, your wise words still resonate with me. Upon meeting your Carmen Rosa, I told you, “Seeing your daughter makes me realize how blessed I am with the health of my children.” And you responded, “So am I.”

Volunteers carrying panels up the hill to build a new home for a neighbor through the donations of Love for Peru.

How Love for Peru got started

Love for Peru is the brainchild of Piero and Magali Solimano, Peruvians now living in Florida. When they visited their sponsored child in Lima for the first time, they were shocked by the living conditions there, without running water, trash collection, electricity or sewers.

Their collaboration has sparked the transformation of a community of forgotten people, who were also divided in their daily survival. Thanks to their guidance and lobbying, the nine communities that form Project Hope blossomed in working in partnership with each other and with their “American brothers,” who occasionally visited to help build, on average, five homes in five days.

Love for Peru has brought over 500 volunteers to Project Hope. They have helped build hundreds of homes, five preschools, three community kitchens and two libraries. Thanks to Love for Peru, the landfill at the bottom of the hill was transformed into a soccer field.

After my visit, Love for Peru continued working on their goals, including meeting safety regulations so that the area could be zoned for living, so that the people there could receive titles to their homes, which was accomplished. Next, the community got running water and a sewage system. And the main road is now paved.

The non-profit is now no longer building homes, but continues to supply Nueva Esperanza with medical care, such as sponsoring regular doctor visits. Never let it be said that a lot cannot be generated from a little… as long as it’s done with love.

Marina cooking with plastic bags and coal on her outdoor stove.

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Same-Sex Marriage: Love Will Prevail

Sarah, Dan and Kevin, San Francisco, 2000.

Twelve years ago, I photographed several gay families with children for El Mundo in Spain. I was told that these photos moved people to tears, and started a shift in the conversation. I like to think that the love of these families for their children triumphed over the hatred inherited by years of misunderstanding and fear.

When I was assigned by Magazine, the large Sunday supplement of El Mundo, to photograph a gathering of gay families with children in San Francisco, organized by All Our Families coalition, I didn’t know that the article accompanied by my family portraits would change the world — or at least impact public opinion in Spain.

Ann, Noah, Elaine and Dan, San Francisco, 2000.

The love of these families, apparent in the photos and in the magnificent article by USC Religious Studies professor Juan Herrero Brasas, titled “Papa y Papi Me Miman” (Daddy and Poppy Love Me), traveled across the ocean and sparked a national debate. The photos were shown on TV numerous times, and were plastered on the walls of bookstores in Lavapies, Madrid’s gay district. I heard from my sister’s hairdresser, who was moved to tears to see these happy gay families with children recognized in the Spanish national media, inspired by the dream that one day he might be able to have that.

Same-sex weddings and adoptions weren’t legal anywhere in the U.S. at the time (2000). In fact, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in the world. Those San Francisco parents could form civil unions but couldn’t get married, and went through many legal loops in order to be able to co-adopt. They fought for their children like nobody else I knew.

A few months later, the Netherlands approved same-sex marriage. It became the first nation to do so, on April 17, 2001. Two years later, on January 30, 2003, Belgium did the same. In November, 2003, the Massachusetts high court got the ball rolling in the U.S. saying that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional according to state law, and gave legislators 180 days to legalize gay weddings. On February 12, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay weddings to be performed by city clerks. The families I had photographed four years earlier could finally get married.

Opening page for story on San Francisco Gay Weddings, as it appeared in El Mundo on March 7, 2004.

I convinced El Mundo’s editor to let me cover the weddings at the San Francisco City Hall. I traveled 350 miles to San Francisco and photographed nearly 50 weddings in one day, interviewing the newlyweds. I remember the words of Anne Peacock, a high school teacher who married her sweetheart: “This issue really does need to have a human face. It is easy for people to hate ‘the other’ but much more difficult, and even absurd, to hate your teacher or cousin or neighbor or daughter or nephew.”

A few days after the story came out in print in Spain, California banned same-sex marriages, and the 4,000 weddings performed between February 12 and March 11 were annulled.

Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. and 1,000 couples were married the first day, May 17, 2004.

While California went on to legal battles over this issue, Canada and Spain were finalizing plans to legalize same-sex marriages, which they did on June 28 and June 30, 2005, respectively. The tables had been turned. It was Spain’s turn to inspire California to achieve marriage equality.

On June 16, 2008, finally, the Supreme Court of California ruled the ban unconstitutional. But the joy lasted only until Election Day on November 5, 2008, due to the passage of Proposition 8, the so dubbed “Marriage Protection Act”. This would later also be found unconstitutional by the Ninth District Court of Appeals, but same-sex marriages are still not allowed in California, pending further appeals. (The trial has been written into a play, “8″, by Oscar-winning author Dustin Lance Black, and was performed in LA with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Bacon.)

On November 6, 2012, voters in Maine, Maryland approved same-sex marriage by ballot measures, while voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot that would have changed their constitution to deny deny same-sex couples the right to marry. And voters in Washington approved a same-sex marriage law passed earlier this year.

President Barack Obama brought the conversation out of the closet and turned it into a national debate. Supporting same-sex marriage is finally no longer a political taboo. It’s something we can talk about. The president’s words possibly encouraged voters to support same-sex marriage in these four states. Incredibly, this is the first time that opponents of “redefining marriage” lose a statewide referendum; they had won the previous 32 times.

By now, Argentina, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden have joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain in recognizing same-sex relationships. Brazil approved same-sex civil unions and Israel honors same-sex marriages performed in other countries even though they are not allowed within the country. Even Mexico City and Quintana Roo (Mexico), as well as Connecticut, DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maine, Maryland and Washington now perform gay weddings. But the people who inspired many others, those original San Francisco families in my black-and-white photographs, still cannot get married at home.

The recognition of same-sex marriages is a civil rights issue. It’s about people being treated equally. Let’s leave Satan out of this; and the fear of children becoming homosexuals just from being raised by homosexuals, as if it were some kind of disease. That is so last century!

I hear that certain “marriage defenders” fear that legalizing same-sex marriage will result in the desire to legalize polygamy or marriage between a man and dog. They say they defend tradition. But I don’t believe in defending tradition for tradition’s sake. You don’t have to go back very far in time when it was also tradition for black people to drink from “colored only” water fountains. Backtrack a few years more and it was tradition to own slaves.

What does “defending the sanctity of marriage” mean, anyhow? I don’t understand. Shouldn’t divorce be illegal then, too? How about pre-marital sex? Shouldn’t we ban that, too?


Let’s defend the sanctity of love. If people want to get married, let them. Let love triumph over hate.

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Hikari Haiku

Last year I did a series of self-portraits using the Hipstamatic app for iPhone. The idea was to take 100 photos during 100 days; they ended up being more. For some of them I wrote Haiku poems, what I call a Photo Haiku, or Hikari Haiku. This series of photos can be seen in “I’m Not My Face: 40 Years of Self-Portraits”, a new book launching at the end of 2012.

Self-portrait No. 6.
Almost February
Life’s like a Christmas tree
Time passes quickly

Self-portrait No. 10.
I wanna be a dog
Be closer than I appear
Wind blows in my face

Self-portrait No. 11.
Who’s the man in the mirror?
Does he even know?

Self-portrait No. 12 (February 6, 2011).
Why do I worry
I’m only getting older
Life is beautiful

Self-portrait No. 13 (February 5, 2011).
A midday siesta
Eyes open to inner thought
What will they see now?

Self-portrait No. 14 (February 7, 2011).
I look pretty scary
When I brush my pearly whites
If I only knew

Self-portrait No. 15 (February 8, 2011).
Sweet scent of flowers
In the middle of winter
Did you stop and smell?

Self-portrait No. 16 (February 9, 2011)
I would love to paint
What a beautiful mirror
Lit by winter light

Self No. 17.
Darkness surrounds me
Like a box of chocolates
Almost Valentine’s

Self No. 18.
I feel like hiding
Under the covers of truth?
Deep inside my thoughts

Self No. 19 (Feb. 12, 2011).
I’m disappearing
Belong no longer here
Not quite, but almost

Self No. 20 (Feb. 13, 2011).
Sometimes not knowing
One hundred self-portraits
I hide behind me

Self No. 21. February 14, 2011
Migraine coming now
The new day has just begun
I can feel your pain

Self No. 22. February 15, 2011.
Andalusian dog
More or less, in dog years,
Five hundred years old

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