I’m currently in Santa Ana, El Salvador. It is a picturesque town located in the west side of the country. The town itself is full of colour, variety and heavy footfall - especially in and around Parque Colon, where the locals gather each day to relax and enjoy time with friends. All of this on paper reads as though it is the perfect place for a street photographer. So why do I find myself having a hard time getting out and getting some shots in?
Hard to be a Ninja
With or without a camera I stand out like a sore thumb. So far, I am one of a very few white males circulating the town, which has meant that my appearance immediately draws the eyes of the local people. Combine that with having a camera and pointing it in the direction of others, it becomes pretty hard to go in an out of the streets unnoticed - no matter how subtle I am trying to be.
The reason I am one of the few white males in Santa Ana is because not many people from the US and Europe travel here. Unfortunately El Salvador has a representation for being an extremely dangerous place to be. It has high crime rates and is currently dealing with a major issue with homicidal related crimes. My experience so far has been pleasant as the locals do seem friendly. However it is hard to let all the warnings about the country slip out of your mind, and in result I cannot fully relax into my street walks.
Due to the high crime rates, the streets are filled with police and security who are carrying firearms. Just to highlight the extent of the situation; if you were to go to Pollo Campero to get some fried chicken, you can be sure that the door will be opened by a security guard who is carrying a pistol in his waist side.
This kind of culture is alien to me. In England you know when you see law enforcement with a gun then something serious has gone down, not that someone has potentially made a fuss over a bargain bucket.
Struggling to shoot the poor
El Salvador is a poor country. It is a completely different world to the one I know back home in London. The streets a filled with hundreds of people doing all they can to make a dollar or two. Then here I am, this white British guy who has been able to travel the world, all whilst having a nice big full frame camera in his hand - a luxury not so accessible to the people of Santa Ana. There is a mental block in my mind. It tells me I have no right to make these people, many of whom are in a level of poverty that I will never experience, the highlight of my frames. I’m certainly carrying an element of guilt with me when I walk around.
A struggle but not impossible
It hasn’t been all closed doors whilst I have been here. As I say there is a lot of beauty within these streets and I have done all I can to get some shots. Also, Santa Ana does have some more affluent parts where the feeling of unease is not so present. Sadly I still find myself being tense, and in these circumstances I never seem to get the best out of my work.
I know most of my barriers are physiological, and I would never let it put you off coming here - there are plenty of positives. But in this moment there is a dark cloud that has been installed over my head and I am finding it difficult to escape.
I’m going to go away and process that and see if I can come back with a different mindset for you.
Thanks for reading.
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