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William Vázquez is an advertising, portrait & documentary photographer based in New York, USA.

A Little Adventure to do Some Good

"Wait you are going to be driving that thing???" My wife's reaction to my plan. Most everyone particularly Indians I spoke to on my plans would have similar reactions.

More than a year ago Greg a friend and fellow photographer came up with an idea. Lets drive the length of India in an auto rickshaw, and we can fund raise for charities that we support. (An auto rickshaw is a three wheeled under powered vehicle used in India and other countries as an inexpensive way to get around cities. Totally not meant to do what we were going to be doing to it.) So after more than a year in the planning we departed Shillong along with 70 other rickshaw teams with similar insane ideas on a 2,400 mile journey to Kochi in a vehicle that went no faster than 30 miles and hour, has no windows, and broke down on a regular basis. Along the way we faced terrible roads, monsoon, flat tires, beyond insane traffic, sweated profusely, poor food, burned out pistons, lack of sleep, the hunt for spare parts, mosquitoes, suicidal bus drivers, roadside chai, and an amazing journey through India's magnificent landscapes. The best part, meeting people all along the way. Indians who would drop whatever they were doing to say hello, ask questions, shake our hand, take selfies with us, help load our rickshaw on a truck, bring us chai, help us find a mechanic, and treat us like celebrities. All of this with a huge smile on their faces with genuine amazement and happiness to see us.

Our fundraiser is still open until 9/1/2016. Every little bit goes a long way in helping orphans in India and Nepal. The main reason I did this was to fund raise for orphans. As cool as the trip was it was about doing what I can to help on making these kids lives a little better.

Please help me help them.

https://www.crowdrise.com/the-rickshaw-run---india---august-2016/fundraiser/williamvazquez

Here are some photos of our Adventure.

A big thank you to Ian and Sam. I met them in Guwhati airport getting a taxi to Shillong. We ended up traveling together during the whole adventure. They stuck by us when our Rickshaw was sick, towed us a few times, snapped photos of us, and Ian just loved to get on the ground to take apart our engine when it needed fixing. They made the trip even more awesome. Great people.

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Rickshaw Run: Shillong, India to Kochi, India

I am always looking for ways to combine what I do as a photographer to help others. Working for NGO's is one way I help, by bringing awareness through my photography which in turn helps the NGO's raise funds. Every few years I find a challenge to do and fundraise directly. In 2013 it was a trek to Everest Basecamp. I raised almost $7,000. This time around I am driving an Auto Rickshaw 2,100 miles from Shillong, India to Kochi, India with a friend and fellow photographer Greg Kinch. Its a bit crazy but it should be super interesting, fun, a serious challenge, and the best part I get to generate funds for a few NGOs like Families for Children, Kids of Kathmandu, and Cool Earth. My goal is to raise $5,000. Which will be split evenly by the three charities. These funds will go towards direct support of the children. Please support this endeavor!

Traveling through the mountains of Sindhupalchok, Nepal

Experiencing the most amazing moments in unexpected places.

Recently, I was traveling through the mountains in Sindhupalchok, Nepal with a small group from Americares on a patient followup who had been injured during the massive earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015. This is an area that was devastated from the earthquake with most of the homes destroyed and many people injured or killed. It took us about two hours on very poor roads just to get near the village where she lived. Once there it was about a half a mile walk on a muddy, twisting path to get to her home. On the way to Junkiri's home it started to rain heavily. So we took refuge under a nearby home's outdoor cooking fire cover. Unfortunately, we did not all fit under it. A woman inside the home invited us in. She said we were welcome to wait out the rain. I felt terrible with all five of us dripping wet and making a mess. She said not to worry. "It was all right." The rain lessened a little so off we went to Junkiri's home with what seemed half the village in tow. Along the way the rain started up again. Originally we wanted to work outside, but the rain forced us inside. All of us crowded into her tiny home, and sat where we could, on the bed, on a box, a stool, the floor wherever. It was pitch black inside with no light so everyone started to take out their phones to light the scene. As Junkiri was interviewed, her daughter passed around ginger tea and popcorn. We were not allowed to leave until all the tea was drunk, popcorn consumed and the rain stopped. She and her family took us in, gave us refuge, and left a really special memory on me of our encounter. I am happy to say that she is almost fully recovered from her injuries.

I am always impressed with the selfless dedication of Americares staff working in difficult places, and under challenging circumstances. They are extremely dedicated to making peoples live better.

Now the hard part to make our way back down the mountain during the storm....That in itself was an adventure!

 The roads on our way to visit...more like river beds than roads.

The roads on our way to visit...more like river beds than roads.

 Escaping the rain and wind.

Escaping the rain and wind.

 Taking temporary refuge from the storm in a neighbors home.

Taking temporary refuge from the storm in a neighbors home.

 Crowded in the home staying dry while tea is passed around with iphones lighting the way.

Crowded in the home staying dry while tea is passed around with iphones lighting the way.

Stories from Nepal.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal that killed many, and left many more injured and homeless. I am in Nepal working on a variety of projects documenting some of the reconstruction efforts. I am excited to be working with Americares documenting some of their reconstruction efforts in Nepal. As a personal project, I am working on creating stories of Kids of Kathmandu's efforts in Nepal rebuilding schools and supporting orphans. I have worked with them in the past and I am a big fan of their work. I also admire and respect its founders Andrew and Jami who pour immense amounts of love, and tireless work to the success of the organization, and the children.  I am lucky to have teamed up with Chris Lynch a friend, a Sony Artisan, accomplished film maker, and a fellow photographer. He is helping me create content that will help them get the word out on the great work these organizations are doing.  Big thanks to Sony Artisans for their support. Stay tuned for more!

You want to donate to a cause there is none better than Kids of Kathmandu.

 This is the most amazing Samjhana. She was so patient with us, smart and quite the charmer.

This is the most amazing Samjhana. She was so patient with us, smart and quite the charmer.

 

 

Afghanistan 2006

10 years ago I was asked to go to Afghanistan for a Abbott a commercial client. They wanted to document the work an NGO (Afghan Institute of Learning) that they supported was doing in Afghanistan. I was excited and honestly very worried. I had never been in an active war zone. Although it can be argued that growing up in NYC in the 70's qualifies as a war zone. Particularly in the neighborhoods I lived in. Needless to say my wife was not to happy. I was a father with two young children and the chances of something happening to you are high. Not to mention there were other issues. Number one being that this was my first job for them. Also it was more like documentary photography which was a departure from what my work at that time which was commercial portraits with lighting etc. So lots of things to consider. Of course I said yes! I never turn down an opportunity to be challenged and of course travel.

I started doing the research I needed to make the trip happen. Visas, travel, local customs, on the ground conditions, and connecting with the in country organization that I was going to work with. Luckily I had great support from my clients, and I already had lots of travel experience to lean on. It is one of the defining moments in my career as an artist and a person. It has led me to all sorts of new opportunities and people.  All I had to do what take a leap into the unknown.

This project helped with my perspective of how I see the world and photograph it. Thoughts I live by in my day to day.

  • I want my photos to be beautiful
  • I want to show the best of humanity
  • I portray people with dignity

This photo is one I took while I was at a clinic outside of Kabul with the most amazing Afghani woman. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi. She is a force of nature and I am lucky to have spent some time with her. Normally women in Afghanistan cover themselves from head to toe in Burkas. Behind walls they can a little more relaxed with that. Although if a man is around they normally stay covered up. So being basically an alien from another planet in a place like Afghanistan some of those rules don't apply to me. She was sitting waiting her turn to see the doctor, and we stopped to talk to her. Well I spoke through Sakena. She had pulled her burka over her head in a relaxed way, but covered her face a bit with her hand so I could really see her fully. I would ask questions like what she was doing there, how was she feeling, about her family etc. As we spoke I set up my Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, and started taking some photos. I really wanted to see her smile, but she would not drop her hand, and was very serious. As we spoke I took a few shots I tried a few words in Farsi the local language and she found that very amusing, she smiled behind her hand, and I clicked the shutter. Then she had put her hand down and had graced me with a beautiful smile. Wow what a privilege!!  These are the moments I live for. I ended up only taking a few photos of her and the photo stars were in alignment that I had captured what I was looking for. It wasn't used by the client but it was more for me anyway.

Tech specs

  • 1960's era Speed Graphic view camera
  • 150 mm Schneider lens
  • Type 55 Polaroid film (sadly, extinct now killed by the digital revolution)

Creating memories

 Women who work to fertilize the rice fields with cow manure.  Bhutan.

Women who work to fertilize the rice fields with cow manure. Bhutan.

To me there is nothing more satisfying to be a witness or a protagonist in those moments that leave a memory for yourself or others.  Whether its witnessing a birth in a tent in the terrible aftermath of a Typhoon or just being a welcome distraction to someones day. For example these ladies were working in the rice fields in Bhutan. We had seen them from a distance away so we crossed the fields to investigate. As we approach they ignore me. I start photographing them and basically begin to be a distraction (something I do well). After a while curiosity takes over and they start talk talking to me through my guide asking what I was doing there and what do I want. I said I want nothing except to spend a little time with them and learn about them. In those moments of sharing you get little random tidbits that make like special. One tidbit that stood out is that they like smear cow manure on faces of any love interest. Just to show if you love me you can handle this....

As we left they shouted "I love you!" My daughter who was with me says to me. "I am going to tell mommy!" I told her, I think they just want to smear cow manure on my face.

I like to think that in those few minutes we spent together they will have a strong memory of the encounter. It certainly did for me.

 

Serendipitous moments while out in the field. Bhutan

"Guys whats going on????" That was my question to my driver and guide after spotting masked men with torches stopping cars on the road we are driving on. In my experience masked men stopping cars on a quiet road, at night, is something to be very worried about, and always avoided. I was putting on my New York don't mess with me face. After a moment the driver replies. "Oh wow this is great, man!" What! what are they doing? I say. The driver says "You are lucky they are chasing off the bad spirits!" So I got out to chase them to get some photos, but they were off chasing the spirits faster than I could catch them. Almost like spirits themselves.

A little local knowledge goes a long way when traveling. I was able to breathe again, although it was tough at 10,000 feet.

I love moments like these...

Shot with a Sony A7s iso 64000 f4 1/20 sec

2016 new year, new photography website

Starting 2016 with a new site full of recent work illustrating the direction that my work has been going these last few years. The site still needs work and like a house it "will never be done" but that is the inspiration to keep making the site better and create compelling images.

2015 was a year of firsts. Besides my commercial photography work, I started a new company (Camera Voyages) with Bruce Byers creating and leading photographic workshops to different parts of the world. Also I got to take my youngest daughter on a photo trip with me to Bhutan and Nepal. Normally my photo assignments are mad dash through airports and places, which would be no fun for anyone. So it was great to spend 2 1/2 weeks with my youngest in beautiful, interesting places like Bhutan and Nepal, and experience a different way of life

 2 1/2 hours into our climb up to Tigers Nest just outside Paro,  Bhutan. An amazing Buddhist Monastery 9000 feet up. in the mountains.

2 1/2 hours into our climb up to Tigers Nest just outside Paro,  Bhutan. An amazing Buddhist Monastery 9000 feet up. in the mountains.


Cuba photo workshop and Phase One

Along with my assignment photography work I started a photo workshop company with a friend and colleague for many years. Bruce Byers and myself are starting out first workshop in Cuba along with Phase One. The new workshop website is cameravoyages.com. I am very excited to be able to share my knowledge and travel experience with people. This video is a bit of what clients will experience in my workshop. Cuba is such a visually interesting place More to come!

Creating images one at a time.

Back in 2007 I went to Afghanistan on assignment. I was excited and nervous for many reasons. My personal safety was highest on my mind along with all the other reasons, doing something worthy, not disappointing my clients, not mess up, in other words lots of pressure on myself by the worlds toughest critic of my work....me. I was not there to capture conflict imagery, but documenting some programs of nurse training run by the Afghan Institute of Learning, and when I had a chance something where I got a glimpse of the soul of someone. No superficial images of destruction or people beat down from the conflict. So I had to get in there, get to know people, accomplish my goals, all in a very short time frame.Being the crazy idealist that I am, along with my digital gear I dragged along a 1960's era 4x5 speed graphic and polaroid type 55 film. Super low tech, slow, and some of the best photos I took were with that camera.I met Aziza at a women's clinic she was waiting to see the doctor. We got to talking a bit (through an interpreter of course) and we connected. These are the only 2 frames I shot. You have to wait for the right moment, and create images one at a time. I liked the first one where she was being a little shy with her smile.

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Cultural lifestyle, Ethiopian Horsemen

I had been with the horsemen for a while taking their photos while they primped their horses to get them to look just right. I was starting to worry they weren't going to do anything it was taking so long. Then all of a sudden they were off, I had to scramble to the spot I thought I was going to get the shot, and I almost missed it. The scene reminded me of a painting I saw somewhere in a museum far away from Ethiopia.  That is what I wanted to capture a painting in action. Carter Center, ITI and Pfizer celebtate 100 millionth dose MalTRA week in Dongla Ethiopia.

 

Stories from the road, Kisumu Kenya

w_vazquez_william_kisumu-8951The sun is setting and I am at a restaurant by the beach in Kisumu, Kenya. We pretty much finished shooting for the day, I was looking forward to sitting down, not sweating profusely and a cold Tusker beer. As I sit down and notice the fisherman on the beach startheading out to fish for the evening. I was working on a malaria story for MSH an NGO in Africa, and some fisherman working shots would be a great addition to my project. I grab my gear and run off to the beach with the cameraman from Kenya broadcasting TV who was working on a similar story for KBTV. We find a capo to negotiate with on taking us out on a boat. Soon enough we are speeding along the water on a very leaky boat that needed constant bailing, and with a worrisomely sputtering engine. We pull up to some fisherman to interview and photograph. I ask them if any of them have malaria and all at once they tell me how all of them have malaria at one time or another. Dusk is when they work and its prime time for mosquitos. Getting malaria seems to be an occupational hazard for them. I try to ignore the swarms of mosquitos everywhere that are making a meal of me also. Great just what I need Kisumu malaria.....Its is starting to get dark and they need to work so we say our goodbyes, they sail off into the sunset to fish, I went back to my cold beer, with more than a few mosquito bites and somehow stayed malaria free. I guess that Malarone works, this time at least.....

 

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Quiet Dignity, Gynocare Center Eldoret, Kenya

A bittersweet moment....I spent some time with her, before her surgery. While the doctors and nurses were preparing for surgery, which used to be kitchen. I was left alone with her. She was smiling and joking around with me as we waited together. We didn't speak the same language, but that didn't matter. As the time for surgery drew closer she started to calm down, and became quiet. It's a tough thing to go through so young and by yourself. What she needed to have done was not complex, but will be life changing for her. As she woke up from the anesthesia she started to cry. I held her hand until she feel asleep again. Total strangers, yet for a moment very close. w_vazquez_kenya-9173 w_vazquez_kenya-9220 w_vazquez_kenya-9264

Sierra Leone family

Sierra Leone, family from william vazquez on Vimeo.

Right now Sierra Leone is in the grips of an Ebola epidemic which seems to get worse by the day. My travels to Sierra Leone last year showed me what a beautiful people they are. Not only in physical beauty, but beauty, as a caring, hospitable, friendly, and welcoming people trying to live life just like you and me, but under sometimes very difficult circumstances. They have survived a brutal civil war where the term "blood diamonds" comes from, and are still hopeful of their future.  Want to help? then give to organizations that are making a difference.

Many thanks to Lindsey Pollaczek from Direct Relief, the Medical Research Center in Sierra Leone, and Direct Relief. All of whom do amazing work that help save the lives of babies, and mothers. 

Finding inspiration and photographing lifestyle in Brazil

There is nothing better than getting people to smile and enjoy the moment. Musicians on Copacabana beach

Photographing in a foreign country is a challenge. Most of my work is in the documentary/reportage style. Basically photographing in the moment. These days though my projects are in that style but with models, wardrobe, picked locations. So it's not so much photographing in the moment anymore, but "planned in the moment" images, it is certainly more involved than just showing up with a camera, and making do with what is there. Not to mention to keep it feeling serendipitous while controlling everything. That is the challenge.

I went to Rio with a long shot list, and a mandate. Show modern Brazil and its people, living a healthy lifestyle. We found models in Rio (yes, its true it seems like almost everyone is beautiful there), locations, and had to plan shoots while on the run. It was tough, but with Rio and it's people as an inspiration, not to mention some great help on the ground, it was a pleasure.

It's not just clicking the shutter, it's the journey to get to that moment to take the photo is what defines a photographer.