Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Zoraida Diaz: Life Portraits of Guanacaste

Life Portraits of Guanacaste

     On September 11, 2001, the world changed for every person inhabiting it. When the Twin Towers collapsed, Zoraida Diaz was in New York City. At that time, she had been a worldwide photographic journalist for Reuters for thirteen years, but on that day, she wasn’t “on the clock” at the Big Apple; on the contrary, she was giving birth to her son in the hospital at NYU. It’s ironic that she was at the epicenter of this infamous day in history, yet unable to capture it through her cameras. Nonetheless, the events permanently changed her life, too. In search of a kinder, gentler habitation, she gave up her job with one of the biggest news agencies in the world and moved with her family to Costa Rica, where she quickly became enamored by Sugar Beach and Playa Portrero. In a relatively short amount of time, she teamed up with Ralph Nicholson to form the weekly newspaper The Beach Times.
     Thus began a love affair between Ms. Diaz and, in her words, “all things Guanacastecan”. As this passion blossomed, Zoraida realized that it needed a home, too. From this inspiration, Ms. Diaz culled through nearly a thousand photos to choose the ones that best represented the unique culture of this area. The result is her new book, entitled “Guanacaste: Retratos de Vida / Life Portraits”. 

     There are currently several popular, quality photo journals with Guanacaste as their subject matter. What sets Ms. Diaz’ project apart from these is that while the earlier books deal almost exclusively in landscapes, Zoraida allows the lens of the camera to focus on the people here. Make no mistake: there are spectacular Guanacaste landscape photos in “Life Portraits”, but the heart of this project is the inhabitants, the pulse of this area.
     Working with a group of editor/friends, Diaz was able to whittle her choices down to about “only” four hundred. She then applied a little family mojo by getting her seven year old son’s input and reduced the number by a hundred. At this point, she turned to Horatio Villalobos, director of the European Photo Agency in Paris, who helped her establish the one hundred eighty shots that made the final cut. The result is a stunning collection, a wonderful montage of color and black & white photos that embraces the personality of Guanacaste. I also want to mention how much I enjoy the photos done in rapid time sequence.

Zoraida Diaz
     And then there is the writing. Ms. Diaz displayed her talent as a producer when she turned to her circle of friends who are scribes for their contributions. “Life Portraits” is divided into four segments, with simpatico introductions by folklorist Jose Manuel Pena and Carlos Arauz for the Plains section, marine biologist Giovanni Bassey describing the Pacific shoreline, songwriter Balo Gomez reflecting on the people and songwriter Guadalupe Urbina with her thoughts on Guanacaste traditions. The forward by the poet Miguel Fajardo Korea is a touching introduction, a nice opening to segue into the project.
     I asked Ms. Diaz about the difference between taking these kinds of photos and the ones she took for Reuters. She explained that she had never met a good photographer who could divorce themselves from the subject matter. She told me that, “Robert Capa used to say that if a picture wasn’t good enough, it was because the photographer hadn’t gotten close enough”. Of course, Capa was speaking about getting close both physically and emotionally.
     Looking again at her photographs in “Guanacaste: Retratos de Vida / Life Portraits”, it is clear that Zoraida Diaz has gotten close enough to her subjects. You can almost touch them. Or let them touch you.
    The book is available at all three Jaime Peligro books stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Tilaran.
     All comments concerning this article are welcome.