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Blind doña Maria sees a borderless landscape

PHOTO BOOK / The book Doña Maria und Ihre Träume offers an exceptional journey through Venezuela's rugged and mysterious desert landscape with a touch of magical realism.

The iconic book Doña Maria and her Dream er basert på documentary photographs from Eyrie Friedrichs' many travel to Venezuela, which in 2008 he received the precision-heavy award Lead Gold Award for. The book came under the spell of a journey of discovery in a gloomy and hard Venezuela that is slowly gaining momentum in the oil and politics, while frighteningly gaining an ever-stronger reputation as a test tube for failed theory and practice.

The book starts northwest of the country, in the state of Lara, and moves toward the Falcón region. Over a twelve-year period, Friedrichs met the same families at the same time every single year – a very welcome reunion – while looking for shade and smiles under the small roofs that have managed to withstand both the tooth of a time and a storm or two.

The horizon seems endless, completely colorless – there are no colorful rainbows, and water is more valuable than gold.

Here, a hundred years of solitude has been turned into twelve years of friendship, and the trust between photographer and the people being photographed have not come upon a foothold.

Doña Maria And Her Dreams, Photo By Horst Friedrichs
All Photo: Doña Maria And Her Dreams, Photo By Horst Friedrichs

No pirates, no news

But why would anyone volunteer to travel thousands of miles to photograph a forgotten, golden and inhospitable landscape free of pirates, where there is neither war nor drama, and there seems to be no news value? Why would anyone want to go to places where time has stood still, like a lizard waiting for its prey, or seek out blind potters, wrinkled and sunburnt chairmakers or lifeless stone cutters? Why choose some black crows instead of shiny feather parrots?

This is a place where children have never heard of or dreamed about Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver's travels, where the loose cups would be given a feast by Lilliput's inhabitants, while freedom and imagination flow freely over the years and in dry river beds here.

Irene
Irene

Although the landscape is golden and deserted, it is also a place of sacrifice and survival where luck and chance do not come into play, but where the family's daily routines rely on decades of oral tradition; stories that whisper through open doors and windows while the faces of the old are glimpsed as shadows of the past. Faces as rough and protective as the bark of the trees, scarred by the heat and in silent protest against the elements. Characters like señor Aranguren, with a touch of distinguished English lord, whose chickens are more valuable than all the world's great suits from Savile Row.

Why would anyone want to go to places where time has stood still, like a lizard waiting for its change, or seek out blind potters, wrinkled and tan chairs or
lifeless stone cutters?

And the 114 year-old – if there was paper evidence – doña Ruperta with all the endless stories of her many children and grandchildren who never cease to fascinate or amuse her, stories that would have filled hundreds of pages in dusty books. She sits with her crooked hands elegantly folded in her lap and listens to the wind that never brings news, just a promise of a distant but badly needed rain shower. Sometimes, when the wind blows from unexpected quarters from the Quíbor Valley into Guadeloupe, she says that evil spirits can visit, without warning or invitation. Therefore, she believes that every guest is valuable – you do not know who you can meet at the dinner table.

Margherita
Margherita

Unforgettable meetings

Friedrichs comes and goes, which allows him to meet the characters and stories in a quiet way that shapes the book. Unforgettable people like doña Maria Castillo, with her fragile face and stubbornness that have a distinct physical expression, became the cover of the entire series. She doesn't let blindness stop her from forming beautiful clay jars with hands that are both strong and wrinkled, and she has a will that never fails her way of "looking" – things others can only imagine in dreams.

The horizon seems endless, completely colorless – here are no colorful rainbows, and water is more valuable than gold.

The photographer and doña Maria Castillo met each other at random in 1993. She died a few years later, but through conversations with her and later her son Aquilino – who continues to create in clay as she did for decades – the book began to find its shape and sharp expression.

Ruperts
Ruperts

It is the same expression we find in the stone collection of Diego Crespo. The stones are on display in his small room in almost murky darkness, or they are hidden between twisted trees and metal boxes. Diego is not a museum curator or well-known art collector, he only has a fascination for stone – as if the edges of them shape the heart of the people he cares about.

We find the same quiet and necessary passion at señor Eustiquio, who, from the agave plant's valuable nectar, produces the fermented drink of cocuy, which is needed to quench the thirst you experience in such a barren land. But even though it is scanty, this is the landscape that doña Maria could "see", without boundaries; characterized by silence, calm and coincidence.

Translated by Iril Kolle

João Vilela Geraldo
Geraldo is a Portuguese cultural worker and curator.

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