The other day, I wrapped up my 2-year long 731 Project. My rules were simple. I had to shoot a new photo each day and post it. I couldn’t post something that was already in my portfolio, it had to be new – taken that day. Those that saw the final post, may remember I dedicated it to a friend, Felix. I met Felix through a Facebook photography page and we chat from time to time sharing photos but mostly admiring each other’s family. I also mentioned I was inspired to continue the project when I was ready to end it after the first 366 days (it was a leap year) and that I’d have more on that topic later. Well, it’s later.
As I mentioned in that last post, Felix is from Venezuela and through conversations I had with him, as well as others I have had with another friend from another country, I had come to realize we Americans truly take our freedom for granted. I’d like to share some of Felix’ words with you as they truly hit home for me, just how good we really have it.
On March 31, 2012, Felix wrote the following. I did have to translate from Spanish, so I hope I got it right:
“I really am glad you have successfully completed your project……Personally I could not even make a picture a day for 7 days in a row, work, first and second Venezuelans are going through a very strong crisis from every point of view, political, economic and especially social. The issue of crime is not a fiction of the media, and it is somewhat alarming that it destroys our people and our image in the world. Less than 15 days ago an acquaintance was killed. Shot so they could take his Canon while leaving after photographing a social event at a hotel in a town outside Caracas. Here you can not go out in the streets with a DSLR in your hands without ceasing to be a novelty. It is a sign that you are wealthy (not because) and are an appealing subject for a robbery. Caracas is the capital and there are still many great places to take pictures, but the possibility of being robbed takes away the desire to enter and shoot. Most of my photos are taken from my car, many times while waiting for red light to turn green at the traffic lights! Really sad, hopefully someday that will change.”
It struck me that I was truly fortunate that, as long as I take a few minor precautions, I have the ability to go pretty much wherever I needed to go to get my shot without having to worry about being killed for my camera. Well, anywhere within reason. I have had a couple instances where I may have pushed the boundaries, but for the most part, if I’m downtown, or in most areas of the city, I really have nothing to worry about. And even so, most criminals around here won’t actually kill me for my camera. They’d threaten, I’d hand it over, and it would be over with.
The next time we traded messages, Felix told me about how fortunate he was that one of the Government agencies was offering a photography course for beginners. He is an advanced shooter, but the reason he took advantage of the opportunity, was because they were giving military-guided tours of some historic sites. I think I lost a little bit due to my rough translation skills, but I believe he either meant; historic sites are generally closed to the public – and based on the government and social issues he and I have discussed, I believe this is true. or he may have meant that without a military escort, his safety would have been jeopardized. I’m not sure which is more tragic.
Finally, one last underlying tone has always pervaded our conversations. It seems Felix is truly quite brave in that the government of Venezuela is not a big fan of their citizens speaking out about the issues they face. So in all reality, any conversations we’ve had regarding his government or the now-deceased Chavez, were at the risk of being incarcerated or even at the risk of his own life. Again, I could never imagine how that must feel. So as you go about your day, consider your freedoms. The next time you feel like taking issue with the government verbally, keep in mind, that as long as you’re not making outright threats, you are protected by the constitution.
So, again, many thanks and prayers go to my friend Felix. To see some of his work, check out his page at http://www.picturesocial.com/profile/FelixJLeonS