Encarnacion Perez Gonzalez is 91 years old and comadrona (midwife) to thousands of children around Lago Atitlan, among them my friend Rene’s son and daughter. There is a larger than life mural of her adorning a wall near the muelle Santiago.
These are some of the 190 sea turtle hatchlings released by a man named Jorge at the tortugario in Sipacate. He has worked there for sixteen years, guarding millions of turtle eggs and shepherding the babies to the sea.
My friends Jen and her brother Doug worked for many years as EMTs. I once asked Jen how many lives she had saved. “More than I can count”, was her reply.
One of the most important things I took from my marriage was an appreciation for those who devote their lives to helping others. Jane was and is a stellar example of this. As a young woman she worked in AIDS hospice, then went to work at the VA, and now works at the University of Arizona Center On Aging. She volunteered helping to create self-sufficient clinics in Honduras, which in part brought me here to Guatemala. All along she has given freely of her time to mentor young people seeking a similar life.
As an artist, especially one whose work was, for years, non-objective painting, my ability to use my work to help others was limited. Of course I see the value of art to the world. Those who spend their lives creating instead of just consuming perform a vital service to humanity. Still, I felt the need to help individuals more directly, more concretely. My only option as a painter was to donate one of my pieces to a silent auction for some charity or other. Unfortunately, such events are attended largely not by those who wish to support the cause, but rather by those seeking cheap art. It is common for a piece of fine art at one of these auctions to sell for less than the cost of materials.
My transition, over the past decade, from abstract painter to photographer has afforded me an opportunity. Because photography documents events and tells stories, I am able to communicate in ways that I couldn’t with my painting. I can also use my art to benefit others directly and indirectly.
I currently have two projects underway. One is a series called Artists Of Tucson, In which I am attempting to document as many of Tucson’s creators as possible, working in their studios, with their art around them. I hope to bring this to the Tucson Weekly as a feature, and to publish a book, something of a catalog, in celebration of those who spend their lives making the world a more beautiful and thought-provoking place.
My second project involves the Mayan elders living around Lago Atitlan. The photos above and below are the first of what I hope will be many, documenting this vibrant culture and lending a voice to those who have lived through both revolution and civil war to carry on ancient traditions. Sometime in the coming year, I will initiate a Kickstarter campaign to publish a book containing portraits of these remarkable people, and, from their mouths, their personal stories and advice to future generations. All copies of the book funded by the Kickstarter will be donated to the community here to sell for the benefit of those who need it. If I am successful in this effort, my dream is to take the idea to other places where ancient cultures are in danger of being absorbed into the mainstream and forgotten.
I hope, when the time comes, that you will support and help publicize this project so that, one day, if I am asked “How many people have you helped?”, I will be able to respond as my friend did: “More than I can count.”
Agapito Rodriguez Rocche, 90 years old