Whether he’s learning about a city’s history or snapping photos of daily life, there’s so much traveler and creative professional Rick loves about seeing the world. It’s been his journeys that have impacted his worldview the most profoundly, and if there’s one thing he’s discovered while observing locals in different destinations, it’s that everybody’s not so different after all. Here’s his story of forging connections across cultures on our Grand Tour of South America.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed documenting my travels with engaging images. But I’ve recently thought that maybe it’s not enough to just point and shoot—I want to focus more on capturing moments and telling a story. I believe that an image with depth of narrative can make for a stronger human connection, and can foster dialogue and possibly even change.
I want to capture qualities we can all relate to, especially from seemingly ‘strange’ and distant places. As a New Yorker, I’m an avid people-watcher, and my new creative mission is to take photographs that highlight our shared humanity. I’ve often said that travel has shown me there’s more that unites us than divides us, and I truly believe that.
This was one of my main takeaways in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we had the opportunity to see another side of this glamorous city: the favelas. Referred to as slums, these are concentrated areas of poor-quality housing. Our local guide gave an insightful talk about the hopelessness that often motivates people living in the area to resort to crime. During our afternoon visit, I witnessed extremely resourceful and proud locals (called cariocas) making a life despite their limitations. Everybody, regardless of where or how they live, wants the security of a roof over their heads and the ability to provide for a family.
The favela we visited, Rocinha, is the largest in Brazil and contained bustling shops, restaurants, and bars, as well as its own network and radio stations. We spoke with teachers and students at a high school, explored the narrow side streets, and stopped at a fruit and beverage stand for the best açaí break. I learned about the cultural contributions that have come from the favela community, including Samba dancing, Carnaval, and Brazilian soccer, and was pleased to know that a portion of the proceeds generated by our visit would go toward funding local charities and community groups.
Our next stop was Buenos Aires. I’ve lived in New York City for over 40 years and love cities, so I felt right at home. We stayed in a hotel located on the grand 9 de Julio avenue in a neighborhood called the Microcentro. My first evening there, I noticed a crimson glow coming through my hotel curtains. I stepped out onto the balcony to witness the most amazing sunset ever. It was certainly a good omen for the travels ahead.
No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without watching tango; I think it’s synonymous with Argentina. One evening, we ventured to the Café de los Angelitos, located just a few blocks from our hotel. This cafe opened in 1890 and was notoriously frequented by the local mafia. Today it’s less sinister and more festive with a cabaret and dinner theater show.
The tango show brought history to life for me. I learned that tango originated when European immigrants arrived in Argentina in the late 1800s, and that it’s influenced by Caribbean and African Candombe rhythms. The show featured tango styles, music, and costumes from the Victorian era to today, and focused on the dance’s many ethnic influences. It was an excellent introduction to tango; I could see why the dance is said to reflect the displaced immigrants’ sense of sadness or loss.
Remember how I said I love cities? Well, that was before traveling up the Amazon River and exploring the rainforest in Peru. While I was totally at home in Lima, it couldn’t compare to the beauty and stillness of nature, and visiting the community of the native Yagua people was a highlight of the trip. Time stopped as children and elders emerged from their grass huts in traditional garments to welcome us. Villagers donned reddish body paint made from annatto berries, with markings most noticeable on their faces, and many children were accompanied by their pets including sloths, kinkajous, and bright green parrots.
After a rousing communal dance in the main hut, we went back outside to watch a blowgun demonstration by the chief himself. It was interesting to observe the interactions of the tribe members. The elders appeared to direct our visit, and the women were attentive and equally protective as curious children played nearby—it all seemed somewhat familiar. It was simply the experience of a lifetime, and I was pleased to know that the funds generated by our visit will help preserve this indigenous way of life and protect the Yagua territory.
From visiting a favela in Rio and watching tango in Buenos Aires to spending an afternoon with the Yagua tribe in Peru, I saw so much on this trip. Each experience seemed to highlight shared human issues: finding a place to call home, forging an identity, overcoming disadvantages, and ultimately preserving a way of life. I cherish the many images and memories I brought back.