On the 13/04/2011 I was travelling back to Asunción on a public bus after camping out at a waterfall called Salto Cristal in the Paraguayan countryside. It was a slow paced journey back to the capital as our driver drifted in and out of dusty farm towns along the highway. The forecast tropical thunderstorm somehow held off meaning we travelled for 4-5 sweaty hours in the muggy pre-deluge humidity.
Despite having already spent some 9 months of my life in South America at this point -in four different countries- I somehow got the impression that Paraguay was the quintessential Latin American country. The pace of life was so slow, the people so unassuming. Apart from our bus, traffic rarely stirred too much dust on the roadways and human body language was everywhere so languid. Even as a fluent Spanish speaker I strained to decipher my co-passengers’ conversations, they seemed to slip between Spanish into Guaraní and often made a curious mix of the two. Encouraged by an old lady I bought snacks of chipas and dipped them into cocido, a sweetened style mate made with burnt sugar and milk. All of these are of course Paraguayan oddities, though seemed so much more authentic than (empanadas aside) the packaged sugary snacks sold on buses in other South American countries.
Later in downtown Asunción I couldn’t help but feel I was still in a rural zone, everything was so humble I felt like I had drifted from the main current and settled in a kind of economic eddy at the middle of the continent. Most people I told I was visiting Paraguay always seemed to appear confused. ‘Why?’ They’d all asked me. ‘What is there to see there?’ I’d just shrug.
Interestingly, I learned that in fact Paraguay once used to be the mightiest of all South American nations. Paraguay was the first to claim independence from Spain, boasted considerable wealth, industry and weapons manufacture facilities. What happened though was the 19th century Guerra de la Triple Alianza (War of the Triple Alliance). For reasons disputed it seemed the whole world was at war with Paraguay and whilst performing mightily on the battlefield, they could not claim victory over the combined efforts of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and allegedly the backing of all three by Great Britain. Paraguay lost a third of it’s territory and up to 90% of it’s entire pre-war population of 500,000. In short they were utterly smashed and driven into the obscurity in which they still reside.
Looking back at my photos from Paraguay I feel I actually captured very little. Today’s post is a bit of an experiment utilising four photographs I took that afternoon on the bus in a doco-style-distant-observer mood and using my fixed length 50mm lens. When reviewing the images I liked each but on their own they were a bit without context and placing them together made their common thread obvious. At first I was going to do a diptych with the above two images but decided to try something new when I realised I had four nicely themed images that worked in a roughly square-ish aspect ratio (all these images are cropped from original 2:3 RAW format files). I suppose this presentation of the four photographs would be called a ‘quantych’, though correct me if I’m wrong as I can’t seem to find any photographic naming conventions that go beyond triptych (three images presented together).
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Thanks for reading,