paul griffin photography: Blog en-us (C)paul griffin [email protected] (paul griffin photography) Tue, 02 Mar 2021 02:51:00 GMT Tue, 02 Mar 2021 02:51:00 GMT paul griffin photography: Blog 90 120 The Colorful and Sometimes Tragic World of Haw Par Villa A detail from one of the dioramas at Haw Par Villa depicting the consequences of poor choices and bad behavior.

As usual, it has been a long interlude since my last post. Even during this seemingly endless pandemic, my life has been busy with a multitude of activities, obligations, distractions, and of course an ample amount of procrastination.

The other day I was going through my large collection of digital images that I made during my thirteen years living in Singapore. I came across a series of strange and bizarre images that I made during visits to an historic and unique theme park called Haw Par Villa, or Tiger Balm Garden. It’s located along Pasir Panjang Road on the southern side of the island of Singapore. 

The park contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, and history, as well as illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism. The park was the brainchild of Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of Tiger Balm, who had moved their successful business venture from Burma to Singapore in 1926. The brothers built the park in 1937, importing artisans from China to create the statues and dioramas from concrete and plaster. In the 1950s and 1960s, before the advent of television and shopping malls, the park was a popular recreational destination for Singaporean families. Many Singaporean adults have memories of visiting the park as a child and learning about Chinese folk history and morality. During the years of Singapore’s rapid modernization and transition from a traditional Asian port city to a cosmopolitan international hub of commerce, banking and technology, the park became somewhat anachronistic  amidst the glittering 21st century high rises, shopping arcades and malls.

I started going there in the early 2000’s. At that time, it seemed to be stuck in an equilibrium between the present and the past. Parts of it were a bit shabby and run down, while other parts were fairly well maintained. Even on the weekends the park was rarely busy. At that time, admission was free, which made it popular with the local low-wage foreign workers, groups of Philippine maids and South Asian construction workers. Most other foreign visitors and locals seemed to prefer nearby Sentosa Island with its beaches, restaurants, amusements and even a Universal Studios theme park. My attraction to Haw Par Villa was its combination of peaceful tropical garden ambience, the history of the place, the incredible visual imagination on display in the large colorfully-painted statues and murals, and the stories told in the three-dimensional narratives displayed along its winding paths on the side of a hill.

It was the color and the content of the stories that attracted me. One portion of the park depicts the famous Chinese folk classics such as Journey to the West and the Eight Immortals. In addition, it has a series of dioramas depicting the universal concepts of good and evil. often in a graphic and gory way. It is said that the Aw Boon brothers created it as a way to impart a moral education to the people of Singapore back in the day.

Over the number of times I visited there, I shot both digital color and analog black and white images. I’ll present them over a series of posts I hope to complete in the next few weeks.

The following are my interpretations of some of the tableaus presented in the morality dioramas at Haw Par Villa

Have fun - but maybe not too much?

A sweet and dandy Western-style couple stepping out for the evening, i.e watch out for the lure of the fast lane

    Be careful when you gamble, as you might lose your hat (or two)...

    or you could wind up being arrested by the police.

  Or worse, getting kicked in the teeth.

    Avoid getting in a fight with your spouse.

    Your mother-in-law may beg you to stop....

    and the kids are going to be really upset and traumatized.

 By all means, watch out for those wolves in sheep's clothing.

Obey the speed limit and always watch out for pedestrians.

Somebody's got to keep law and order in this chaotic world, and the good guys supposedly ride white horses.

    So be cool and don't be a fool!



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Asia Chinese Culture Folk Art Haw Par Villa Singapore Tue, 02 Mar 2021 01:19:59 GMT
Pandemic Life Through A Pinhole Pandemic Life - The Invisible Companion
Pandemic life is like a thick grove of tall white pines, 
The sun's light still shines bright and warm though the stand, 
It is beautiful, but the shadows are now even darker,
It is within them that the invisible predator haunts our days.

The Sacred Sanitizer
When I was thinking of the virus,
I imagined it was lurking,
In the tiny places we cannot see,
On a door handle, a counter or a letter from a friend,
Will there ever be a time when these thoughts will end?

Where the Angels Live
It is a much lighter place,
than where we live now,
A darkness lurks on the edge of our lives,
We must tread more carefully.


I made these photos on Sunday, April 26, which was World Pinhole Photography Day. It also was while we were in the midst of a global pandemic. I thought I'd try to say something about how I felt about that as well as take the opportunity to use my favorite pinhole camera. World Pinhole Photography Day is an annual event when thousands of pinhole camera devotes from all over the planet make images with both manufactured and home-made pinhole cameras and upload one of their images to an on-line gallery. It’s a fun way for people from all over the world share their creative ideas while demonstrating the artistic potential of photography’s most basic technology.

You can check out this year’s gallery here:

A pinhole camera is the simplest device that can be used to make photographs. It is the primitive precursor of our modern phone cameras whose origins date back to the 5th century BC in China, when the phenomenon that light travels in straight lines through a tiny opening to project an inverted image on the opposite wall in a darkened room was first described. Centuries later this concept made its way to Europe during the Renaissance. Artists and scientists of that time constructed Camera Obscuras (dark rooms) to study light and perspective and to use the projected images as a drawing aide. Later versions of the camera obscura were fitted with optical glass to improve image quality. With the invention of photosensitive materials in the late 19th century, and incorporated with the camera obscura, modern photography was born. 

A pinhole camera contains the four requirements for any camera, a dark box, light sensitive material (analog film or CCD sensor), an aperture or tiny hole to allow light in, and a device to control the amount of light striking the light sensitive material (the shutter). Instead of a pinhole as an aperture, most modern cameras substitute an optical glass lens to focus and amplify the light. In a pinhole camera it is only a tenths of a millimeter diameter hole which allows a tiny beam of light to pass into the camera body making the exposure. 

Because there is no lens to focus and amplify the light, the quality of pinhole images is significantly different. Exposure times are usually in seconds and minutes rather than in fractions of a second as in a lens equipped camera. The images are also softer and more dreamlike, an intriguing aesthetic that often is the attraction of pinhole images. 

I have been making pinhole images for decades but started participating in World Pinhole Photography Day in 2007 when I first learned about it. I was teaching photography at the Singapore American School then and had always included a unit on the pinhole camera in my courses. My students built their own cameras out of oatmeal boxes and tin cans. I also encouraged my students to participate in the on-line event and upload their images. The cameras were always basic, and we used photo printing paper as film, mainly so we could develop it in the darkroom in trays under safelights to get immediate feedback. It was a fun project; the results were often very interesting and most of the students enjoyed the totality of the creative process. I liked to call it the ultimate in low tech photography.

This year’s images were made with an Eight Banners pinhole camera that I found in one of the camera shops in Singapore. It is made in China of solid metal with a mechanical shutter. It uses 120 size roll film to obtain a 6X9cm negative. These images were made with Kodak Tri-X film. This year’s pinhole day was cloudy and gray which required a 20” exposure. The film was developed in Kodak D76 1:1 dilution and the negatives scanned and adjusted in Lightroom. 

My Eight Banners pinhole camera



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) analog photography b&w black and white film covid-19 life in the time of corona medium format pandemic life pinhole camera Sun, 17 May 2020 17:24:25 GMT
Isla Grande And The Aquamarine Blues Isla Grande on Colombia's Caribbean Coast

After spending a few days in the hustle and bustle of Cartagena, Shelley and I planned to take a break on one of the nearby islands off the coast from the city. Isla Grande is one of twenty-seven small coral islands about twenty miles from the Port of Cartagena. We had booked a room in one of the small eco-hotels on the island as well as arranged transportation to get there. After some miscommunication and delay, we found ourselves in a twin-engined speed boat bouncing over the waves on our way to another adventure, this one being a lot more laid back and relaxing.

La Cocotera was the small locally run eco-hotel where we would spend three enjoyable and tranquil days "away from it all".

Look out for the coconuts! Besides rooms, La Cocotera also rents tents on their beautiful lawn.

One of the campers enjoying the tranquillity of La Cocoterra

The pier at La Cocotera hotel through an 18mm wide angle lens

All is well -- the beer delivery has just arrived from the mainland.

During our stay at La Cocotera, a commercial advertising company was making catalog images for a water toy and floatation device company. There were quite a number of crew members as well as models of all ages. Here a budding star is making her debut in front of the cameras.

Since it was such a peaceful and quiet place, I made peaceful and quiet photos. This small growth of mangroves occupied a portion of the beach in front of the hotel. I was drawn to its shape and color as it clung to the sand with the vast horizon behind.

We explored the paths that led to the interior of the island. In one area, there was an extensive and healthy-looking mangrove forest.

One of the paths leading through the mangrove forest.

The local inhabitants on the island were primarily Afro-Colombians.

It was evident that the community was making efforts to protect the environment with a number of trash bins and poetic public announcement signs. This one roughly translates: "Iguanas leave beauty and love their clean trails and want to see everything in its place."

On the path to the nearby village, we stopped at this colorful bar for some refreshments.

Our host mixes his drinks with an artistic flare. My favorite throughout our trip was the limonada de coco, with or without the rum.

Composition in red

A lone papaya tree in front of one of the typical homesteads on Isla Grande

There were some interesting displays of public art created by residents of the island. I thought this one on the side of the artist's house to be one of the more imaginative.

 This colorful mural was also an impressive example of the creative talent on the island.

And then there are the basic handiworks. I found the repurposing of an old metal passage door from a ship to be an interesting innovation. 

There were no paved roads or motor vehicles on the island; the bicycle was the fastest way to get around.

​​​​​​Some interesting signage along the path that circles the island

Don't forget the fork and knife and dotting your I's.

In addition to staying overnight at any of several basic hostels and campgrounds, a number of tourists make day trips to the island. This is Playa Libre, where most of the day trippers hang out.

One of several private homes on the island

I was told that pop star Shakira, artist Fernando Botero as well as the late Drug Lord Pablo Escobar all had homes on the island.

As we explored the island, it was hard not to continue to gaze out at the aquamarine views along the way.

This was one of many abandoned buildings on the island. Some of them were to be resorts or private homes that apparently were shut down by the government for encroachment on National Park land.

While exploring the abandoned buildings, I was intrigued by the views through the frames of the remnants of the building's windows. What follows is a series of images I made with this concept in mind.

I met these two friendly young guys along one of the paths. They were very curious about where I came from and the camera I was carrying. They were very obliging to pose for this photo.

 This was an experimental image made on a tripod using a long 5-second exposure. It was dusk, and a strong wind ripped the surface of the sea into a misty froth revealing a different mood to life on the island.

I thought I'd end this story with a wide-angle selfie of me and my beautiful wife and traveling companion Shelley in one of the lovely coconut palm groves on the enchanting Isla Grande.... Adios!





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) aquamarine water Caribbean Caribbean Sea Cartagena Colombia Island Life National Park tropical beach tropical island Wed, 01 Apr 2020 18:15:33 GMT
Cartagena de Indias, Queen of the Caribbean Coast Cartagena de Indias, Queen of the Caribbean Coast

Of all the cities of the world I have visited, Cartagena is without doubt the most colorful -- figuratively and literally. The city was founded in 1533 by the Spanish explorer Pedro de Heredia. It had an ideal natural port which resulted in its becoming the major gateway for Spanish exploration and conquest of the South American continent. It also became one of the principle ports from where looted gold and goods from the continent were exported to Spain. As such, it became a tempting target for pirates and buccaneers during the 16th and 17th centuries. The most infamous of these was the Englishman Sir Francis Drake who sacked the port in 1586. It was in response to these attacks that the Spanish built both the fortress walls around what is today called the Old City, as well as the imposing Castillo de Felipe de Barajas on a hill overlooking the city. Shelley and I spent several days here soaking up the tropical warmth, the historic atmosphere, the vibrant colors, and the life of its streets. 

A family takes a break near a guard tower on the thick fortress walls called Las Murallas, which surround the Old Town. Construction began on the walls towards the end of the 16th century and weren't finally completed until 1796, just fifteen years before Colombians declared their independence from Spain in 1811.

The walls were constructed using bocks of coral, stone and brick; most of the labor was provided by African slaves. 

The Plaza de la Aduana is the largest and oldest square in the Old City. The Royal Customs House, shown here, is a classic example of Spanish colonial architecture. It now serves as the City Hall.

The Puerto del Reloj was once the main entrance to the Old City. The large four-sided clock tower was added in 1888. The space in the foreground is Plaza de los Coches, which was once the site of the slave market. The statue of the city's founder Pedro de Heredia is in the middle of the plaza.

Just outside the Puerta del Reloj is the spacious Parque del Centenario which was constructed in 1911 to celebrate the centennial of Colombia's independence from Spain.

Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Caribbean coast. Las Bóvedas is one of the busiest tourist markets in the city. While we were there, I counted no fewer than fifteen large buses shuttling tour groups and cruise ship passengers to and from this market.

Hats and T's, some of Cartagena's tourist "merch" are on display here. These also include colorful original paintings of city scenes as well as reproductions of some of the iconic works of Fernando Botero, Colombia's most famous contemporary visual artist.

Pictures within the picture.

I just liked the play of light and shadow over the frames and artwork displayed outside one of the shops along the street.

One of Colombia's more notorious personalities also has his own memorabilia for sale. Although Don Pablo met his demise in 1993, he seems to have become a cultural icon. 

I made this image of one of Cartagena's more famous night clubs, Cafe Havana, which lies just outside the walled Old City in the Getsemaní district. The large portraits caught my eye, but I had to wait a few minutes for the man to walk into the frame to add a much needed human element to the image.

I enjoy cycling, so bikes often catch my eye, as did the colors and the English signage in this scene.

The historic Cathedral of Cartagena was originally constructed in 1575 but was heavily damaged by Francis Drake in 1586. As the story goes, the Spanish stored their plundered gold here thinking that any self-respecting pirate would respect the sanctity of the church and pass it by. Unfortunately, Sir Francis had different ideas. Reconstruction of the cathedral was not finished until 1612. and the ornate bell tower was added during the restoration in 1912.

Inglesia de Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo offers a serene and shady escape from the Caribbean sun and busy streets of the city. Constructed between 1666 and 1732, the church's baroque pink and gold alter is the only one of its kind in Cartagena.

The Old City is a labyrinth of narrow streets and colorful buildings.

We enjoyed just wandering the streets, stopping occasionally to check out a shop, get a drink, or make a few photographs.

Seafood was one of the specialties of the city.

Golden hour afternoon light in Plaza de Bolívar. The statue of Símon Bolívar, or El Libertador, as he is popularly known, looks down on the tranquil scene. Bolívar is a revered figure in most of South America and particularly in Colombia for his leading role in liberating the continent from Spanish rule in 1811.

While sitting on a bench in Plaza de Bolívar, I had just attached my 18mm wide-angle lens to my camera when a group of young people in formal wear walked quickly by. This was a grab shot, I didn't have time to even look through the viewfinder. Behind them is the ornate doorway to what is called the Palacio de la Inquisición. It is said to be one of the most beautiful colonial-style buildings in the city. Unfortunately, behind its ornate exterior, the local church authorities conducted the repressive and bloody Inquisition, tribunals against "heretics" during the 1600's. It is now a municipal museum. Although it was the result of random chance, I liked the combination of the stylish couple against the ornate doorway in the background and their blurred movement within a bubble of distortion.

One of the alternative modes of transport available for sightseers in the Old City.

The Lovers Serenade: At sunset, hundreds of people, residents and tourists alike, walk and mingle along the seafront fortress walls in the Old City. This solo trumpeter seemed to be serenading the couples gathered around him.

After watching the sunset from the Old City walls, we passed an outdoor wedding reception at one of the hotels. These two beautiful young ladies were from a group that was getting ready to perform at the reception. I asked them if I could take their photo, and they obliged with a smile and a pose.

Even at night the city glows with color.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the massive colonial-era fortress that overlooks the Old City. It was constructed after the city suffered numerous attacks by pirates, buccaneers and the English. Construction began in 1657, and after several expansions and improvements, was it completed in 1762. Despite numerous attempts to storm and take the fortress by French and English forces during the 18th century, the bastion was never taken. The defenses were built with a capacity of 62 heavy cannons, water cisterns, sentry boxes, a hospital, protective quarters for the defenders, as well as a series of ramps to facilitate movement of men and equipment from one level to another.

Shelley inspects part of the system of tunnels under the periphery of the fort. These were designed to be filled with explosives that could be detonated under any enemy who attempted to enter the bastion.  

The Colombian flag flies above the ramparts of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas overlooking Cartagena.

 The new city, on the other hand, continues to expand beyond the old fortress walls that can be seen in the center right of this photo.

The new city rises up beyond what was once the old port of Cartagena.

Welcome back to the 21st century!








[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Caribbean Cartagena Colombia historic city Latin American Culture Nikon Z6 South America Sat, 28 Mar 2020 16:49:07 GMT
Carnaval de Barranquilla

An explosion of color and culture, the Gran Parada in Barranquilla Colombia 

 During the weekend of February 23rd and 24th 2020, Shelley and I had the great fortune to be able to attend the annual Carnaval in Barranquilla, Colombia. We had been traveling in Colombia since February 5th and had a return flight to our home in Massachusetts on February 25th. Our stop in Barranquilla for Carnaval was to be the grand finale of what turned out to be a very fun and memorable trip to a country we had never visited before. The carefree joy and frivolity of the celebration is like something from another long gone era now. As I write, we are living in the midst of the Corona Pandemic. These images are an homage to a world that once was, and one that I hope will return again for us all some day.

Prior to our departure we had done some research on Carnaval, but it was really impossible to know what to expect when we arrived in Barranquilla, a city of over one million people on Colombia's Caribbean Coast. Carnaval in Barranquilla is said to be the second largest one in the world after Rio de Janiero's in Brazil. As we pleasantly found out, it was a massive party and became one of the highlights of our trip. It also gave us further insight into and appreciation for the Colombian people's joyous and fun-loving attitude towards life, one that I reconnect with whenever I hear some Cumbia music play.

Barranquieros take Carnaval very seriously with many elaborately decorating their houses. Carnaval takes place over four days before Lent. During this time Barranquilla welcomes national and international tourists to join with the city's residents to enjoy four days of music, dancing, drinking and intense festivities. During the carnival, Barranquilla's normal activities are paralyzed because the city is busy with street dances, music concerts, parties and three costumed parades.

A detail of the colorful decorations on another one of the homes. The strange masked character in the chair and hammock is called Marimoda, and is a distinctive folkloric symbol of the celebrations which date back to the 19th century. Very little is known about exactly how and why the carnival began. There are several theories; the most popular belief is that the carnival was held to welcome the arrival of spring and as a celebration of birth and renewal. Colombian Carnaval originates from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs and ethnic diversity. It is a mixture of European, African and indigenous traditions, dances and music. 

Another comic and strange decoration. The bowl of fruit and eggs must have its own meaning and significance.

On our way to view the parade, we were invited to have a beer with a few of the friendly folks already celebrating at eleven in the morning.

Shelter from the sun, the ubiquitous sombrero Colombiano on sale near the parade route

The bleachers, or "palcos," offered the best view of the parades. There are three parades held during the four days of Carnaval. Unfortunately most tickets for the bleachers with the best views are sold in advance, and those seats were full by the time we arrived.

What is a good parade without an ample supply of junk food? Carnaval starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday with a five- to six-hour long parade called the Battle of the Flowers (La Batalla de Flores), which is considered one of the main events. The Great Parade (La Gran Parada) held on Sunday and Monday is marked by an Orchestra Festival with Caribbean and Latin bands. Tuesday signals the end of the carnival, announced by the symbolic burial of Joselito Carnaval.

One of the newer traditions that Carnaval revelers love is to spray espuma, a sudsy foam, on each other. It can be a bit hazardous for cameras, so I kept mine in a plastic bag until ready to use.

Super Espuma

The following group of images are from Sunday's La Gran Parada, a celebration of Colombia's folkloric traditions. This woman represents one of the many Cumbia dancing groups. The Cumbia originated on the Caribbean coast where intermixing between the Spanish, indigenous and African peoples produced a large mestizo culture.

A group of Cumbia musicians playing their traditional instruments

Dancing in the streets! What impressed me about the parade was the large number of intergenerational groups participating.

One of many colorful and elaborately costumed groups is called Congo. They are said to be some of the oldest styles of costumes of Carnaval. At certain points along the parade route, they perform an elaborately choreographed routine to the cheers of the audience. Their movements are said to have originated from the African slaves who performed war dances of the Congo during the early days of their captivity in the New World.

In addition to costumed dancing groups, there were a number of costumed individuals making their way along the parade route interacting with the audience and often seeking tips for their humorous antics. It was one crazy, multi-faceted event.

  Another traditional Carnaval group is called El GarabatoEl garabato is the name of the staff with red, green and yellow ribbons that is carried by the men. The group and their dances are said to symbolize the struggle between life and death.

The carnival Queen, Isabella Chams Vega. Each year a new queen is chosen by the Board of the Fundacion Carnival de Barranquilla, usually in August or September. The queen's responsibility is to be the center of attention and motivate all Barranquilleros to participate and enjoy their annual Carnaval.

King Momo  the carnival King, is also chosen for his contributions to the community. This year's King was Alcides Romero Cogollo, who from the audience's reactions must have been a very popular guy, although I'm not sure about the company he keeps.

The Marimoda is one of the most recognized and popular symbols of Barranquilla's Carnaval. They are said to represent all care-free and fun-loving people which is a big part of Carnaval's ethic. The distinctive mask is said to have originally been created by a poor Baranquillero who couldn’t afford the fancy expensive costumes of the time and improvised his own mask from a fabric sack with holes cut for eyes and a long nose attached to the forehead.

The parade on Sunday was about six hours long with many lovely and colorful costumes. Participants spend much of the previous year making costumes and practicing their dances in order to prepare for the event.

And the band played on.....


Throughout the parade, there were various costumed characters like these grim reapers who were reminders of our own mortality. They were a bit spooky, but I didn't appreciate how prophetic they were. Now only a month later, the whole world is ravaged by the corona virus pandemic.

Another Congo group, I was impressed by variations in their colorful costumes. A lot of time and effort must have gone into creating them.

Tiny Cumbia dancers in their distinctive calico dresses

El Toro, the mythical bull, taunts the crowd.

This exotic couple added to the mystique and magical feel of event.

The best I could tell from my limited Spanish language skills, this colorful group were a parody of religious monks. They were rapping out humorous blessings through a bullhorn to the audience who responded with cheers and laughter.

One of the most unusual dance groups in the parade were Los Hijos de Negros, or Sons of Negros. These  performers would be considered very politically incorrect where I come from, but in Barranquilla they represent an historic Carnaval tradition that goes back to the African slaves brought to Colombia by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. It is said that during that time, the slaves exaggerated their facial and body gestures as a form of entertainment and used them to make fun of the Spanish. These contemporary dancers paint their bodies black to represent the color of the slaves, and use red dye on their mouths and tongues as an added exaggeration. Their dance movements are hard and fast, and the young men dramatize expressions with their mouths opened and their tongues out. 

As part of their routine, the Hijos de los Negros enjoy interacting with the audience along the route.

In addition to the costumed revelers in the parade, there were small groups of costumed mischief makers on the periphery of the route. I spotted this fake paramilitary patrol comically rounding up bystanders. Given the recent tragic history of violence perpetrated by Narcos, the FARC, the right wing paramilitary groups, and the Colombian Army itself, I suppose this is one way to exorcise those demons in a more light-hearted way.

As dark and bizarre as it may seem, it was all part of Carnaval fun.

The motto of Carnaval in Barranquilla is: Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza or "those who live it are those that enjoy it." For this young reveler, it looks like he is pretty much done enjoying it for the day. 

As we were leaving the parade area, I bought a bottle of water from this very gracious lady and her daughter. They were kind enough to pose for a photo. 

With the parade nearly over, the folks in the barrios were getting ready to continue the party with music and dancing late into the night. This is one serious boom box party machine ready to get the party going.

And what's to say about this reveler other than she just didn't give a .... for all the crazy stuff going on all around her. 

As time allows, which we all seem to have a lot of now that we are all in social isolation, I will be posting more images from our incredible adventure in Colombia.    

Paul,  March 23, 2020
Life In The Time Of Corona  
















[email protected] (paul griffin photography) barranquilla carnaval de barranquilla carnival colombia Nikon Z6 south america Tue, 24 Mar 2020 01:25:56 GMT
Through The Looking Glass and Back Again In my last entry I mentioned that my first experimentation with the Minolta 18mm ultra wide-angle lens was on a vintage 70’s Minolta 35mm film camera body, an SRT 101 to be exact. After finishing the previous post, I became curious as to what those images looked like and whether I still had them. After a search through my digital archives using Lightroom’s catalog system and keywords, I was able to locate what I think are the first images I made with that lens. The occasion was the annual Fine Art’s Cultural Convention that the school I was teaching photography at, The Singapore American School, happened to be hosting that year. It was in February 2007 and I had organized a photography field trip from our school’s campus into the city for all the visiting students and teachers who were attending the Convention. SAS (Singapore American School) was part of the IASAS (Interscholastic Association of South Asian Schools) conference which was made up of the six large international schools in the region which were located in Bangkok Thailand (ISB), Kuala Lumpur Malaysia (ISKL), Taipei Taiwan (TAS), Jakarta Indonesia (JIS), Manila Philippines (ISM) and Singapore. Each school rotated the responsibilities for hosting the other schools for multiple sports tournaments as well as cultural exchanges throughout the academic year. It was a great honor for students to attend these, and always an exciting time on campus for the hosting school. Without going into too much more detail, we had a busload of about 30 students and teachers. All were issued a plastic Holga "toy" camera and a couple of rolls of color negative film. The idea was to give the students an opportunity to make some creative images in the historic center of the city along the Singapore River. It was also to have a fun outing and for the teachers and students to get to know each other a little better away from the busy schedule of activities on campus. Since the theme was an “alternative camera" adventure, I decided to take the old Minolta camera and the wide-angle lens for a spin. The light meter didn’t work, and the film advance was sketchy, but I remember enjoying running a roll of color negative film through it. After several hours on the town, we all returned to campus and all the exposed film was collected. I had pre-arranged with one of the local photo processors to be ready to receive a bundle of film to process, make 6X4” prints and scan the negs to CD’s. It was all retrieved later that evening so when the students arrived on campus for the next day of activities we distributed their photos and CD's. We asked them to select their best three images from the digital versions and drop them into a shared folder on our Mac network so that they could be projected onto a screen in my classroom for a group critique. As usual their work was imaginative and fun. The teachers also posted their contributions too, which added to the collaborative and positive spirit of the artistic experience. Needless to say it was one of the highlights of that year’s CC (Cultural Convention) and the photo field trip has become a tradition whenever SAS’s turn to host the convention comes around.

So that’s the story behind the origins of this next set of images: 

One of the first images I made with the wide angle lens was this pile of wire and silk decorations. Chinese New Year had just ended and the elaborate decorations in this park were being taken down.

The subject of this image is a bit more focused, I liked how the flowers to be an extension of the natural roots on the right.

I always enjoy making photographs of people and this student group resonated with me. They were sitting outside the Victoria Theater and were from one of the local schools. The wide angle's curved horizon seemed to compliment the arrangement that the students were sitting in.

This image was made in the beautifully restored historic district with the old British colonial government buildings in the background. True to super-organized Singapore form, all the pedicab drivers were in uniform.

There were also a lot of clubs and bars in the area that cater mostly to the expats and tourists. We were there fairly early in the morning and I seem to recall thinking that this young man must be sleeping off the party from the night before.

Fisheye meets fisheye. David was one of the Art teachers from Jakarta, he's holding a Holga Fisheye a bit inside the range of focus for my lens.

 David and two of his students from the Jakarta International School taking a break by the riverside. It's amazing for me to realize that those kids have already finished college and are well into whatever careers they had decided to pursue. I would be surprised if it wasn't something in the creative fields, all the students who were selected to represent their schools at the Cultural Convention were impressively skilled and creative.

A Bum Boat on the Singapore River. At one time these were used as "lighters" which ferried cargo to and from larger ocean going ships anchored in the harbor at the mouth of the river. The old harbor was closed sometime in the late 50's so now they have been recycled for tourist excursions.

A nice contrast between old and modern Singapore. The low rise buildings with the red tiled roofs across the river are in the area called Boat Quay. It was once a bustling commercial center of warehouses and shops where goods coming to and from the port were bought and sold. Now they are mostly restaurants and night clubs.


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) analog photography Asia color color film photography color negative film Cultural Convention fisheye lens International Schools minolta 18mm rokkor lens Singapore vintage lens wide angle lens wide-angle photography Thu, 16 Jan 2020 18:17:07 GMT
Through The Looking Glass The Infrequent Blogger returns with some images from the archives with variations on a theme: Through the Looking Glass.

At one time I was into collecting old and unusual cameras and lenses. About 18 years ago when I was teaching photography in Singapore, I acquired a vintage 1970’s Minolta 35mm film camera kit with a variety of different focal length lenses. One of those lenses was an 18 mm Minolta fisheye lens. I was curious about it and shot a few rolls to experiment with it. I liked some of the results, but using the Minolta body was kind of clunky, so I didn’t use it much at all. A year or two later, I found a lens adapter which allowed me to fit the vintage Minolta 18mm lens onto my Leica M6 camera. At that time I was still shooting a lot of black and white film and developing and printing it in the darkroom. I still didn’t use the lens a whole lot, but I carried it in my bag and occasionally I would encounter a scene where I felt that perhaps the exaggerated optical characteristics of the fisheye could transform what I was looking at into something very different, and maybe possibly extending it into the realm of “art”. Sometimes I felt I came close to that goal, but just as often I failed. Either way it was all a learning experience and certainly a whole lot of fun to experiment with. Remember, this was back in the days of analog so there was no instant feedback on a little screen at the back of the camera. It was all very intuitive, up in the mind. I had to wait until the negative was developed and washed before I could get a clue as to what the images looked like. It was a lot like Christmas morning every time you unrolled the film from the developing reel.

One of the things I liked about the lens was that when set at f11 or 16, everything would be in focus from about two feet to infinity. Very often I wouldn’t even look through the viewfinder, I would just estimate the framing, hold the camera out in front of me at whatever angle seemed like it might be cool, and released the shutter. It was liberating and I enjoyed that freedom. 

In the next few entries I thought I would post a selection of some of the images I made with the 18 mm Minolta Rokkor f9 lens. The first set are those I made in Singapore with it attached to my Leica M6 on black and white film. Some are definitely warped and wonderous, and I would imagine, not too much unlike Alice’s experience through the looking glass. 

View from the back seat of a Comfort Taxi in Singapore

Just another odd post-modern shopping center in the Seletar Hill region of Singapore

21st century Singapore viewed through the 19th century windows of the Asian Civilizations Museum at Clark Quay 

The Cavenagh Bridge over the Singapore River

Iron work detail on the Cavenagh Bridge

Bum Boat on the Singapore River

Warped reality

Buddha statues at the Asian Civilizations Museum

Taking a break


Alien worker

Family fun on the last piece of lawn

21st century craftsman

Make up artists

Take out lunch

Ornate colonial era building near Gallang Road in Singapore

Convex reflection-wide angle selfie

My Leica M6 with the Minolta 18mm lens. I use a Novoflex lens adaptor to merge the two.





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) analog photography Asia b&w b&w film b&w film photography fisheye lens minolta 18mm rokkor lens Singapore vintage lens wide angle lens wide-angle photography Wed, 15 Jan 2020 02:51:50 GMT
All Along The Watch Towers This is a series of photographs that were made from or of various watch towers or light houses we encountered along the coast of Ireland. Once again these were made with an IR converted Nikon D200 camera. I like the surrealistic quality of infrared images, they add a somewhat haunted and etherial feel to the depiction of some of these abandoned sites.

Torr Head Guard Station, County Antrim

Torr Head Guard Station, County Antrim

Torr Head Guard Station, County Antrim Torr Head Guard Station, County Antrim

Torr Head Guard Station, County Antrim. Mull of Kintyre Scotland can be seen 12 miles away on the horizon.

Carnlough Harbor, County Antrim. A view made from the old fort walls that guard the harbor.

Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal 

Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal 

A small 20th Century guard post on a rocky outcrop near Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal

20th Century Guard House, Fanad Head, County Donegal

Fanad Head 20th Century Guard House and military barracks, County Donegal

Fanad Head, County Donegal

Ruins of a 20th century Guard House, Slieve League, County Donegal

Ruins of a 19th century watch tower, Slieve League, County Donegal



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) architecture b&w black and white history infrared infrared photography ireland irish history monuments Sun, 08 Oct 2017 20:06:09 GMT
The Stones That Remain So here is another belated post with images that I made this past May 2017, while on my tour of the north of Ireland. Summer is now past and we are well into Autumn the season of color and nostalgia. The days grow shorter, the shadows longer and the quality of the light continues to change as the temperatures slide. It seems like an appropriate time to present some images that reflect on the recent and distant past. These photos are not only about the monuments, the physical reminders of past lives lived in Ireland, but they are also about the feeling of nostalgia, mystery, loss and the passage of time which a visit to these places can evoke. I chose to make this series using a Nikon D200 that I had converted to record only the infrared light illuminating the scene. I call it "the invisible light" since infrared is at one end of the light spectrum, positioned slightly beyond the light that can be perceived by our eyes. It seemed appropriate to use this technique as a way to record what I felt, more than what I saw as I stood before these stone monuments constructed by hands that lived so many years ago.

The 9th century high cross and round tower at Monasterboice, a monastery founded in the 6th century by Saint Brute. High crosses depicted biblical scenes and were used by the monks of the monastery as an educational tool for their followers. The round towers were built to provide protection in the event of a Viking raid which were common in that era. The chapel to the right was built in during the medieval era while the grave stones were added during the 18th through 20th centuries.

The 12th century King John's Castle over looks Carlingford Harbor in County Louth. It was built by Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, shortly after the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. It acquired the name "King John's Castle" because the English king apparently stayed here for three days in 1210.

Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle, County Antrim. It is believed to have been founded around 1500 by Rory McQuillan for the Franciscan Friers. In 1584 the church was burned when Irish and Scots attacked English troops quartered here. The church was rebuilt and the friers continued to use it throughout much of the 17th century.

  Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim. Dunluce is one of Irelands most spectacularly situated castles, perched on a rock cliff overlooking the North Sea. The oldest parts of the castle are the south wall, at left, and the two eastern towers, on the right. It was first documented to be in the hands of the McQuillan family in 1513. The McQuillans were the Lords of The Route from the late 13th century until they were displaced by the MacDonnell clan from Scotland after losing two major battles against them during the mid- and late-16th century. Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the impoverishment of the MacDonnells in 1690, following the Battle of the Boyne. Since that time, the castle has been abandoned and is now a national monument.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim.

Watchtower, Slieve League, County Donegal. This beautiful stone tower was built in the early years of the 19th century by the British to guard against a possible French invasion on their western flank by Napoleon.

Sligo Abbey, Sligo town, County Sligo. The site of a Dominican Friary founded in 1253 on the order of Maurice Fitzgerald, the Baron of Offaly. It was destroyed in 1414 by a fire, ravaged during the Nine Years' War in 1595 and once more in 1641 by Sir Fredrick Hamilton. during the Ulster Uprising. It was restored once again, but the friars eventually abandoned it in the 18th century.

Sligo Abbey, Sligo town, County Sligo.

Sligo Abbey, Sligo town, County Sligo.

Sligo Abbey, Sligo town, County Sligo.

Sligo Abbey, Sligo town, County Sligo.


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) architecture b&w black and white history infrared infrared photography ireland irish history monuments Sun, 08 Oct 2017 18:56:22 GMT
Under Ben Bulben, a homage to William Butler Yeats Ben Bulben, or Benbulbin, are the anglicisations of the Irish name "Binn Ghulbain". It is a large and impressive rock formation in County Sligo, Ireland. Located on the west coast, it is part of the Darty Mountains having a maximum height of 526 m (1,726 ft). Benbulbin is the setting of several Irish legends. It is said to be one of the hunting grounds of the Fianna, a band of warriors who are said to have lived in the 3rd century. It was from these tales that Yeats drew his inspiration for his poem about this distinctive and enchanting landmark

Under bare Ben Bulben's head 
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   
An ancestor was rector there 
Long years ago; a church stands near, 
By the road an ancient Cross. 
No marble, no conventional phrase,   
On limestone quarried near the spot   
By his command these words are cut: 

        Cast a cold eye 
        On life, on death. 
        Horseman, pass by!

          - the final stanza of W.B. Yeat's prophetic poem: "Under Ben Bulben"

While on the drive down the west coast of Ireland on the N15 approaching Sligo city, we stopped to admire the sculpted beauty of Ben Bulben Mountain with its contours beautifully accented by the late afternoon light. Further down the road, while passing through the small village of Drumcliff, I recall, I had a quick impression of a roadside sign indicating the burial site of W.B. Yeats at the next left turn. On an impulse, we pulled into the small and deserted parking lot beside an old walled graveyard and chapel. It was late in the afternoon, and a golden light was illuminating the foliage and gravestones around us. A flock of chattering birds in the trees was the only other visitors to the place besides us. We made our way into the churchyard and found Yeats' grave stone, with his haunting epitaph, in a quiet corner near the chapel. I recall having a distinct feeling of another presence in that deserted place, but graveyards always seem to do that to me anyway.

After my return to the States from Ireland, a good friend invited me to join a small group of “Eirenophiles” on Sunday evenings to watch a series of DVD’s produced by the Great Courses entitled: Irish Identity and Culture. The presenter is Dr. John Connor, a professor of English and Irish Studies at Washington and Lee University. The course is a collection of half-hour lectures on significant historical events, as well as on the political and literary personalities of that time. All the lectures are engaging and very informative. Collectively they have re-connected me to aspects of my heritage that I knew very little about. One of the connections was to one of the greatest literary figures of Ireland, if not the Western world, William Butler Yeats. I had never read his "Under Ben Bulben" poem and I did not know a great deal about him when I initially made these photos. It was after learning about him in the course and reading his poetry that I came upon the idea of the connection between these images and the author of the poem. It's a bit accidental and perhaps even mystical and transcendental, but a coincidence that I'm sure even old W.B. would appreciate.

"An ancestor was rector there 
Long years ago; a church stands near,"

"By the road an ancient Cross."

"By his command these words are cut: ...."

You can read the entire poem here:

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) celtic cross drumcliff graveyard ireland poetry william butler yeats Tue, 08 Aug 2017 02:20:45 GMT
The Fair Isle of The Gael, Landscapes and Vistas
The coast at Cushendum, County Antrim 

I thought I would post a collection of some of my favorite Irish landscape images as a more tranquil contrast to the images of the sectarian politics of my previous post. We spent nine days driving from Dublin through the north counties of Ireland and then back to Dublin from Sligo town. During that time, we had a pretty good sampling of Irish weather. It was warm and sunny for the first couple of days we were there, with a few of the locals jokingly telling us that we had just experienced about all the summer that they expected to get for the year. The following days alternated between mixed clouds and misty rain. The constant through it all was the beautiful quality of the light that illuminated the landscapes we passed through. This combination of exquisite light, the vastness of the space, and the rolling and sometimes craggy contours of the land, all of which were carpeted with the legendary variants of Irish green, evoked within me a kind of mystical and ancient connection to this tiny windswept island that had been home to generations of my forefathers. 

Larne Lough, County Antrim

Torr Head, County Antrim. This is the most easterly point of Ireland, facing the Irish Sea. That is the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland on the misty horizon. It is about twelve miles away. In the foreground are the ruins of a British barracks and coastal defense post that were active during WWI and WWII.

The Antrim Hills near Torr Head

The winding road to Ballycastle, County Antrim

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

Benbane Head, view from the Giant's Causeway

A proud guardian of the remnants of an ancient hearth in a stoney field near Ballycastle, County Antrim 

The rugged north coast view from Donluce Castle, County Antrim

Wild flowers, Donluce Castle, County Antrim

Donluce Castle, County Antrim

Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal

Fanad Head, County Donegal

A spiritual rest stop along the highland road through the Derryveagh Mountains on the way to Falcarragh, County Donegal

The narrow and winding road In the Derryveagh Mountains on the way to Falcarragh, County Donegal

Lough Veagh in the Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) in bloom on the edge of Lough Veagh in the Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal

A panoramic view of Lough Nacung, County Donegal

Stone walls in Ghleann Gheis, the Glen of Spells, County Donegal

A traditional Irish cottage in Ghleann Gheis, County Donegal

Looking back at the road from where we came through Ghleann Gheis, County Donegal

At 601 metres (1,972 ft), Slieve League has some of the highest sea cliffs on the west coast of Ireland.  Although less famous than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Slieve League's cliffs reach almost three times higher.

All day I hear the noise of waters 
Making moan, 
Sad as the sea-bird is when, going 
Forth alone, 
He hears the winds cry to the water's 

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing 
Where I go. 
I hear the noise of many waters 
Far below. 
All day, all night, I hear them flowing 
To and fro.

                               - James Joyce

A 17th century British watch tower above the cliffs of Slieve League

"All along the watch tower the princess kept her view" - Bob Dylan

A 21st century visitor to the majestic landscape seen from the top of Slieve League in County Donegal





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) ireland landscapes northern ireland Thu, 27 Jul 2017 19:06:24 GMT
Belfast and Derry, The War of the Walls The first stop of our tour of the murals of Belfast was Stormont, the center of Unionist power since the six counties of Northern Ireland acquired separate home rule through the Government of Ireland Act, passed in the British Parliament in 1920. The Easter Accords of 1998 has since provided for a more equitable power-sharing arrangement between the Unionist and Nationalist communities.

I had few expectations of what it would be like to travel in Northern Ireland. All of the books and articles I had read in advance of our arrival provided ample information on the most interesting geographic and cultural sights to see, but there was little mention of the story told by the numerous murals painted on residential as well as the commercial buildings throughout the two largest cities in the North, Belfast and Derry (Londonderry). To me, these murals were some of the most profound and thought-provoking sights in these cities.

The large and often artistically-rendered paintings spoke much about the history and politics of this part of Ireland. Before our arrival, I would say that I had an average Irish American’s somewhat-biased but limited knowledge of the North’s political problems, known locally as the Troubles. These were the often continuous cycle of violent confrontations between the Catholic and the Protestant communities, which were at their worst during the 1970’s and 80’s. Eventually The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 finally brought an end to the sensational headlines depicting the atrocities committed by one side or the other. I hadn’t followed much of what happened there after peace was finally achieved, so this trip updated my understanding and appreciation both of the difficulties that this part of Ireland has faced for centuries and of how they are working to resolve them in the present. The history of this sectarian conflict is as old as the religious wars in Europe, which started with the Protestant Reformation back in the 1500’s. Add to these sectarian divisions the cultural hegemony, ethnic cleansing, economic oppression and Imperialism of neighboring England and you’ve got a very old and toxic stew of historic anger and resentment. In short, the politics of the North are complicated and require far too many words for a blog like this in an attempt to explain both sides of the whole story. But I can tell you that my interest in it began anew on this trip when I unknowingly booked an Airbnb for two nights in one of Belfast’s Protestant, or better described as Unionist neighborhoods.

The Unionists, I learned quickly, are those in the north who prefer to remain in the Union with England, as they have been since the beginning of the Ulster Plantations in the 1600’s. Like I said, a lot of history here. The counterparts of the Unionists are the Nationalists, or Republicans, most of whom happen to be Catholic and who would prefer to unite with the rest of the Emerald Isle to the south, known to the world as the Republic of Ireland. So into this muddle of historical adversaries we three nominally-Catholic Irish Americans arrived, barely appreciative of the depth of the divisions we were about to experience.

Our host at the Airbnb was a lovely woman named Julie-Ann. She suggested we use her neighbor John, who owned a taxi, to give us a tour of Belfast, in particular to see the numerous murals painted on the sides of buildings in both the Protestant and the Catholic neighborhoods. It was great to have John as a guide as he was a Unionist and gave us his side’s perspective on the political situation. Several days later when we arrived in Derry, we took a similar taxi tour of the murals and monuments there, but this time our driver Paul Doherty gave us the unvarnished perspective of the Troubles from the Republican side, which included some pretty graphic descriptions of the Bloody Sunday Massacre on January 30, 1972 in which Paul’s own father Patrick, was one of the 14 unarmed civilians killed by British paratroopers. It was pretty heavy stuff, especially as each of our guides told the story of the divisions between the two communities from his own personal and eyewitness perspective. We came away with the understanding of how very complicated situations like this can be.

The murals themselves tell the story in a more symbolic and ominous way. I would classify most of the murals as political propaganda or patriotic memorials depicting some of the heroes and casualties of the Troubles, but some of the more recent ones, especially in Belfast, paid homage to the 36th Ulster Division that lost over 2000 men in World War I’s bloody Battle of the Somme. As well, some were memorials to the Titanic, the ill-fated ocean liner that was built in the dockyards of Belfast. A very few murals, and perhaps the newest type, express the hope for peace, which, since the Good Friday Accord, has been tentatively holding on. The sentiment among all the people we spoke with about the political situation now in the North is that they don’t want to return to the violent days of the Troubles. The dividends of peace are starting to pay off since there are a lot more tourists like us arriving to boost their economy. We also learned that over the years since the accord, there have been many initiatives to build bridges between the two communities, in particular among the children. From the look of many of the murals, though, old memories and grievances do die hard, and there is still mistrust within the current generation. Perhaps someday the more militant murals will be painted over, but I suspect that will be for a future generation to decide. 

One of the first murals we encountered was a bit spooky and ominous. This is one of many honoring the Ulster Volunteer Force, which was a particularly secretive and deadly Unionist group responsible for many casualties during the Troubles. ​​​​

A particularly blunt message from the Ulster Volunteer Force in a Unionist neighborhood of Belfast

An homage to the Union Jack and the traditional members of the Union of Great Britain.

Carson's Volunteers were a Unionist militia founded in 1912 by Edward Carson to block domestic self-government or Home Rule for Ireland, which was then part of the United Kingdom. The Volunteers were based in Belfast in the northern county of Ulster. Like today, many Ulster Protestants feared being governed by a Catholic-majority parliament in Dublin and losing their local supremacy and strong links with Britain.* 

A commemorative wall in Unionist East Belfast to Privates Fred Starrett and James Cummings who died in an IRA bombing on Belfast’s Royal Avenue on February 24th, 1988.

There seemed to be a strange disconnect between the peaceful life on the streets of present-day Belfast and the impending violence implied by some of the murals.

Parades are a big part of the culture; Protestant and/or Unionist groups called the Orangemen organize the majority of parades in Northern Ireland. In the past, the parades used to march through Catholic neighborhoods,which was an "in-your-face" provocation. Now there is a Parades Commission that exists to settle disputes about controversial parades, and many of the traditional routes have been altered to maintain the peace.*

One of the many murals in Unionist neighborhoods honoring the sacrifices by members of the 36th Brigade of Ulster Volunteers who served in the Battle of the Somme in World War I. 

A less militant style of mural commemorates the connection between Belfast and the ill-fated steamship Titanic.

  The "Peace Wall" along Shankill Road is a physical reminder of the Troubles and the divisions that still exist between the Catholic and the Protestant communities in Belfast

A Nationalist mural along Falls Road in West Belfast

A detail from the mural on Falls Road with a quote from Republican Nationalist James Connolly, hero of the Easter 1916 Rising in Dublin

On the right is a very strong expression of  Nationalist sentiment

The headquarters of the Republican Nationalist political party Sinn Fein on Falls Road in West Belfast. The large mural honors Bobby Sands, a member of the IRA, who died in 1981 as a result of a hunger strike he was on while confined by the British in Maze Prison.

A Republican memorial mural in a West Belfast neighborhood, note the tricolor flag of the Republic of Ireland Derry (Londonderry) is one of the few remaining fully intact walled cities in Europe. The walls were built in the 1600's by the minority Protestant settlers from England and Scotland as a defense against the native Catholic Irish majority whose lands they had acquired through military conquest. As a result it has been the one of the focal points of sectarian divisions since these walls were built.

Ancient cannon on top of the Derry wall overlooking the Catholic neighborhood called the Bogside

This Bogside neighborhood of Derry from the historic city walls. This neighborhood was the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in January, 1972.

The famous Free Derry wall in the heart of the Bogside. Derry was the center of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Inspired by the America civil rights movement of the 1960's, Catholics in Derry began to organize and march for the equal rights and against discrimination in voting rights, housing and unemployment in 1968.

A police crackdown followed, sparking months of violence and a reemergence of the Republican movement. The subsequent bloody riots between Protestants and Catholics marked the beginning of "The Troubles," the euphemism for the period of violence that would continue for years in Northern Ireland.*

The Irish Republican Army still is honored, and the desire for the unification of Ireland is still very strong among the Catholic communities in the North.

Reminders of the Troubles are everywhere in the Bogside

In response to campaigns by the families of the victims and the ongoing peace negotiations, in 1998 the British government created a commission to re-investigate the events of January 30, 1972.  The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry or the Saville Report after its chairman, Lord Saville of Newdigate finally released its findings in 2010. The Saville Report stated that British paratroopers "lost control”, fatally shooting fleeing civilians and those who tried to aid the civilians who had been shot by the British soldiers.The report stated that British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts. The Saville Report also stated that the civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot. The report states, contrary to the previously established belief, “that none of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers, and that the civilians were not posing any threat.”

As a result of this report then British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the House of Commons where he acknowledged, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians, and shot and killed one man who was already wounded. He then apologized to the families of the victims and the Bogside community on behalf of the British Government.*


This poster confirms that the Republican dream of a unified Ireland is still very much alive.


In the center of Derry, an appeal for votes in an upcoming election


In this recent election, the results were that Sinn Féin, the largest Republican party in the North, was in a virtual tie with its largest Unionist rival, The Democratic Unionist Party. Hopefully this will keep the dialogue going.


An expression of the growing anti-sectarian sentiment among both communities since the 1998 Good Friday Agreements.

A more poetic and optimistic appeal for a peaceful future in this troubled land 

*contains some content that was acquired from Wikipedia (




[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Belfast Bogside Derry Falls Road Free Derry IRA Ireland Londonderry Murals Northern Ireland Scankill Road Sinn Fénn The Troubles Ulster Thu, 08 Jun 2017 23:06:40 GMT
The Pipes Are Calling.... A Musical Connection To My Ancestral Roots The infrequent blogger is back with a new tale to tell: This month, May 2017, I was so very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Ireland, my ancestral homeland, with two good friends from my high school days.  We landed in Dublin and drove north to Belfast and then further north along the wild North Atlantic coastlands, before swinging south to Derry (Londonderry to the Unionists). It was a fantastic and exhilarating experience with inspiring and majestic landscapes, charming people, delicious pints of Guinness and music that went deep into my heart and soul and set my feet “a tapping”. One of the highlights of the adventure was the Sunday afternoon that we spent at Sandino’s Pub in Derry. We were advised that it was the best place in the city to hear traditional Irish music from 5:00 to 9:00. Named after the famous Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino, the pub definitely has a counter culture alternative vibe as evidenced from the décor, the bartender who had the look of a Caucasian version of Ho Chi Minh and the cosmopolitan mix of patrons. On this particular afternoon there were about ten to twelve musicians gathered around a table in one corner of the pub, filling the place with the richest and sweetest traditional Irish music. The tunes flowed from jigs to reels, to ballads, vocals and instrumentals; it was a moveable feast of instruments which included fiddles, pipes, penny whistles, concertinas, banjos and guitars. As I mentioned before, Ireland is the land of my roots. It is where both my maternal and paternal grandparents were born and lived before they immigrated to the States at the turn of the twentieth century. They were from the counties to the west, Mayo and Kerry. As I was listening to the music that afternoon in Derry, I knew that long ago my grandparents must have danced to some of the very same tunes. I felt that those melodies were imbedded in my DNA and the emotions they brought forth were both joyous and bittersweet, it was as if through this music I was connecting to the long line of my Irish ancestors.  It was, as they would say in Ireland, a lovely experience. 

This musician's name is Gabriel Fitzgerald. He was a master of multiple instruments including the mandola, shown here, Uilleann Pipes, the penny whistle and I'm sure several others.


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) . Derry Ireland Irish Music Londonderry Musicians Sandino's Cafe Traditional Irish Music Tue, 30 May 2017 21:31:04 GMT
The Itinerant Photographer Luis Maldonado with his camera in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago Chile

The Itinerant Photographer

i·tin·er·ant: a person who travels from place to place.

pho·tog·ra·pher:  a person who makes photographs, especially one who practices photography professionally.

We left Asuncion on February 17, 2016 and flew to Santiago. We were met at the Arturo Merino Benítez airport by our friends Pablo and Pili, whom we had first met traveling while there in the late ‘70s, and whom we hadn’t seen since 1982. Obviously the reunion was emotional and pretty incredible. We were to spend the next ten days with them, including a couple of days in Santiago and the rest of the time traveling by car through the South.

The plans for most of the major cities established by the Spanish in Latin America were historically laid out on a grid pattern usually with a large central plaza. This is usually where the government buildings and the Catholic cathedral were located. In Santiago, this plaza is called Plaza de Armas, a large and beautiful park with statues and fountains surrounded by classic and modern buildings. It was a Thursday afternoon when we visited it, and it was crowded with people, mostly locals, I suspect, just wanting to gather in the shade of the trees and enjoy the mild summer weather. It was there that we met Luis Maldonado with his antique camera. Luis was carrying on the itinerant photographer tradition of his father and his grandfather. His camera was around one hundred years old and still functioning. It’s an old self-contained “darkroom in a box” type of analog camera that I described in my earlier blog about the photo man in Buenos Aires, which you can read about here: .

Nowadays, Luis uses his camera primarily as a prop and advertisement for his digital photography business that he conducts for visitors to the plaza. In addition to his modern DSLR camera, he has a small ink jet printer which he uses to make 4X6” prints for his customers on the spot. Most of his customers are local people or tourists who want a tangible record of their visit to the plaza. Luis was very surprised and pleased when I asked him to make a photo of Shelley and me with his antique camera. He recognized my enthusiasm for this dying craft and was happy to oblige for a bit more than what he usually charges for his digital prints. It was certainly understandable since the process was much more finicky and time-consuming, and the 150 pesos didn’t seem too much to ask for a unique one-of-a-kind analog silver photographic print. The whole process took between twenty and thirty minutes. He made two paper negatives (the first was a bit overexposed) and two reversal positive prints before he made the one that satisfied him. He ended up giving me all the copies that he made. I appreciated his attention to detail and pursuit of quality, although, from my experience with processing photo paper negatives and positives, he was definitely fighting the limitations of his equipment. During the processing, he told me that his was one of the last cameras of its kind still being used in Chile. He said that at its height, probably up until the advent of digital in the early 2000’s, there were about 300 itinerant photographers in the parks and plazas throughout Chile using this type of camera. He felt proud to be carrying on the tradition, but admitted that he makes very few images with that camera these days. While we were having our photographs made, two young women from Belgium were passing through the plaza and stopped to watch the whole process; they had never seen such a device before and were fascinated at the fact that the photo was chemically processed inside the camera. In the end, they couldn’t resist having their own portrait made in such a unique and old-school way.

While doing a little research on itinerant photographers, I found this short but interesting web post about Luis and his camera at the 2003 Venice Biennial:

My hope is that Luis can hold onto this photographic tradition as long as possible.

A front view of Luis's camera from his subjects point of view. It is a novelty for the many tourists passing through the plaza.

The back of the camera opens to allow for focusing on a ground glass plate inside, as well as adding the developer and fixing chemicals to the small trays inside. A circular opening in the door and the attached fabric sleeve allows for light proof access to the inside of the camera during the loading and processing of the photo paper.

A closer view of the interior of the camera showing the two trays of photo chemicals. The developer is on the left and the fixer, the chemical that de-sensitizes the light sensitive photo paper, is on the right. 


That strange looking arm device suspended below the lens in front of the camera is hinged to swing up in front of the lens. The paper negative is placed on this and then re-photographed to produce a positive. 

The wet paper negative is mounted onto the small easel in front of the lens and re-photographed in natural light. All the exposure times were estimated based on Luis's long experience using this type of camera.

A look inside the back of the camera showing the ground glass viewing screen. The negative image, which is mounted in front of the lens, can be seen projected onto the screen. Once the image is in focus, the back of the camera is closed and another piece of photographic paper is positioned in front of the screen. Another exposure is made which produces the positive paper print.

A scan of the final 4X6" positive silver gelatin "old school" style print. Modern smart phone users spend money on Instagram filters to try to create an effect and style like this.

​Another Chilean itinerant photographer. I made this analog image in Dec. 1978 in a park in Vina Del Mar. At that time you could find photographers with large cameras like this in the major cities throughout the country. Even then the contemporary Polaroid camera was available for an "instant image" if you were willing to pay a bit more.   


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Chile Santiago South America camera photographer Wed, 27 Apr 2016 18:15:38 GMT
Bienvenido a Chile, Under and Over The Andes (a flashback) Welcome to Chile, but watch out for the trains!

This is a scanned copy of a Kodachrome color slide that I made in December 1978. Shelley and I were on our way to Santiago from Asuncion. It was our summer break and we had planned to visit our Chilean friends Pablo and Pili. We also were going to rendezvous with friends and fellow ASA teachers Liza and Bruce to then travel together to southern Chile and Argentina. To save money, we took the overland route — traveling by bus from Asuncion to Cordoba in Argentina where we stopped for a few days, and then on to Mendoza on the east slope of the Andes. On our way over the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago, the bus we were in broke down. Most of the passengers decided to walk back to Mendoza. We decided to hitch hike on to Chile. Fortunately, we were picked up by a couple of Argentine doctors who were commuting to a part-time job in Santiago. I made this image as we were passing through a combination railroad and car tunnel under the mountainous border and into Chile.

In December 1979 we made another trip from Asuncion to Santiago, but this time with our year old daughter, so we opted to fly over the Andes. This is a scan of a Kodachrome slide I made from the window of the Lineas Aireas Paraguay turbo-prop plane that we flew in. The peak in the upper right of the photo is Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere at 6,961 meters, or 22,841 feet. 

This image of Aconcagua, in the distance at the top of the picture, was made as we were flying from Asuncion to Santiago this past February 2016.

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Aconcagua Andes Mountains Chile areal view borders mountains railroad tunnel Wed, 27 Apr 2016 17:26:43 GMT
The Photography Teacher and His Student That's me with my former student, photographer and artist Carlos Bittar of Asuncion Paraguay. I'm holding his most recent book.

March 28, 2016 

Note to my readers: It’s been almost a month since we returned to the States from our unforgettable journey to South America. It didn’t take us too long to re-connect to our regular life “off the road.” The necessities, obligations and distractions of getting on with our lives where they had left off before our departure in January have definitely slowed my blogista output. But rest assured, I am still committed to spilling out my thoughts and ideas, in the forms of words and images, into the digital void if only for my own enjoyment, and if I’m lucky for yours, too.


The artist as a young man. That's Carlos in the background carrying a chair from the classroom to join his classmates in the warmth of a winter sun at the American School of Asuncion in 1978.


The Photo Teacher Reflects


I first met Carlos Bittar around June,1976. He was a student in my biology class at the American School of Asuncion, as well as one of the first students in my photography elective. Shelley and I had just arrived in Asuncion where I was hired as a science teacher and Shelley was going to be a classroom and library aide at the school. 


My first semester of teaching at the school seemed a bit overwhelming at the time. Not only were we adjusting to a new culture and language, learning where to buy the essentials and get the necessities done, but we also had to adjust to a new school culture. It seemed like lot of work at first: my responsibility was to prepare science lessons for four different grades, 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th, all which met for about 45 minutes each day of the week. I also taught Photography as an elective to high school students which met three times a week. It was a pretty full schedule compared to what I was accustomed to teaching Stateside. 


The school had recently converted a maintenance closet into a very small black & white film darkroom. There was room for myself and about three other students in its cramped quarters. We had two Omega B22 enlargers and the requisite developing and printing equipment. Carlos, along with Renato Bellucci, were the only two members of my first formal photography class. Since I was largely self-taught, having learned my darkroom skills as a work-study student in my college’s Media Lab, I was basically writing the curriculum on the fly from week to week. I do remember feeling an enjoyment and relief whenever the class would meet because of its size and the more open-ended and less structured nature of the subject. It was collaborative learning at its best. We covered the basics of 35mm camera operation, film development and printing, and we also spent time looking at and discussing other photographers’ work in magazines and books. There was no Internet or YouTube then, but I did have the classic Scholastic Concerned Photographer filmstrip series which included cassette-taped narrations by such legendary photographers as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliot Porter and William Albert Allard among others. It is said that the best way to learn a subject is to have to teach it, so this class helped me to raise my own knowledge and skills in photography as well. 


Most of the photo assignments Carlos and Renato did involved either documenting school activities for the yearbook, for which I was the advisor, or photographing subjects of their own interest. I regret not keeping a copy of some of the work they produced then, as I have done for classes I have taught since then. I’m sure it would be revealing. In retrospect, the class was probably a lot more casual and self-directed than the other academic classes the students were taking, which was probably the reason for its growth in popularity. Over my three and a half years at the American School, Photography’s enrollment increased each semester, and we eventually had to enlarge the darkroom to accommodate the demand.


Preterito, one of Carlos's book of photographic images of Paraguay which was published in 2006. Preterito translated to English means preterite which is a noun denoting a tense of verbs that describes past actions.


The Student Becomes The Photographer


I remember Carlos as a very thoughtful student who asked many good questions, some of which gave me pause to think before giving my best answer. After leaving Paraguay in 1979, I lost track of Carlos. It wasn’t until sometime around 2011 when I was living in Singapore that a friend of mine, who had also taught in Paraguay while I was there, contacted me to tell me that Carlos had contacted him through FaceBook and was interested in re-connecting with me. When we did connect by email, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Carlos was a professional photographer in Paraguay. After high school, he attended the Catholic University in Asuncion and graduated with a degree in Architecture and Design in 1987. After graduation he studied Graphic Publication in Florence Italy. Afew years later he moved to New York for a year and studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the International Center of Photography. Upon returning to Paraguay, Carlos continued his career doing commercial projects as well as his own documentary work. Since then he has published at least three books that I know of, and has had print exhibitions in Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. Carlos had sent me a link to his website where I discovered in his bio page that he credited me and the Photography class he took at the American School for introducing him to the magic of Photography. For a teacher of any subject, this is the ultimate tribute and compliment. It is also one of those intangible rewards of being a teacher that at this point in my life makes me so grateful and satisfied that I chose it to be my profession.


When we finally returned to Asuncion last month, it was wonderful to meet Carlos again, this time as an adult, and to share the paths of our respective lives as well as ideas about the art that we both are so passionate about. A interesting aspect of Carlos that I learned in our reunion is his love of philosophy and politics. This is evident in how these have influenced his approach to making photographs. The images that follow are some of his work from his most recent book: Fin De Zona Urbana. These images are of the “street photography” genre of photography that I respond to very much. Carlos has demonstrated a mastery of this, for him it is a very personal and important endeavor. Much has changed in Paraguay in the last three decades and Carlos has documented it with the keen insight and observation of one who was born there and very familiar with the culture. Yet Carlos also brings to his images the perspective of an outsider, perhaps due to having spent his formative years immersed in the English speaking culture of the American School. Of this dichotomy of experience he says: “I always felt a foreigner in my country ... despite speaking more or less Guarani and having lived here all my life ... photography and especially the essays was a way of researching and to understand and insert myself into Paraguayan society. I think the fact that I come from the middle class, my background gives me the possibility of belonging and at the same time being a stranger in my own was a way of being in and out at the same time.” As a result of this, Carlos’s work demonstrates a social consciousness that is often combined with a wry sense of humor and political satire of the detached observer. His images show a respect and deference for his subject’s humanity while simultaneously critiquing the conditions they are forced to live with. In a way he is doing for Paraguay what Robert Frank has done for America. He has stripped away the romantic conceit of the travel brochures and presents us with an unvarnished view of a Paraguay that continues to grapple with it’s own tragic and tumultuous history, as well as trying to find and preserve its own unique identity and spirit as a people and nation while navigating the complexities of our highly commercialized and materialistic globalized world.  



Delgada Fugaz  - Ciudad del Este, July 1995


Chofer  - Asuncion, August 2001


El Linodromo  - Luque, October 2001


Fragilidad  - Ciudad del Este, August 2001


La Espera  - Mariano Roque Alonso, March 2000


Papa Noel  - Ciudad del Este, November 2001


El Agente  - Asuncion, March 2000


Siesta  - Ciudad del Este, September 2003


La Chipera  - Asuncion, October 2001


Self-portrait, Carlos Bittar


More of Carlo's work is posted on his website:




[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Paraguay South America Mon, 28 Mar 2016 23:53:10 GMT
Stopping By The Old School The American School of Asuncion, February 2016

The American School of Asuncion, 1977

The wonderful thing about being a teacher is to be part of a multi-generational community. Being a teacher in an international school further expands that community to include students, colleagues and parents from the host country and other cultures. This can only expand and enrich one's life in countless and sometimes unknowable ways.

When I arrived at the American School of Asuncion in June of 1976, I was primarily a mono-culturalist and a somewhat myopic young American with limited experience of the greater world beyond my native country's shores. I was eager for new experiences and adventure and open to learning more about the place in which I would be living. This is why my wife and I had chosen to leave the comfort zone of our hometown friends and family to live overseas. By the time I left Paraguay in Dec. 1979, I was a changed person. I was also a father of a beautiful girl! I had begun to learn a new language and the culture and history of my adopted country. Through all of this, I gained an awareness of how cultural differences shape our perceptions of our world and of one another. 

While teaching at the American School, I was able to establish relationships with some of my students that I was so incredibly fortunate to be able to renew on this trip. On Monday, February 15, Shelley, Bryna and I, along with former ASA librarian Graciana and former student Gloria, stopped by the old school campus on Avenida Espana to see how much had changed. When we taught there, there were about 400 students from first through twelfth grade. Today there are about 680 with a waiting list for more. The most significant change was that the main gate was now a high security affair and located on the side of the campus that, when we were there, was just a dirt road; it is now a busy side street. The front part of the campus looked pretty much the same with a bit more landscaping and flowering shrubs added to the main courtyard. Most of the expansion was off to the sides and back including an air-conditioned gym and new cafeteria.  Most classrooms are air-conditioned now whereas we had to rough it with fans. Several new blocks of classrooms and multiple playing fields, a track and an alumni building were added over the years, giving the old school a very 21st century feel. It was a wonderful and nostalgic walk into the past while simultaneously seeing the future.

The new entrance to ASA with its enhanced security. This was once a small dirt road where we would often see horse carts passing.

Graciana, Shelley, Gloria and Bryna next to the Headmaster's office. It all looked pretty much the same "back in the day."

The lovely central courtyard of the school. It was the first day of classes on the day that we visited.

Another view of the courtyard from the late '70s. Back then all the students would gather there in the morning to sing the Paraguayan national anthem and the American national anthem while the respective national flags were raised. Now we are told the anthems are sung in individual classrooms.

Just outside my former classroom this patio under a grove of mango trees always offered a shady place where the high school students would gather. It was nice to see that it hadn't changed much since I was there many years ago.

This is how it looked back in the day.

The Alumni House was one of the newer additions to the campus, the result of fundraising and promotion by some of the students that I had taught.

A wonderful reunion with some my former students and friends from the American School.

On the same day that we visited the school, our friend and former ASA colleague Georgina drove us to Avenida Bruselas to find the little house that we lived in for about two and a half years. There was so much change to the old neighborhood that it was hard to recognize that it was the same place. At first we thought that our old house must have been demolished to make way for one of the many newer multi-storied houses built there now, but suddenly, like magic, it appeared, tucked between two newer houses. To our delight it looked almost identical to when we lived there. Asuncion had experienced so much change in the years since we left that it was heartening to have a few anchor points from our era still there to be able to hold on to.

Our house at 2051 Bruselas as it looked when we lived there in the late '70s. That's our 1969 German-made VW sedan that we called "The Green Dinosaur".

The old casa as it looks today. The metal work is a different color as is the car in the drive. Note the road is asphalt; back in our day it was cobble stones as most of the secondary roads in the city were then. We regret we didn't knock on the door to see if we could have gotten a look at the interior - perhaps the next time...










[email protected] (paul griffin photography) American School of Asuncion Paraguay South America Mon, 28 Mar 2016 23:51:27 GMT
Vamos Al Campo: Luque, Aregua, Lago Ypacararí and A Visit To The Maestro's House Colorful wood carvings on display in the artsy-craftsy town of Aregua

On Sunday, February 14th, we decided to rent a car and drive out to some of the towns we used to like to escape to for a diversion from living in Asuncion. If Asuncion was sleepy back in those days, these towns would have been comatose. Not so in 2016. We found Luque, once a small village, to be a busy suburb of Asuncion; Aregua had become a Paraguayan version of an artsy tourist town; and San Bernardino an upscale resort town for Asuncion's elite. While in San Bernardino, we were the guests of one of my former American School students Renato Bellucci, which was certainly the highlight of our day in the campo.

In the central plaza of Luque I found a meeting of the local scout group in session.

I liked the idea that it was co-ed, very progressive.

I found this local office of the Colorodo Party in Luque. It was the party of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner and is, as well, party of the current President Horacio Cartes and as such, has always been a dominant force in Paraguayan politics.

  One of the many jewelry craftsmen of Luque, which is known for its handmade silver and gold filigree jewelry.

The ​iglesia, Virgen de la Candelaria, occupies a hilltop overlooking the quaint artisan's town of Aregua on the west shore of Lago Ypacarai, Paraguay's largest lake about 15 miles east of the Asuncion.

The historic center of Aregua is known for its stately old homes from the turn of the nineteenth century. Some have been restored...

while some remain in the state that I remember them to be in the '70s.

Regardless of their condition, they give the visitor to Aregua a sense of being in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

This is one of Aregua's most unique architectural landmarks, the Castillo Carlota Palmerola, which was built by an Italian Immigrant family in the nineteenth century but is currently used as a convent.

This is an image I made of the same building back in the late '70s. It always had a mysterious aura to it as I can't recall ever seeing a person there.

Aregua is also known for its artists and artisans.

Ceramics have always been the traditional craft of Aregua. 

A current guide book on Paraguay states, "Aregua's art scene is an odd mix of high-end art and kitsch, the latter mostly in the form of hokey ceramics."

Paraguay's legendary Lago Ypacarai is immortalized in one of Paraguay's most famous folk songs, "Recuerdos del Ypacarai." This is a view from a hill in San Bernadino.

One of the highlights of our visit to Paraguay was to be invited to the house of one of my former American School students, Renato Bellucci. Renato is a professional classical guitar musician, a teacher and maker of the world famous Bellucci concert guitars. You can check them out at his website and also sign up for his brilliant on-line classical guitar tutorials:

Renato explains the art of creating a one-of-a-kind handmade concert guitar.

Renato explains that each guitar has its own unique sound that gets better with age. Each Bellucci guitar also comes with its own handmade leather case.

This is Renato as a 10th grader at the American School of Asuncion performing in a talent show sometime in 1979. He was a very impressive guitarist then and went on to a professional career.  It was very moving for me to hear the maestro perform thirty-seven years later!

The end of a memorable afternoon spent with Renato.. From left is Diana's husband Peter, Bryna, Shelley, me, and another former ASA student Diana, Renato and his lovely wife Belen. Thanks to Renato's daughter for making this wonderful group shot of us.  

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Bellucci Guitars Lake Ypacarari' Paraguay South America Thu, 10 Mar 2016 22:10:03 GMT
Lets Do The Time Warp Again, Return To Paraguay Post-modern chaos, Ciudad del Este, our first view of Paraguay after almost forty years.

Feb 11- 17,  “Asuncion del Paraguay, capital de mis amores”

                                                                            -Paraguayan folk song


Leaving Argentina, Brazil and the crowds of tourists behind, our next destination was Asuncion, Paraguay. Our first glimpse of this small, isolated but proud country was when we arrived there in June, 1976 after a long flight from New England on a Braniff Airways’ 707. Never having lived farther than twenty miles from where I was born, I had been hired to teach science at the American School of Asuncion by then-director Dr. Jim Stimson. I was 27 and Shelley 25. Little did we know that this would be the beginning of our twenty-seven year careers of teaching and living overseas. Because of this, Paraguay has always held a special place in our hearts, and we always wanted to return for a visit. 


This was to be a homecoming of sorts, a step back in time as well as a chance to see how much the country had changed since we left in December, 1979. It was also an opportunity to re-connect with old friends and former students who are now adults with their own families. There would no doubt be a lot of emotions associated with this part of our journey.


The main entry point to Paraguay on the east side of the country is a bridge over the Rio Parana and through Ciudad del Este, a border boom town. The last time we passed that way, the city was called Puerto Presidenté Stroessner after the notorious dictator who ruled this little landlocked country from 1954 until he was booted out by another military general in 1989. Back then it had a reputation for smuggling tax free items like cigarettes and booze into Brazil and Argentina; apparently its reputation hasn’t changed all that much except that it’s little, open-fronted shops have evolved into massive multi-storied malls which cater to Brazilian and Argentine tourists intent on saving money on anything from flat screen TV's to fine cigars. It was a five-hour bus ride west from Ciudad del Este to Asuncion, and because of all the commercial development along the roadside, it wasn’t until about an hour into the trip that I began to recognize the Paraguayan campo landscape of my memories. Rolling green fields with the occasional herd of cows, small stuccoed houses nestled in a grove of shady mango trees under which the residents could be seen gathered in multi-generational groups drinking tereré, one of Paraguay’s national symbols. It’s a drink made from cold water poured into yerba maté and sipped through a metal straw called a bombilla. It has a strong herbal flavor, we used to call it "swamp water", but it is the most refreshing elixir on a hot tropical day. I still like to imbibe in a cup of tereré when we get the inevitable tropical heat wave during New England's Summer.


The bus made several stops along the way to discharge and pick up passengers. I think it was in a city called Coronel Oviedo that a lady boarded the bus with a large basket filled with a donut shaped chewy corn bread called chipa. We bought three for 2000 Guaranies, about 35 cents. They were fresh, warm and tasted better than I remembered them to be.

By nightfall the bus slowed with the traffic as we entered the congested “suburb” of San Lorenzo. This was our introduction to the first evidence of the major developmental changes to the country and its economy — the number of private cars on the road. Unfortunately traffic jams are now an irritable reality of life in Asuncion, the nearly deserted streets of the sleepy little backwater city we once knew are now smothered by rivers of cars. We arrived to the Asuncion bus station a little after seven and were greeted by our friend Graciana, who as a young woman worked in the library at the American School, and former student Gloria. They were to be our hostesses over the next few days. We were humbled by their warmth, generosity and hospitality; words cannot express our appreciation for all that they did for us during our stay. 


Some highlights from our return to Paraguay:

-The gathering of former American School students at the Alamo Restaurant on Friday night. It was terrific to see what wonderful adults they had become and to hear about their families, careers and stories of other former students who couldn’t be present at the event. It is very difficult to express in words the thoughts and emotions that a teacher has when meeting his students after so many years. To know them as teenagers and then to meet them as adults, to hear of their lives and to be able to exchange stories from our collective past was extremely emotional and reaffirming to me of the wonder, luck, beauty and joy that life's sometime's random choices can ultimately be manifest as such positive and memorable outcomes.


-Our trip to Luque, Areguá and San Bernardino in a rented car on Sunday. We hardly recognized Luque, but it is still the place to buy intricate silver filagree jewelry. The heart of Areguá looked pretty much the same, beautiful old houses, some restored, but there was so much more development on the edges of what was once a sleepy little compo town. Most of our time in San Bernadino was spent at the beautiful home of former student and professional musician and luthier, Renato Bellucci and his lovely wife Belen. The highlight of the afternoon was to listen to Renato play, on one of the guitars he so artistically crafted, “Cavatina” by John Williams as the late afternoon sunlight bathed the room with an orange glow.


-Revisiting the American School and touring the campus. When we taught their in the ‘70s there were about 400 students in grades K-12; now it’s pushing close to 680. It was heartening to see some parts of the campus were basically the same or only slightly modified from when we were there, including my classroom and the art room. There were also many new buildings — a gym, new cafeteria and classrooms — all to be expected in a growing school in a growing country.


-Thanks to another wonderful Paraguayan friend Georgina, we were able to 

find the cozy little house that we lived in from ’77-79 on Avenida Bruselas. It was still standing in spite of the massive amount of change and development that surrounded it.


-A stop for empanadas and caldo de pescado at the Lido Bar on Avenida Palma in downtown Asuncion and café helado at the Bolsi Bar.


-The free museum at the Cabildo, Paraguay’s old legislative building.


-Walking near deserted and quiet streets in and around Plaza de la Libertad on Saturday evening. The skateboarders on Palma and a Somos Gay rally in the plaza certainly would have been unthinkable during the Stroessner era.


-The new Costenera park and boulevard along Asuncion’s riverfront. This wide and open space is a thoughtful complement to the continual growth and expansion of the city.


-Being invited to view the inside of the national cathedral, which was closed to the public that afternoon, by a sweet lady who let us in through the back door.


-Meeting with former student and now artist, photographer and philosopher Carlos Bittar who so generously gave me a signed copy of his latest book Fin del Zona Urbano. a brilliant commentary on the consequences of the development and growth in Paraguay. 


-Dinner at the Club Centenario with friends on our last night in Paraguay. A delicious and fitting end to a trip we had dreamed about doing for years.


Final Thoughts:

-Our timing as far as the weather in Paraguay wasn’t so good; most days were hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 95% humidity. I don’t ever recall experiencing such extremes when we lived there. It was so hot, even the locals were complaining about it. The intense heat sure made touring a challenge. We just had to learn to live in our sweat.



I never got to see any Paraguayan folk music performed live. Actually didn’t hear as much as we used to when walking the streets in Asuncion. Usually there was a radio playing it some somewhere within hearing distance. It was the soundtrack for my Paraguayan experience back then. The globalized music scene seems to have supplanted it with a combination of Latin pop and Anglo pop. The rhythms now are more upbeat and electric, gone are the melodic harmonies of the acoustic guitar, the distinctive sound of the strings of the Paraguayan harp and vocals sung in Guarani, the indigenous first language of Paraguay  — something very sweet lost there.


We didn’t get farther away from the capital into the campo, would like to have gotten out to the waterfalls at Chololó or the campo town Villarrica, maybe next time.

Farmacia Catedral, one of the classic business establishments on Avenida Palma in central Asuncion. It couldn't compete with the modern chains of pharmacies now throughout the city and recently closed. It is now a museum of medical instruments.

This is how it looked in the late 70's 

Another classic building from Asuncion's Belle Epoch

Paraguay was the first country in South America to build a railroad back in the 1850's. This is the central train station. During our time here in the '70s we used to catch the wood-fired steam train here and spend the day riding out to the campo towns just for the adventure.

One of the steam locomotives that used to run from the station out to the campo, I made this image in 1977. 

A view from the pilot's seat.

Another image that I made on one of those train trips to the campo in the late 70's. On this particular journey the crew let me ride up front in the cab of the locomotive, it was the dream of every kid who ever owned an electric train. 

The legendary Lido Bar on Avenida Palma in central Asuncion with a fresh coat of paint and a new sign.

Another time-warp view from back in the day... 

Surprisingly the interior of the Lido Bar hasn't changed as much as the exterior.

The friendly cashier at the Lido Bar.

The money changers were still out in force on Avenida Palma.

The colorful San Jeronimo barrio of Asuncion.

A public testimony of gratitude and faith.

A father and his son on a very hot day in Barrio San Jeronimo

A remedio, medicinal herbs, vendor in Plaza Uruguaya.

A trio of Paraguayitas in Plaza Uruguaya

Skaters on Avenida Palma on a Saturday afternoon when the weekend siesta begins. Eighty percent of Paraguay's population is under thirty-five years old.

Keeping the peace and tereré make a good pair.

Some serious checkers in the Plaza de La Libertad.

Flowers for a wedding in the Cathedral.

The Metropolitan Cathedral completed in 1845

It was a bit nostalgic to see a Number 30 bus. I used to take this route to and from the center of the city and where we lived, which was then out on the edge of the city.

The "30 Bus" of the late '70s.

This is an image I made of a young recruit inside the number 30 bus back in the late '70s. The buses could be very crowded back then; I noticed not so much now. It must be because so many more people own cars now.

The weather was extremely hot when we were in Asuncion this time.  These kids had the perfect solution. 

"All you need is love." These two ladies were preparing for the Somos Gay rally that was taking place in the Plaza de La Libertad that night, Valentine's Day.

This flyer was a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of life.

Styling at the Pettirossi Market

The basket shop at the Pettirossi Market, Asuncion's open air central market.

Armadillo shell, cayman tail, snake skin or remedial herbs, Pettirossi market is a one-stop shopping place.

When we lived here, we would go to the Pettirossi Market every Saturday morning to buy our fresh fruits and veggies. We noticed they now sell a lot more clothes and consumer goods, much of which wasn't available back then.

A chiperia, a chipa vendor, chipa is a chewy baked donut-shaped bread that is made of corn flour, cheese, eggs, starch, oil or lard, and a tiny bit of anise.

A view of the new Costenera Park and highway along the Rio Paraguay.

The Presidential Palace built by the infamous dictator Marscal Lopez in 1857.

The unmarked monument created from the broken pieces of a statue of the dictator General Alfredo Stroessner. After the coup which removed him from power in 1989, a large statue that he had installed in another part of the city, was toppled and cut into pieces. It's parts were then cast into a concrete block held down by metal rebar which seemed an appropriate symbol and reminder of the thirty-five years that Paraguay endured his oppressive rule.

We found this wall covered with the most imaginative and colorful graffiti art in a new park  near the river on the southern side of the city.

This is the view of the park that is 180 degrees opposite the graffiti wall. The park was deserted and needed some maintenance, but offered a great view of the river and the Chaco on the opposite shore.

Just having a little fun in the Cabildo Museum which once was the site of the legislature, which in Paraguay means that it didn't get a lot of use over the years of its many dictatorships. By the way, Paraguay is now a functioning democracy with an elected president and legislature.

You can see more of the black and white analog images I made while living in Paraguay during he Stroessner era in the '70s here:





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Asuncion Paraguay South America Tue, 08 Mar 2016 04:57:09 GMT
Carnivorous Coaties and Selfies In The Mist At The Iguazu Falls An adventurous journey under the precipice of the massive Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina.

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."

Kurt Vonnegut (do you think he might have visited these falls?)


February 8, 9 & 10:

We caught the noon bus for the Argentine city of Puerto Iguazú at about noon. Puerto Iguazú is a bustling border town sitting on the confluence of where the Rio Uruguay flows into the Rio Paraná on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Just a few kilometers outside of this town is the spectacular Iguazú Falls. The falls are a series of gigantic multi-leveled cascades that extend for over a mile in roughly a horseshoe shape. They are up to 250 feet high with thousands of cubic meters of water a second pouring over their edges, the sound and energy of all this cannot be described in words. They are set in the most beautiful forest inhabited by an exotic variety of flora and fauna. 


Our first visit to this amazing natural wonder was sometime in June, 1977 when we drove there from Asuncion with friends. We visited both sides, the Argentine and the Brazilian. At that time the number of other tourists there was minimal, and very often we had parts of the trails to ourselves. Part of the reason might have been that it was the South American winter and not many folks were on vacation, and the other was that tourism to this site was hardly at the level that is has grown to now. 


This time, on our first day, we took a bus from Puerto Iguazú to the National Park on the Argentine side of the falls. The entrance to the park has been expanded, and the entry price has gone up. On our first trip, we were able to drive our car to a parking lot not far from the beginning of the trails to the falls; now access is only gained via a small-gauge train that shuttles passengers the quarter mile or so to the trails. All the changes were understandable as they facilitate the movement of the thousands of tourist who come to see these wonders during peak season, as well as serve to cut down on the pollution that the automobiles bring. Bryna had her FitBit on, and it recorded that we spent the whole day walking over 16,000 steps through the steamy verdant forest and over metallic catwalks viewing the incredible series of falls from vantage points above and below the cascades. It was hard to estimate the number of tourists there, but one of the rangers told us it was in excess of ten thousand per day! We were just three in the crowd on some catwalks that could have used a traffic cop to keep the masses moving. This was especially true at some of the more popular viewing points where you had to wait in line to make a photo, or in the case of many of the tourists, use your selfie-stick over the heads of the crowds. We did a quick estimate of how many possible photos of the falls were made each day, and came up with over 100,000 based on 100 photos made per person. I have to take that number a bit philosophically and assume that given the vast quantity being snapped, my humble digital images have a highly depreciated value compared to the Kodachromes I made back in 1977 before the ubiquitous smart phone was ever imagined.


Some changes to the experience since 1977:

  • exponentially more tourists from all over the world.  We heard many languages on the trails.
  • more control of access and movement within the park
  • more touristy adventure activities: boat rides into the mist of the falls, for example 
  • wider and more sturdy walkways over the falls, better overlooks
  • lots of park rangers monitoring and directing the tourists’ movements
  • more snack bars, including a Subway!
  • coatis, relatives of the raccoon, more visible and aggressive at seeking scraps of food around the snack bars. They have adapted to the masses of humans who have invaded their habitat and get their revenge by making pests out of themselves.   


The next day, Wednesday, we took the bus from Puerto Iguazú to the Brazilian side of the falls. It is a great complement to the extensive trails of the Argentine side. It’s a shorter experience, and most of the views are from above, looking down into the falls. Again the park was crowded with tourists, and entry was controlled. We bought tickets at the large and spacious entrance building, complete with restaurants and gift shops, and then waited in line for a double-decker bus to drive us about a third of a mile to the drop-off point, which is across from the Hotel Cataratas, the elegant pink and white five-star hotel that still looked pretty much the same as it did the first time we saw it in ’77. 


I was OK with being among the masses of tourists viewing the falls. It was, after all, summer in South American, and most of the tourists were either Brazilian or Argentine. I suppose it is not too unlike the experience of going to our own Yellowstone or Yosemite in the summer.  It was certainly a very different experience compared to the almost exclusive access that we had during our first visit, but it was nonetheless as awesome and  impressionable, and when I got tired at photographing water, there were always the Coatis or my fellow tourists who made good subjects.

Looking across one of the many cascades of the Iguazu Falls to a viewing platform on the opposite side.


Shelley and Bryna on one of the walkways over the many portions of the Rio Parana that flow over the falls.


Now just imagine the awesome sound that all this water is making.


The resident rascals in the forest around the falls, the coatis have figured out that where there are humans, there is food.


The lunch line...


I don't recall seeing one coati on our fist trip in '77, but now they are a ubiquitous part of the experience.


Shelley had a bit of a surprise when this one jumped into her bag looking for food while we were on the Brazilian side of the falls.


Just another case of Mother Nature striking back at the dominant species.


Turistico Humano were the dominant species crowding the walkways at the falls.


The engineering and construction of the walkways by both Argentina and Brazil were brilliant and really brought us up close and almost into the falls, a very amazing and unforgettable experience.


Water water everywhere...


A friendly Brazilian park ranger keeping the masses of tourists moving.


That's Bryna making a GoPro selfie in the mist. It was so hot that day that under the falls was a great place to cool off.


The photo-phenomenon that's sweeping the planet.


With new and innovative devices to make it even easier.


You weren't there unless it's on Facebook.


Now for some more water shots: A walkway on the Brazilian side brings you right over a part of the falls called the "Devil's Throat"


This view from the Brazilian side reminded me of some sort of primordial water-world. 

This scene reminded me of a Chinese brush painting.


And at the end of the day, after all the walking, the heat, humidity, fighting off Coatis, avoiding being in someone else's selfie, and if you are on the Brazilian side of the falls, I recommend that you stop by the beautiful Hotel das Cataratas for an ice coffee by the pool.





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Foz de Iguazu Iguazu Falls Selfies South America Sun, 28 Feb 2016 13:16:01 GMT
The Sacred and Profane, Carnival Time In San Ignacio

Though not quite on the scale of the famous Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, San Ignacio Argentina is not shy about showing us how to party.

Sunday - February 7

On our walk from the hotel to the mission ruins, we passed a local school and noticed a display of multi-colored, feathered costumes arranged on the floor of a covered courtyard. In one of the classrooms were a group of high school-aged students working on other costumes. We inquired what they were for, and to our surprise learned that there was to be a carnival celebration in the center of town starting at 9:00 that night. After touring the ruins, we took a break from the heat in our hotel room and waited for the show to begin. 


At  about 9:00 PM we stepped out of the hotel into the center of town which was already filling with people. There were two groups, the spectators and the participants, who were easily distinguished from each other by their costumes or degree of undress. One of the streets leading from the center of town was blocked off, and a small admission fee was charged to enter, giving customers a front row seat to the dancers as they made their way from one end of the long street to the other. Never having attended a carnival before, this was all new to us. Of course, this being Latin America the show didn’t kick off on time, but when it did, the energy level ramped up incredibly. 


Each samba group represented one of the towns in the province. The party rotates from one town to the next each weekend for about three weeks. Apparently there were a lot of Brazilians who immigrated to this region over the years, bringing their Carnival tradition with them. Each samba club consisted of scantily clad dancers of all ages, mostly women but with a few guys (not scantily-clad), a drum section and a live band mounted on a large trailer complete with a very loud speaker system, mixing board and lights, all pulled by a funky farm tractor. It was an amazing event to be part of, very sensual and suggestive dancing to music played at mega-decibels by so many young women in outrageously colorful costumes. 


Some of the groups developed a theme which was followed through in their costumes and music. For one group in particular, the theme, Maravella, depicted the visual arts. We stayed at curbside watching the show until about 1:30. It was still going strong well after that as we could hear the drumming from our hotel room. I suspect it didn’t end until 3:00 - 4:00 AM. The amazing thing is that so many little kids were in the audience with many as participants. It was a very quiet Monday morning when we checked out to head to the bus station and our next adventure.


Putting on the final touches before the Carnival parade begins.


Meanwhile the guys are warming up with the samba rhythms.


The dancers are taking their positions for the start of the parade.


They could almost pass as the Michigan State University marching band.


They like the beat as loud as possible.


Each samba group were accompanied by their own live band.


Well it might not be too pretty but the PA system is so loud and the party so wild, who cares?


Let the party begin!


Sitting on the sidelines doesn't mean you can't join the festivities, the hot seller among the audience were spray cans of "snow", soap suds.



There was even a contingent of some crazy creepy clowns to add a little more variety to the party.







[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Carnival Missiones Province South America Mon, 22 Feb 2016 03:42:40 GMT
Out Of Posadas And Into The Frying Pan, San Ignacio A detail of Guarani Baroque carving at the San Ignacio ruins in Missiones Province, Argentina

Our next destination was San Ignacio, a small town of about 7,000 people an hour and a half by bus to the northeast along provincial route 12. We took a taxi to the Posadas bus station which is always fun because most taxi drivers are very friendly and often very curious about their extranjero passengers. Most don’t speak English, so it is also a great opportunity for us to practice our Spanish. Most conversations just cover the basics: Where you from? How long have you been here? Where are you going now? But sometimes with a little longer ride, they can go beyond that. 


We boarded our bus at about 10:00. We always buy tickets for the arriba, or top level of the double-decker, which most of the long distance buses are. The views are the best, and the seats usually recline farther, plus you avoid the smells of a possibly faulty toilet which is always located on the first level. 


A couple of other South American bus tips:

    1. When checking in your baggage, tip the handler a few pesos (10 in Argentina). You’ll get your bag back faster when you reach your destination.

    2. Always go for the top level, and on overnights, splurge a bit and pay the extra for the cama or fully-reclining seat when possible.

    3. Often your ticket will list a range of departure gates, like numbers 5 to 10. Get to the gate early enough to check which one your bus pulls into; it may require a quick walk from one gate to the next.

    4. Most buses will have some sort of sign in the front window listing its destination. If in doubt, confirm the destination with the driver, who is usually checking tickets at the door.

    5. Pack a fleece or extra layer for warmth in your carry-on. Often on the long trips, the AC can get pretty cold, and that extra layer will make a difference.

    6. Bring some drinks and snacks. Usually water is available on board, and if you are on a long haul overnight, food is sometimes served, but you can find out in advance it your ticket includes food.

    7. Bring a book, an eBook or your own entertainment and some headphones or earplugs if you don’t want to watch and listen to the film shown on small TV monitors mounted on the ceiling above the seats - usually an American made action/thriller. The audio is usually dubbed in Spanish with no sub-titles, good practice for your Spanish. 

    5. Hope that the AC and toilet work!


We arrived in San Ignacio in the afternoon, and exiting the bus was like stepping into an inferno with 90% humidity. It was hot, but what made it worse was that we decided to walk into town. By the time we made it to the San Ignacio Hotel, we were pretty much done-in and sweating profusely. Welcome to the tropics. 


The reason we made the stop in San Ignacio was that it was the site of the ruins of one of 30 Jesuit missions, or reducciones, that were established in northeast Argentina and across the river in southern Paraguay. They were built between 1609 and 1767 by the Jesuits as a way to evangelize and educate the local tribes of Guarani indians while at the same time protecting them from slavery and the influences and abuse of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial societies in those regions. The missions have been called one of the world’s great social experiments and were established on communitarian principles as an outgrowth of the European Enlightenment. Unfortunately, they became too successful economically and politically and began to threaten the existing colonial power structure. The locals eventually convinced the Spanish King to expel the Jesuits from the region, leaving the natives to fend for themselves. I recommend the film The Mission with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons to get a little idea of what this interesting part of South American history was about.


Making the long hot walk from the bus station to the center of San Ignacio. The laterite soils in this region are rich in iron which stains everything red.


It was so hot you could fry chicken in the sun!


Our hotel in the center of downtown San Ignacio, the aire condionado was what caught our attention.


We passed this row of tourist trinket vendors on the way to the mission ruins, business was a bit slow on Sunday.


The bias is out in the open at the entrance to the mission ruins. I tried to pass as retired missionary, it didn't work.


So what's so impressionable about a pile of old moss covered stones? Trust me, knowing the history about the people who constructed and lived here helped to connect us to the spirit of the place.


Rainbows over the ruins


Nature prevails.


Built in the sixteenth century, San Ignacio mission was the home for over five thousands Guarani indians and perhaps four or five Jesuit teachers.


One of the entrances to the mission cathedral. The carved sandstone portals are an example of what is called Guarani Baroque, named after the craftsmen who created them.


The main entrance to the cathedral, Voltaire described the Jesuit utopian communities as "a triumph of humanity which seems to expiate the cruelties of the first conquerors"

Returning to 21st century San Ignatio

The curtain has long since closed on the Mission of San Ignacio and that chapter of history.

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Guarani Indians Jesuit Missions Missiones Province San Ignacio South America ruins Thu, 18 Feb 2016 13:18:24 GMT
The Dusty Road To Posadas

On the back road from Carlos Pelligrini to Posadas.

Saturday, February 6

Our driver Manuel picked us up at the Eco Lodge around 9:30. We had booked him through the folks operating the lodge. We started out on the five-hour ride to Posadas, the capital of Misiones Province and our next destination. Although his $200 price seemed a bit expensive, it was a greater savings in both time and money than the alternative of back-tracking west to Mercedes and then north to Corrientes. This would also include a hotel cost and then a nine-hour bus ride to the Puerto Iguazu. By going straight northeast to Posadas we were doing in five hours that which probably would have taken over twenty-four. The downside was the road wasn’t paved and that, if it rained, it could take up to six or seven hours, that is assuming the truck didn’t get permanently bogged down in the grease-like mud. Lady Luck was with us though, and we only ran into one short rain squall that turned only a few kilometers of the road into a slick mass of red muck. The truck had four-wheel-drive. Manuel was an experienced driver in this terrain and was able to negotiate through it without too much difficulty. 


For most of the drive, the sun was out and the blue sky was filled with bulbous cumulus clouds. The landscape on both sides of the road varied from marshland, vast grazing fields studded with cattle and horses, and the occasional grove of tall and stately eucalyptus trees which usually sheltered an estancia  consisting of a small ranch house, barns and other assorted outbuildings in varying degrees of repair. Occasionally another pickup truck would pass us going in the opposite direction; everyone waved, as if to acknowledge each other’s existence in this vast and lonely landscape. 


About two hours into the ride we began to see extensive groves of pine trees neatly planted in long evenly spaced rows. These trees were grown for commercial lumbering as we soon found out when we passed a crew of lumber men gathered next to a couple of truck loads of cut trees. After about four and a half hours of this bone-rattling ride, we finally turned on to provincial route 12, a smoothly paved asphalt highway leading straight into Posadas. We arrived in town in the late afternoon and without a prior reservation for a hotel. After checking TripAdvisor on Bryna’s iPhone and a short walk pulling our luggage behind us, were lucky to find a reasonably priced room for three in the mid-range Julio Cesar Hotel. That evening we explored this tranquil provincial city of about 230,000 people which had grown up on the banks of the wide and muddy Rio Paraná. 


Our favorite part of the city was the costenera, the wide road and tiled walkway that parallels the river’s edge. It was from here that we caught our first glimpse of Paraguay, actually the city of Encarnation, which was stretched out in the distance on the opposite bank. It was a warm Saturday evening, and many of the locals had migrated down to the river’s edge to enjoy the open space and cooling breeze and to drink the ever-present mate. Cafés and parrillas lined one side of the costenera with sidewalk and parks on the other. We stopped for drinks at one of the cafés which happened to have a video monitor playing Latin pop music, and as we were sitting outside on their patio gazing across the river, a familiar sounding rhythm drifted from the audio speakers. We seemed to all respond with the same puzzled look on our faces as we strained to decipher what obviously-not-Spanish language the pop song was being sung in. Almost simultaneously we exclaimed, “It’s Thai!” In this crazy quilt of a globalized world, we found ourselves watching and listening to a Thai pop music video in a frontier town of Argentina!

A rare vision along the long and mostly straight but very bumpy road to Posadas.


The drivers exchange road conditions from each direction.

Giving us a chance to stretch our legs


A thunder storm in the distance we were fortunate that it was moving in the opposite direction, they are known to turn the road into a slippery mess.


Posadas Argentina and a homage to a bygone era of travel.


Another crusty old relic from the past


A colorful corner in Posadas on our walk to the river.


Apparently the big thing in Posadas to do on a Saturday night is to go down to the costenara, sit by the river, relax and drink mate. La vida esta buena 


Estamos muy tranquillo! The international bridge that crosses the Rio Parana to Paraguay can be seen in the background.


That is the city of Encarnation Paraguay across the Rio Parana'.


A contemporary monument to boatmen and graffiti. On the horizon is the bridge that connects Posadas to Encarnation Paraguay.


Looking like something out of a Terminator movie, this is a monument to Andreas Guacurari, a Guarani indian who fought with General San Martin in this area during Argentina's war for independence from Spain in 1811.


I made this last photo on our way back to our hotel. We were passing through the Plaza 9 de Julio, when I found this lovely couple posing for the wedding portrait, that's life on the Argentine frontier in the 21st century.




[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Missiones Province Posadas Rio Parana South America Tue, 16 Feb 2016 18:46:44 GMT
Carlos Pelligrini and Lago Ibera One of the eco-tourist activities on the Lago Ibera is to search the floating islands for wildlife. 

We spent our last day in the Esteros del Ibera region in a small, dusty town called Carlos Pelligrini, about an hour and a half northeast along a dirt road from the Rincon de Socorro. This very humble village is on the shore of Lago Ibera, the largest water body in the whole of the Esteros del Ibera provincial reserve. We were told the town has about 900 residents, and we met five of them. The first three were the ladies who worked at the EcoPosadas Lodge where we had booked a room. The fourth, Roberto, was our good-humored guide who took us on a boat tour of Lago Ibera, and the fifth was Manuel in whose Nissan pickup truck we spent four bone-rattling hours traveling from the Eco Lodge to the city of Posadas on the Rio Parana in Misiones province. Our stay at the lodge was short; the highlight was a late afternoon cruise in Roberto’s sturdy motor boat to ply the smooth, almost horizonless expanse of the surface of this immense shallow lake. We crossed to one side of the lake to explore the esteros, floating islands of green vegetation are inhabited by many varieties of birds, most notable the screamer, as well as capybaras and the sinister-looking cayman, a small version of the alligator. Roberto kept us entertained with his humorous play on his Spanish language while we marveled at the immensity of the space we were in as well as the diversity of life it holds. It is encouraging that the consciousness of the importance of wild places like this is shared by both the local people and the government; perhaps it bodes well for all the natural areas of this country.


A walkway at the EcoPosadas Lodge where we stayed extends into the wetlands.


Another type of man-made "water effect" at the Eco Posadas Lodge that we couldn't resist making use of in the 90 degree heat.


Shelley and Bryna prepare for our evening boat tour of Lago Ibera with our guide Roberto.


The vast horizon at Lago Ibera where the sky meets the water 


Another eco-tour on the lake. Most of the tourists were Argentines - they bring in needed income for the locals and also learn the value of this unique ecosystem.


One of the first residents that we saw on the floating islands in Lago Ibera was this Crested Screamer. Because of their size, about as big as a turkey, and very loud screech, they were not hard to miss.


Floating on his solitary island was this Capybera.


The most interesting inhabitants of the floating islands are the Caymans, smaller relatives to the alligator.


Roberto, our boat pilot, liked to bring us up close to the action. This type of cayman is what the locals call a Yacare' Negro.


Blooming water hyacinth added to the magic and beauty of the place.


Another view of the mystical Lago Ibera


The sun sets on our final adventure in Esteros del Ibera.





[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Carlos Pelligrini Corrientes Provence Esteros de Ibera Lago Ibera South America animals conservation nature wildlife Sun, 14 Feb 2016 12:00:22 GMT
Saved By Science Conservation volunteer Monteserat (Monsi), Bryna and park ranger Emmanuel, using a radio collar locator to find a recently re-introduced to the wild Pampas Deer.

One of the missions of Doug and Kris Tompkin’s Conservation Land Trust (CLT), the organization that manages the area where we were staying in Esteros del Ibera, is to reintroduce several species of mammals that once inhabited this region. Due to hunting and habitat destruction caused by extensive cattle grazing, these species had all but gone extinct in this region. Currently they are working on reintroducing the pampas deer, the giant anteater and the peccary. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to spent time with some of the biologists and park rangers as they monitored some of the animals that they have started to re-introduced into the wild. Many were rescue animals from either zoos or rehabilitation centers in other parts of the country. Each requires a special program to help them re-adapt to their natural habitat which, for some, will require years of monitoring. It is reassuring and heartening that many in the Argentine government, local and federal, as well as people living in the area have begun to grasp the importance of protecting and nurturing the country’s natural wildlife heritage. 


Eye to eye with the elusive and shy pampas deer, the tall natural grasses are its habitat and hiding place.


The marsh deer, which was never locally extinct in the Esteros because of the increase in its protected habitat, has made a significant rebound in number.


One of the rescued peccaries that have successfully been released into the Esteros reserve.


Emanuel and Monse using a radio receiver to locate Misty, the giant anteater, and her cub which have been living in the wild since her release about six months ago. Unfortunately she was located over two kilometers away from us in a very difficult terrain to walk through. Given the extreme temperature of the day, in the 90's, we all decided to forego the possible five-hour round trip walking experience.


The Esteros style!









[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Esteros de Ibera South America animals conservation nature wildlife Sat, 13 Feb 2016 14:41:08 GMT
Visitantes Hasta Nuestros Casa
The vast and beautiful Esteros de Ibera marshlands.

For the past two days, Feb 5 & 6, we have been experiencing one of the most famous wilderness areas of Argentina. We saw an incredible number of wild animals, mostly exotic birds, and I made photographs of a few. In the house we have been staying, there is an extensive collection of natural history and scientific books. Among them are some beautiful nature photography books. Studying those photos, as well as attempting to make my own, gives me a greater appreciation for the creativity and skill that is required to make stunning animal portraits. Knowledge of your subject is a prerequisite; knowing as much as possible about the animal’s behavior and its natural habitat enables you to find them in the wild. Once you do, getting the best location to set up your equipment and then having the patience and perseverance to wait for those decisive moments are crucial. It is also helpful, especially for bird photography, to have a very long telephoto lens,1000-2000 mm focal length is optimal. This allows you to be farther away from the animal to avoid detection, yet at the same time to be able to fill the frame with an interesting composition of your subject. For most of my animal photographs I used my Nikon 70-200mm lens, it was great for the larger animals but required some cropping in post-processing for some of the birds.


A Field Flicker - Colaptes Campestris


A couple of Ailicucus - Tropical Screech Owls, catching a nap under the eve of our roof.


A not so shy Carancho, Southern Crested Caracara, that scavenged for tasty morsels of meat we would toss to it from our patio.


One of the many egrets that made a home in a couple of trees in a small marshy area near our casa.


and some of the rest of the flock...


A Cotorra, or Monk Parakeet was one of a flock nesting in the trees around our case, they were definitely the all time chatter-boxes of the neighborhood.


Another one of several Zorro del Monte, crab eating foxes that would stop by to visit us in the evenings

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Esteros de Ibera South America birds wildlife Fri, 12 Feb 2016 21:51:35 GMT
Going Up The Country To See Some Wild, Wild Life The Gaucho Griffs riding free in the Esteros de Ibera in Corrientes Provence, Argentina

On Monday Feb 1, we left t Buenos Aires by bus at about 9:00 PM. After an all-night bus ride traveling northeast to Corrientes Provence, we arrived in the small rural town of Mercedes at about 6:00AM. I hadn’t spent an overnight on a bus in many years — the last time was probably somewhere in South America in the ‘70s. The buses then were often crowded, the seats were hard, uncomfortable and barely reclined from an upright position. When crossing the pampas back then, I can remember being woken up by intermittent stops at military checkpoints for the mandatory ID checks by arrogant and not-so-friendly militars. This country and the bus service have come a long way since then. We booked what are called semi-camas, almost beds; they are wide, soft and recline 160 degrees with an extension for your legs. You are supplied with a blanket and pillow, a hot meal in the evening, and a boxed breakfast in the morning. There are video monitors above the aisle which allow you to watch a movie if you wish. Our stewart even passed out the latest edition of Gente magazine so I could catch up with the glamour of Argentine celebrity life.


After arriving in Mercedes, we were met by the driver from the Rincon de Socorro who drove us another hour and a half over a red dirt road to the nature reserve. This part of our adventure was arranged by our daughter Bryna, who works in conservation and knows some of the Argentine staff that administer the reserve.  The Rincon de Socorro is a private nature reserve which is part of the dream of Doug and Kristen Tompkins, two American philanthropists who have, since the mid-‘90s, been purchasing vast land tracts in Chile and Argentina, developing conservation plans for each and then turning them over the governments of those countries to be established as national parks, which will hopefully insure that they will be protected in perpetuity. Socorro sits in the middle of the Esteros de Ibera, which is a vast area of grasslands, marshes and ponds that comprises about half of Corrientes province. Our Lonely Planet Guide calls this place a: “stunning wetland reserve that is home to an abundance of bird and animal life, and is one of the finest places to see wildlife in South America. In the past, much of it was used for grazing cattle; now, because of the efforts of the Tomkins and others, there is a concerted effort to return much of it back to its original and natural state. The Tompkins have also sponsored programs to reintroduce to these lands species of wildlife that were long ago hunted to extinction. The jaguar, peccary and giant anteater are a few. Already resident in abundance are the cayman and capybara. There are also over three hundred species of birds here including the large flightless rheas that we see every morning grazing on the lawn outside the house we are staying in.


Our estancia at the Rincon de Socorro


My spacious studio 


and let me introduce you to a few of our neighbors: This is one of the local groups of Capaybara, these were the most ubiquitous mammals in the Esteros region, they are the largest members of the rodent family, that's right, giant rats! But actually they are very sweet and timid, strangest little critters you'll ever see.


Capybaras also have a weakness for mud baths,


and I mean serious mud baths


One of our other neighbors was so much more regal and elegant than those promiscuous Capybaras, this is the Nandu', or the South American Rhea, a relative of the Ostrich and like the Ostrich is a flightless bird, there are many of these in the Esteros.


This friendly one would graze outside our house all day


There were many others in the area and one morning we spotted a flock of the little ones passing through. It is the male Rhea who actually tends to the chicks after the eggs are hatched.










[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Corrientes Provence Esteros de Ibera South America Thu, 11 Feb 2016 02:55:36 GMT
Last Tango In La Boca

Live music performances seem to be everywhere in BA, this musician was singing his heart out at a small cafe in the La Boca district

Continuing our Sunday walk of over 15,000 steps according to Bryna’s FitBit, we found our way to the La Boca district by late afternoon. La Boca means “the mouth”, referring to it’s location on the mouth of the Rio Riachuelo which flows through the southern part of BA into the vast Rio De La Plata. La Boca was the old port district of BA and was where many immigrant laborers worked and lived back in it’s heyday. It was here at around the end of the nineteenth century that the sensuous and infamous dance, the tango, originated in the bordellos and bars of this working class community, to later become the national dance of Argentina. Although the present day La Boca is not quite the seedy and dangerous neighborhood of legend, it is still a bit rough around the edges, enough so that we were told by several well meaning locals to not stick around when night falls as there were too many malos chicos roaming the streets. During our first visit to BA in ’78, Shelley and I also made our way here and it was where I made the B&W photos of the “Tango Man” that I posted on the first blog of this series. Obviously a lot has changed since then, primarily it is more touristy than ever. I remember it as being a bit more drab and run down, as an old port neighborhood should be, but this time many of the buildings were freshly painted in a colorful style. Now there are street cafes, a small crafts market as well as an outdoor stage that is set up by the now unused docks, and there are plenty of clubs with tango shows keeping the tradition alive. Here’s a few images I made during our evening there.


The brightly colored Caminito building, a famous landmark in La Boca


Back in it's rough-neck days, one can imagine this to be a colorful house of ill-repute


And then again, maybe not all that much has changed..... 


There is still a lively street life protected by the tourist police in their fluorescent vests


The friendly owners of the Conviento Rosada where we stopped for a drink.


The image of the legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel greets visitors to this colorful La Boca establishment


A very funny period comedy performed in this open air theater next to the river front in La Boca



As night falls the unmistakable rhythms of tango music is heard on the streets....


and the last tango in La Boca begins

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires La Boca South America Tango Wed, 10 Feb 2016 04:20:47 GMT
Sunday In San Telmo Swing dancing at one of the clubs in San Telmo

We are now in Puerto Iguazu in northeast Argentina on the border between Paraguay and Brazil. We'll be here for a few days to visit the famous Foz de Iguazu. I seem to have a pretty good internet connection here so I thought I'd try to finish uploading some more photos from Buenos Aires. These were made on Jan 31, when we went on a long walking tour through San Telmo to La Boca. 

These were the guys that got the crowd dancing, they are a local group called the Hot Cats and play some great dixieland and swing type jazz. I bought their CD.

I stopped to listen to the beautiful voice of this young musician performing on a street corner in San Telmo

Her name is Luz Rodriguez, she is originally from Columbia, but now calls the San Telmo district of BA her home. I also bought her CD.

Another one of the street musicians in San Telmo, he was part of a group that played a jazzy Latin style, they were very good, but I passed on the CD and left a few pesos in their hat.

San Telmo has a great weekend artisan's market where an amazing variety of hand made items, antiques, clothing and books are sold. As a photography teacher I have been teaching and using pinhole cameras for years. I had to stop to check out these fantastic hand made versions that were on sale in the market. The lady's husband makes them and she adds the creative designs to the bodies. 

A close up view of one of the very original "one of a kind" pinhole camera kits she was selling.

A book display at the San Telmo market, the Beat Generation seems to be alive and well and hiding out in Buenos Aires

If you have any room left in your house and you like old and classy things, San Telmo would be a great place to shop for them, the air fare would be the killer though

There are also plenty of great little restaurants and romantic cafe's in San Telmo.

Here's a wider view of one of the streets of San Telmo, its just a very cool part of the city to explore

By now you must have the impression that San Telmo is the artsy, bohemian part of BA, and keeping with that reputation, I was impressed by the quality of the graffiti artists who display their work there.

As we were leaving San Telmo and heading towards La Boca, we walked through a park that was filled with young families and their kids. We stopped to watch what seemed to be a very chaotic scene on this play-structure, in spite of the confusion, everybody seemed to get their turn on the slide, a great metaphor for this city.... maybe sometimes.


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires San South America Telmo Tue, 09 Feb 2016 02:39:53 GMT
Recuerdos de Buenos Aires

A tranquil corner in the heart of Buenos Aires, note the bicycle lane on the left.

We are in Posadas Argentina tonight and are staying in a hotel that seems to have a pretty good internet connection, although I have to work in the lobby because there is no connection in the room. So here's a few more photos from our time in Buenos Aires. Keeping on the move as we are, my time space continuum gets a bit distorted so keeping track of when we did what becomes an issue. 


I found Jesus in Buenos Aires and he was our waiter.

I liked this taxi driver, he had a very positive attitude about life.

A puppetier at the artesan market in Plaza Intendente Alvear

Tai Chi lessons in Plaza Lavelle

Making room for el perro

 Arte & Cafe

Part of an on-going political protest in Plaza Cinco de Mayo. The recently elected government of President Mauricio Marci has instituted austerity measures to reduce public spending which has not played well with the Peronistas and other opposition parties.

The Casa Rosada, Argentina's ceremonial Presidential Palace. It is from the balcony above the main entrance that Juan and Evita Peron rallied their followers to support their populist programs in the 40's and 50's. When we visited BA in '78, the iron fence was not there.

These were two photos I made in February 1978 at the Casa Rosada. I traveled with two Leicas, an M3 which I shot black & white film in and an M5 that I had loaded with Kodachrome slide film. The image on the left was made inside the entrance to the palace, due to the security I couldn't have made one like it this visit. The one on the right was tof the ceremonial lowering of the flag in front of the palace. I was hoping they were still doing that but we saw neither the colorful guards or the ceremony this time around, maybe it all went out with the military dictatorship?

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires South America Sun, 07 Feb 2016 02:49:43 GMT
Our Top Ten Favorite Places In BA Blessed Selfie In The Cathedral

Our Top Ten Favorite Places in BA:

1. Barrio San Telmo weekend market and street life - this place really personifies the joy, energy and creativity of the younger generation of portenos. The market is an eclectic mix of the handmade, used and antique. Music and dance echo through the cobbled streets and classic cafes are at almost every corner.


2. Barrio La Boca - the home of the sultry Tango, colorful corrugated working-class tenements on the mouth of the Rio Riachuelo. Touristy by day, in can be a bit dangerous at night, as several of the locals warned us.

Still a very lively place and one that would be worth spending more time exploring.


3. Teatro Colon - a magnificent monument to La Belle Epoch of Buenos Aires in the early 20th Century (it presented its first opera, Aieda, in 1908).

Its galleries and corridors ooze elegance and sophistication. 


4. Museo National de Bellas Artes - a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the history of art and the history of art in Argentina. This is a modern and well laid out museum, with some fascinating paintings  


5. Puerto Madero - a great place to walk in the evening to catch the buenos aires blowing in from the sea. Rows of restored and re-purposed nineteenth century warehouses contrast with the new glassy high rises and yachts in the basin. Plenty of choices of parilladas, restaurants, bars and clubs for whatever food or entertainment you’d like.


6. The Abasto market - very cool art deco central market from the 30’s repurposed into a mall for the working and middle classes. It’s a great place to see how the average porteno family spends the weekend. Lots of affordable stores, great food court and the amusement park at the top level is a sensory overload.


7. Ateneo Bookstore on Avenida Santa Fe. Constructed in one of BA’s elegant old theaters, you can browse their huge collection of Spanish-language books which are displayed on shelves from the mezzanine to the balconies, or savor it all from the coffee shop which is where the stage once used to be.


8. Club de La Milanesa, 2002 Vincente Lopez, Barrio Recoleta - We discovered this restaurant while looking for a vegetarian menu in the land of carne. In addition to a tempting list of traditional milanesas, which are usually a tasty breaded beef cutlet pan fried, this bistro also featured several types of vegetarian milanesas. We tried the soy and squash milanesas, and they were delicious. The salad was also an excellent mix of fresh vegetables, and if you order a Quilmes draft beer, there are free refills!


9. Strolling down Aveneda Del Libertador from the parks in Palermo to Museo National de Bellas Artes - On our last day in BA, we decided to pass on another foray into the bustling commercial districts in order to sample some of the large green areas in Barrio Palermo. It was a perfect day to just relax on a park bench under the natural shade of the trees. After re-charging our batteries for a few hours, we strolled down Aveneda Del Libertador. It’s a broad, tree-lined and busy boulevard, but the wide sidewalk is set back from the traffic and bordered by posh apartment buildings and the occasional embassy. It reminded me of the Champs de Lisee in Paris.    


10. Buenos Aires on a Sunday afternoon - a great day for walking in the city; fewer pedestrians to compete with for sidewalk space and much less traffic on the streets mean less noise and pollution. 

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires South America Top Ten Favorites Sat, 06 Feb 2016 12:15:20 GMT
Where have I been so long?

Heaven Calling, BA's "City of the Dead"

Dear Loyal Readers, It has been a long stretch between now and my last entry. Since we left Buenos Aires on an overnight bus on Monday night (Feb. 1), access to the internet has been sporadic and when it's there it's slow. I have been keeping notes and making photos, so here is a recap of some of my impressions over the past few days.

Jan 28 - A Gothic Experience


Waiting for lunch in the tree-shaded garden of the Buller Brewing Co. a micro-brewery that makes a pretty good tasting IPA. It’s located just outside the Cemeterio de la Recoleta, BA’s legendary “city of the dead,” or one of the most unusual cemeteries you’d ever visit. It does sound a bit morbid, and it certainly has the capability to put you in a gothic mood, but the range and elaboration of statuary and the architecture of the tombs are enough to impress even the most ardent atheist. It is the last resting place for the city’s elite, past presidents, professionals and generals. It is also where Argentina’s most famous first lady, Evita Peron, whiles away her eternal days. In many ways, it is a monumental metaphor for the faded and tarnished glory of this country’s past.

A fork in the road, the streets of BA's Cementerio de la Recoleta 

Here Lies a Well Read Man

Not To Be Forgotten


"Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away"

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires Recoleta South America Fri, 05 Feb 2016 19:57:36 GMT
Return to “the capital of an imaginary empire” Puerto Madera, Buenos Aires

It has already been several days since we made the return trip from Villa Gessell to Buenos Aires  ( BA). I’m realizing that keeping up with a blog like this will be a challenge. We are staying in a small apartment that I found on AirB&B; it’s in the Recoleta district of the city. It is very comfortable and well situated for exploring the city. We are now three; my daughter Bryna joined us on Thursday and will spend a couple of weeks with us as we travel north through to Paraguay where she was born. Here in BA our schedule has been a full one as we try to experience as much of this wonderfully and quirky city as possible within the limited time that we have. 


We usually leave the apartment around nine and don’t return until ten or eleven in the evening. We have been doing a lot of walking, as my feet remind me at the end of each day. So far it has been an easy city to get around, wide sidewalks and plenty of public transportation, and shady parks to rest in. Obviously much has changed since the last time we were here and so have the details of travel. 


On our first trip here in ’78, there were no credit cards — we carried a lot of US dollars in pockets that we pinned inside our pants. There were no smart phones with Google Maps to help us navigate. We traveled without wifi or internet. Instead of instant messaging, FaceTime and Skype, we wrote post cards and letters (how quaint). Now, there is even a nifty little phone app called BA Como Llego that provides detailed information on the buses and trains, as well as a map function. Perhaps most importantly, for the people of Argentina, the country is now a democracy with an elected government, rather than the very scary military junta who ruled here from ’76 through ’84, which was one of the darkest chapters in this country’s history.


So here are a few images made along the way:


Two famous Argentinian authors Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares greet us on the way into the La Biela Cafe.


Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America



As in most major cities of the world, there is a visible disparity in the distribution of wealth in Buenos Aires too


Galarias Pacifico is one of the upscale shopping plazas on Calle Florida where the other 10% shop.


The ornate entrance to the Teatro Colon, BA's impressive grand opera house which opened to the public in 1908 and is still a very active performance venue


One of the ornate galleries in the Teatro Colon


 On the tour of Teatro Colon


I just happened to have been able to get this image of a couple of my favorite celebrities in the grand performance hall of the Teatro Colon



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina Buenos Aires South America Sun, 31 Jan 2016 13:53:01 GMT
Sand and music in the air

Yesterday we walked a little over six miles. This town is a lot larger than our first impressions of it were. We’ve been working on strengthening our travelers’ legs, since our arrival. There are advantages to not having a car on a trip like this. I like being closer to the ground so to speak, moving a bit more slowly and having more time to observe the life of the people and the environment they live in. It also enables us to meet people and exchange ideas. I have to admit that my Spanish is lacking. I think I understand the gist of what is said, but my ability to reply intelligently is hampered. Shelley, on the other hand, is doing very well and has served as the communicator for the more complex interactions, but I’m learning and recalling poco a poco.


Villa Gesell is at about the same latitude as Wellington NZ, and like my Kiwi friends used to say when describing their weather, it has “four seasons in a day”, well almost. This is our fourth day here and we still haven’t been able to figure out if a weather pattern exists. The locals tell us it’s always windy, so that’s a given; it just differs in how strong it is. Some mornings, like today, are bright and sunny, and from the window of our Hosteria, I can see the steady stream of sun worshippers trekking thorough the sand, beach chairs and umbrellas in hand, towards the aquamarine horizon. Yesterday, it was the opposite — gray, cold and of course very windy. Going out to explore, we bundled up in layers as if it were March in New England. At about noon, the climate flipped to summer, and we were peeling layers off. By evening, fall had arrived, and those layers were back on again, so the rule is, as in NZ, be prepared for any eventuality that Mama Pacha may have in store for you.

So Villa Gesell has a very interesting history. It was founded in 1932 by Carlos Idaho Gesell, a wealthy inventor and visionary who made his fortune designing, manufacturing and selling children’s furniture throughout South America. He was the son of Silvio Gesell, a German economist and social reformer who immigrated to Argentina in the nineteenth century. Carlos carried on his father’s forward-thinking. He was motivated by a search for a renewable source of wood for his furniture factory that was close to BA. When he arrived at this locale, it was nothing but barren, wind-swept sand dunes. After consulting with arborists from the US and Europe, he devised a method of forestation that was incredibly successful. He planted mostly pinion pines from seeds imported from CA. He also planted groves of eucalyptus, poplars and other varieties of local trees and shrubs. Within ten years, his labors were rewarded with hectares of verdant forests attracting varieties of birds as nesting places and providing shade and shelter from the sun and wind. To subsidize some of the costs, he built bungalows along the shore that were rented out to folks from BA during the summer months. (The winters here, by the way, are described by the Lonely Planet guide as “miserable”.) As might be expected, as time passed from the ‘40s to the ‘50s, other enterprising folks were invited to construct support services for the growing tourist trade. Making this long story just a few sentences longer, the place boomed into what it is today, a very lively city of 40,000 year-round residents and probably at least twice that in the summer. I’m not sure that the current urban high-rise development was what Carlos had in mind when he began all this, but he passed away in 1979, so it’s been long out of his hands now.

Shelter from the storm, in the forest that Carlos Gesell created


An explanation and demonstration of an ancient form of music reproduction in the Museo Historico Municipal de Villa Gesell


Chess mates at the gallery and coffee shop in the Museo Historico Villa Gesell


Atlas shrugged and the sun returns


A little about the Latin music which seems to be heard everywhere in this town. Walk by any house or hotel and its drifting out from the windows or balconies. Along the streets it’s not uncommon for a car load of kids to drive by, windows down, radio cranked up full volume and everyone in the car singing along with the catchy latin rhythms. While on our walk yesterday Shell and I stopped to take in a vibrant scene of a group of young musicians playing live for a very excited and energized audience of their peers. There were about four video cameras recording it from every imaginary angle which were connected to a broadcast van that must have been beaming the dance beat to the nation. The joy and energy was infectious.

The band and the fans


On the boardwalk, her fan and his band


In the center of Villa Gesell there is a long pedestrian mall which is definitely the place to be in the evenings


It is also the place for more music and entertainment



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina South America Tue, 26 Jan 2016 23:49:06 GMT
As the wind blows Moon Rise over Argentina 1/25/16

Sometimes the wind can be your friend, it can help to take you where you want to go, blow away the storm clouds and clean out those dusty corners of your mind to free up the imagination for more positive things, but sometimes it can be an unwelcome nuisance. It can knock things down and push you to places you didn’t really want to go, it can also make it pretty tough to sit on a beach, as well as wreak havoc with the moving parts of your expensive digital camera. So it was yesterday morning when we decided to join the masses of Argentinians huddled against any found obstacle to break the onslaught of the unrelenting wind horizontally slamming down on them from the northeast; scattering plastic bags, loose soccer balls, unfortunate beach umbrellas, and unattended children across the scoured sands of Villa Gesell’s endless beach.


Choclos (roasted corn on the cob) vendors secure their carts against the wind.


In praise of the Lomito sandwich (with apologizes to my vegan and vegetarian friends and family)


In its baked embrace within savory spongy glutenous dough,

hiding under a gentle blanket of lettuce and tomato,

the lomito lays awaiting it’s fate.

Two centimeters thickness, a dark patterned mass of bovine protein.

It is so tender to the bite while yielding such indescribable flavor and satisfaction. 

I am thankful for the sun, the rain, the earth that nourished the lush green blades of pampas grass,

and to the unknown and unsuspecting quadruped whose sacrifice has made this sublime moment a possibility.


Let's do the board walk again.


When the wind subsides the gente come out to play. In this case a very cool and popular beach bocci type game the locals call "Teja"


Just a reminder to us all that love comes in all shapes, sizes.


A sweet and healthy ending to the day.



[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina South America Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:41:10 GMT
Vamos a la playa! Today was our first real opportunity to relax and check out what beach life in Argentina is all about. I can report that it is carefree and enthusiastic. The sun was strong and the sky a brilliant blue, although there was a brisk offshore wind that blew steady all day which we were told is fairly common at this latitude. It didn’t seem to get in the way of those who were out for a little escape from the grind:

These are reputed to be the best empanadas in Villa Gesell, exicito!

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina South America Sun, 24 Jan 2016 02:30:05 GMT
Desde la ciudad hasta el mar  

Bombillas y mates for sale in Retiro Bus Station, Buenos Aires

Yesterday was one of those travelers transition days, going from point A to point B on the map. We left BA at about ten AM and after a long but comfortable bus ride southeast across the a small portion of Argentina’s sprawling pampas, we arrived in Villa Gesell, a small beach town on the Atlantic coast. On the way, I had a photographer’s deja vu: somewhere in my files of black and white negatives from our '77 journey, I have an image of Shelley reading a book on the bus we were taking across another part of the same pampas to Cordoba. I couldn’t help but make another one of her to complement it, but just a glance to the guy across the aisle was enough to bring me back to 2016.

Deja vu

We arrived in Villa Gesell around five and took a taxi to the Hosteria St. Germain which is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the beach. Just as we finished checking in, a torrential storm rolled in off the Atlantic. It had all the drama of those we knew from living in Southeast Asia, torrents of rain blown onshore by high winds, accompanied by lightning and loud cracks of thunder. The power went out and with it the internet. About an hour later as the downpour turned to a drizzle we went out to find a place for dinner. We had to negotiate our way around the flooded streets and the ATV gauchos. 


An ATV Gaucho


and the authorities were amused.

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Argentina South America Sun, 24 Jan 2016 01:45:03 GMT
Buenos Aires Fly By After about twenty-four hours in transit from North to South America, we arrived at our hotel in Buenos Aires. We wasted no time making plans for our trip to the coast tomorrow. We walked about a half-hour to the bus station to purchase tickets for our trip to Villa Gesell on the Atlantic. Along the way to and from the station, I was able to make a few “grab shots” as the warm summer light was fading. The energy and old world ambience of this city impressed me, I even like the "scruffy around the edges" look. This city doesn't seems to be putting on airs at all. Tomorrow we leave at 10:00 AM, it’s late now, I have many thoughts and impressions from the day, but no ambition to set them down right now, sleep is more the imperative. A few pictures will have to do:

Don't cry for me

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Fri, 22 Jan 2016 02:28:45 GMT
The Photo Man This is a photo series I made of an itinerant photographer whom we encountered in Plaza San Martin during our first trip to BA in 78’. I was intrigued by his home-made camera and darkroom combination and was impressed with its method of operation. Inside the box he had small trays of paper developing chemicals as well as a supply of photo paper. Inserting his had through the sleeve attached to the back of the box while looking through the small eye piece on the top (it was equipped with a red filter to prevent paper fogging), he would load a 3X5” piece of black and white photo paper behind the lens. After posing his subject and exposing the photo, he would re-insert his hand into the box and develop the photo paper to obtain a negative image. He then took the negative paper image from the box and mounted it on a small board that flipped up in front of the lens. With a second piece of paper inside the box mounted behind the lens, he re-photographed the negative and chemically developed it the same way as the first. It actually created a decent looking positive! He was very amicable to being photographed, especially after we paid him to take several photos of us. I always believe in supporting the local photographers. I still have the photos he made for us, but had to re-fix them when I got back to Asuncion because they started to fog. By the way, that’s Shelley modeling in one of the images. I’ll be curious to see if there is a newer version of the itinerant photographer in the Plaza this time.

[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Wed, 20 Jan 2016 13:00:00 GMT
South America and closing the circle The first time I went to Buenos Aires was in January 1978. It was Summer there, and my wife, Shelley, and I were on vacation from our teaching positions at the American School of Asuncion Paraguay. Coming from the sleepy little backwater city of Asuncion to the cosmopolitan metropolis of BA was a pretty exciting experience for a couple of kids from Western Massachusetts. One afternoon we were in the La Boca district of the city, which at that time was home to a mix of rough neck working class and young hip bohemian types. There was an outdoor market in a square surrounded by bars, coffee shops and bistros. I spotted this guy posing in the doorway of one of the Bistros. I made several images of him, and later talked to him a bit, I remember him saying that "Tango is life". Tango music seemed to be playing everywhere in the square that day and this man was for me the personification of that part of the Argentine culture.

Tomorrow Shelley and I travel to Argentina again, 38 years since we were last there. This blog will be a journal about this trip. I'm excited to be returning to South America again, to close a circle that we opened so many years ago and at such a young and impressionable time of our lives. I don't have a lot of expectations for this trip other than that we have fun and learn a lot more about the countries we will be visiting. I also hope it all goes relatively smoothly without too many glitches and that I might make a few good photos along the way.... stay tuned.


[email protected] (paul griffin photography) Tue, 19 Jan 2016 23:09:12 GMT