Category Archives: Photography

Faces of Capayque, Bolivia

Another in a series from the First United Methodist Church of Stillwater Oklahoma’s mission group, providing healthcare (and more)  in Capayque, Bolivia.


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My primary role as part of the team in Capayque was as a photographer.  Beside pictures for my own use, I’m hoping some of the images can be used by the Bolivian and Oklahoma churches to raise money or awareness for the work they’re doing down there.

Also, I took along a small portable printer and enough paper to crank out hundreds of prints to give away to the people in Capayque — most of whom seemed to have few if any pictures of themselves or their families.  This was a big hit with the townspeople — almost toooo big a hit.  Everybody wanted a print.  And then another; then another….  They yelled “Foto!  Foto!”  at me (making a rectangle shape with their fingers) every time I showed my face.  There were borderline mobs chasing me a couple of times.  Hopefully, some of these folks who would never have had a picture of their mom or dad or kids or grandparents will have one to keep and remember.

I was amused and interested that the folks there were terrible “posers.”  They’re not accustomed to having their picture taken, so too often they were ridiculously stiff and stoic, or embarrassed and giggly and hiding their faces.  I used a lot of my pitiful Spanish to try to coax a smile (though several times I realized my subject spoke only the Aymara language).

I’ve already shown a few of the “portraits” I took for this purpose; here are some more.  It’s also a good chance to see close-up what the mostly-indigenous people of this region look like.

(The big photo gallery just below may take a minute to load.)



At the school, I was recruited to take a group picture of the entire school.  The principal wanted to hang it in his office.  Even though my printer would print no bigger than a 4×6, this was all they’d have.  I got some shots of the school assembly they did on Monday morning.  We were treated as visiting dignitaries mostly because Team Member “Professora”  Becky Szlichta was a teacher.   It was unclear if they did the program just for us or if they did this all the time).  I made sure I had “senior pictures” prints for all the graduating sixteen-year-old class (in the green sweaters).



The entire student body of Capayque schools.





The View from Capayque, Bolivia

#3 of several posts (starting here, with more to come) about the tiny Bolivian village of Capayque.  I traveled there with a Methodist mission team from Stillwater Oklahoma that was providing much-needed healthcare and setting up a medical clinic in the town.  


Early morning view to the east from Capayque

Capayque, Bolivia is a small village in the Andes, sitting at about 11,500 feet above sea level, about two-thirds of the way up from the valley way below and the mountaintops looming above.  On the rare day when the place isn’t mostly in or above the clouds, you’ll be staring at a snow-peaked 22,000 foot mountain just to the east.  From Capayque, you can see a half-dozen other (even-smaller) communities on other ridges and across the valley.



The air is very thin at 11,500, so it can be tough to get around — especially for lowlander Gringos unaccustomed to high altitudes.  The temperatures generally stay between 30 and 60 year-round, though it feels much warmer if the high-mountain sun breaks through.  More often than not, you can look down into the valley and see clouds below you.


As described in a related post, day to day life here isn’t radically different than it probably was 1000 years ago on these same mountains.

Like most of the hillsides anywhere near Lake Titicaca, the surrounding mountains are striped with horizontal terraces – creating flatter step-like areas better for farming.  Many are in current use, but many (perhaps most) look like they were built long ago and haven’t been used in centuries.

The region around Lake Titicaca was part of the ancient empire of Tiwanaku.  The area has been populated and farmed for 3,000 years.  The Tiwanku empire reached its peak around the 8th Century A.D., when the city of Tiwanaku (on the flatter “altiplano” 50 miles south from Capayque) had an as many as 100,000 residents.*  Estimates of the population in the surrounding countryside are varied and controversial, but the startling scope and span of those ancient terraces hints at the existence huge populations – to build and cultivate the terraces themselves, and to create such great demand for food as to make it necessary to farm so much of the hill country.

The Tiwanaku society mostly disappeared around the 12th century — long before Europeans arrived.  It’s likely that whatever was left of it became part of the Inca civilization.

The shots below are from the road to/from Capayque.



Life in Capayque, Bolivia

#2 in a series of posts about Capayque, Bolivia, and about theStillwater, Oklahoma Methodist mission group that provides healthcare to Capayque’s residents.


 A dirt road passes through Capayque, Bolivia.  It’s passable most of the year – except in the rainy season when parts of it are often washed out.  A truck comes through town once a week to buy or deliver goods, and a bus comes through a few times a week.  Every Monday, the school teachers arrive from La Paz in a car; they sleep at the school, and on Friday they take the car back to the City.   Nobody in town owns a car, though I spotted two motorcycles (which may or may not have been operable).  Capayque’s only traffic jams are when small herds of sheep (or a handful of cows, or a llama, or a group of small pigs) clog the walking trails through town.


There aren’t any stores in town.  There’s a surprisingly big school, an abandoned Catholic church building, a tiny Methodist church and the health clinics (the old one and new one).  Other than that, all the buildings are homes.  I asked a couple of local people if the animals had any sort of barn or stable to get in out of the weather, and they just laughed at that idea.


Most of the houses are made of mud and stone, and consist of just one or two rooms.  Most floors are of dirt.  They don’t have bathrooms or running water.  In a climate where nighttime temperatures usually dip into the 30s year-round, homes are heated (if at all) with small fires burning in chimney-less rooms that seep smoke out doorways or gaps in the thatched roofs.  They’ve had electricity in the village for a decade or so, but few people seem to have any sort of electric fixtures or appliances other than just light bulbs.  There don’t seem to be any refrigerators.  Chickens wander in and out, and pigs and sheep roam yards and courtyards and usually sleep just a few feet away from their owners.


There seems to be trash all over town — they don’t seem to have much of a grip on disposing of things that are not biodegradable.   There are tiny canals running through town with water from spring-fed streams.  Some run under the town outhouse (baño) and some are used for clothes washing and drinking, so I can only assume the locals keep track of which is which.


The people survive largely on subsistence farming, so every bit of open space is a small farm/garden, usually growing corn or some form of potato-like vegetables.  People spend a surprising amount of time throwing rocks at stray pigs to get them out of the corn patches.



That tiny guy (“Estaban”) is a town’s mayor (or something like that). These digs are probably the nicest house in town.

It’s easy to think of this as “poverty,” but that doesn’t really capture the reality of the situation.  More than “poor”, their life is primitive.  Except for the kids’ and men’s clothing that have somehow found their way to the villages front the rest of the world, their way of life isn’t much changed or advanced from what it must have been a few hundred years ago.  They’re probably as content as people were in the same hillside settlements in the 1400s.  The distinction may not matter much, but it’s not so much just a matter of bringing them out of poverty as it is bringing them into the 21st century.  

Welcome to Capayque, Bolivia!

When I signed up to join (and photograph) an Oklahoma group that was providing healthcare in a tiny village high in the Bolivian Andes, I was not expecting the elaborate welcome we got in Capayque.


A local Capayque girl arrives at our welcome ceremony with a handmade flower wreath.

Last week I joined a group traveling to Capayque, Bolivia – a very primitive, isolated community in the mountains of northwestern Bolivia, about 15 miles (as the condor flies) from Lake Titicaca and a rough five-hour trip from La Paz.  The group’s mission was to provide much-needed medical care to Capayque’s residents and to set up a medical clinic in the community.

This will be the first of several posts about my trip to Capayque.  Much more later about the town, its people, the Stillwater Oklahoma Methodist church group, and the activities of the week.


Ray Kinnunen of Stillwater gets a ceremonial welcome in Capayque

Things got interesting immediately when we arrived in Capayque.  We were met by the entire school and much of the town – as well as the local bishop and several other local officials – for a welcoming ceremony.


As the pictures reflect, we got handmade wreaths of flowers (which grow, mostly wild, in the area), and were presented with traditional Bolivian panchos, scarves and hats.  We were told that the red panchos we received were symbols of community leaders (the “head panchos,” you might say).  The ceremonies concluded with a dance down the hillside to the new medical clinic this Methodist mission group has been building for the past two years.

After the bishop inaugurated the new clinic with a few sprinkles of water, we were treated to a ceremonial community meal – with local foods spread out on blankets for everyone to share (Corn, potatoes, and a potato-like plant called “oka” were the primary menu items).



Click here for more images from our Capayque welcome, even including one of me in my nifty red pancho.

It was a fun kickoff to a interesting and productive week.  Much more to come.


My aunt, Carolyn Williams — an R.N. and a 16-year veteran of the Bolivian medical mission team — was welcomed back to Capayque with a prestigious red pancho.



This “Boxer” shot from Cuba in 2012 seemed to be a favorite from among the images I showed at Fotofest 2014.

Every other year, my adopted hometown  — Houston, Texas — hosts “Fotofest,” one of the biggest photography gatherings in the world.  This was my first time to participate.  I was part of the Meeting Place portfolio reviews – eight days of meeting photographers, photography gallery owners and museum curators, magazine and blog editors, collectors, and more — carrying a stack of my prints to show and discuss.

This is a crowd where the folks who operate cameras are called “artists” — not merely “photographers.”  A crowd where I was asked (repeated) what the “message” was of my work.  Uh…. pretty pictures?   A typical review of my work:  “Jeff, you’ve got some really stunning visual images here; you’ve got a great eye.  But so what?”   Hmmmm.

It’s hard to know what you’ve learned at an event like this.  There’s surely a lot of eye-of-the-beholdering:  it was not uncommon for one reviewer to pick a particular image as a prime favorite, then have the very next person identify the exact same image as one I should edit out of my portfolio entirely.  Or vice versa.

The experience certainly got me out of my comfort zone, out of my element, and in some sense maybe out of my league.  The goals of the contemporary art crowd are very different from mine.  I’ve been knee-deep in camera equipment for nearly three years now.  So far, my goals have been mostly to make interesting photographs of the very interesting things I’ve been able to go see and take part in so that I can share at least a part of that experience.  Fotofest 2014 can now go on my list of interesting experiences.

The images I showed at Fotofest were taken from those at THIS LINK (Click here).

Fotofest rolls back into Houston in 2016.  Maybe by then I’ll have a some message.  Until then, I hope I can mostly have some fun with all this.  Thanks for looking.


This image got some attention because it seems to make a bit of a political statement — though I’m not sure what statement people thought it was making.


“Postcard”-like landscapes are of almost no interest at Fotofest!


This was a love-it-or-hate-it image. The backlighting and the light reflected from the deep red dirt makes the color balance unusual, and the image looks a little painting-like. Some folks picked it as their favorite; others hated it and encouraged me to remove it from my portfolio entirely.