I have been posting some photos here from my travels in the coffeelands, as well as links to some modest photo collections on flickr. And recently when my photos were made to look very good by the excellent design firm here in Guatemala that created the CAFE Livelihoods 2009-2010 Yearbook, I started feeling pretty good about myself. Then I went to the Inspired by Coffee photo exhibit at Anacafé, and got a big dose of humility.
The exhibit features several dozen contemporary and archival images of coffee farms and coffee mills in Guatemala. While many of the photographers are Guatemalan, there are plenty of international photographers featured, including two recent images on loan from the Illy Coffee collection of works by Brazilian legend Sebastiao Salgado.
There was also an extraordinary collection of archival prints of Guatemalan estates shot by the English photographer Eadward Muybridge in 1875. (Please excuse the quality of these images — I had only my cellphone with me at the exhibit.)
There was also some cool contemporary work by Byron Wolfe that collages Muybridge’s archival prints or incorporates them with recent shots of the same landscapes.
As I left the exhibit, I felt ashamed of myself. Not that I consider myself a photographer at all, but that I ever allowed myself to feel smugly self-satisfied about the relatively uncomplicated snapshots I have been taking in the field and posting here on this blog. I recalled the reference Ernest Hemingway once made in a letter to his publisher reference to Beryl Markham and her extraordinary memoir West with the Night:
“She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.”
Hemingway, of course, was being more than a little false with his modesty, but this has all the key elements of my own remorse.