Last Reflections… My Journey Back…

Ezeiza airport, Buenos Aires – 

I included my trip back to Argentina after a 33 – year absence in this blog on photography, because I wanted a space to process how photography helps us understand and know our experiences.

La Bodega del Medio  is the legendary bar/restaurant in La Havana once frequented by Ernest Hemingway that has it’s walls completely covered by the signatures of patrons.

In the middle: with my friends from College of the Atlantic, Gray and Suzanne at Bodega del Medio, La Havana, 2000

I feel a little like this bar, halfway in between two corners – in the middle of the block –on the continuum between two destinations. I’m not from Argentina, but much of who I am today was shaped here – as an expatriate… integrated, but always with the option of leaving. And I’m not from the U.S. either; I’m missing formative experiences that shaped my peers, because I wasn’t around to have them; I play futbol, not football…there wasn’t a homecoming dance or a shopping mall to go to… I can connect with either culture, but I don’t feel complete in either.

I am not an exception, really. I’m part of a community of global migrants, all my high school friends included, who live in between cultures and are each individually a montage of values, geographies, and cultural identities. I was able to go to La Habana and organize that trip for students exactly because of my experience growing up in Argentina. We are a group of people whose multi-cultural experience gives us the skills to adapt and thrive in other places and cultures.

During this trip I made photographs of the geographical and cultural landscape that I encountered – people, nature, urban life, events, and icons.

It is hard to get past the surface of things, because the camera just seems drawn to represent the active narrative. You have to let the narrative of the event wash past you like a wave reaching the shore and look for the treasure in that brief moment before the next wave rolls in. You have to be of the moment, but not in the moment in order to glimpse and capture another reality.

Being in the role of a photographer helped me to step back and observe the circumstances; editing the images helped me to analyze my experience.

When I took the photograph of the doorway, the doorman asked me why I was photographing it. I told him it was interesting. He shrugged, he didn’t understand, because this was the entryway he secured everyday. He saw the shiny brass and floors he kept polished…and I saw that…and the adjacent wall of graffiti. I must have walked by this place a dozen times, but I didn’t “see” it until the last day.

This image is my analogy for this country: stately, historic, elegant…with the edgy chaos of democracy, the gap between the elite and the poor, the residue of violent military repression, a complicated history….but it also feels like home. This image is also about who I am – occupying the space of two worlds and trying to make sense of their differences and similarities. It was the last photograph I took in Buenos Aires.

About Douglas Barkey

Director of Teaching and Learning Effectiveness The Art Institutes Photographer, Artist
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6 Responses to Last Reflections… My Journey Back…

  1. Jade York Polk says:

    You have articulated my feelings and observations about Argentina so well. I moved there at the age of 2 and graduated from Lincoln in 1982. I just returned for the big reunion this last March after an absence of 25 years. I found many things had remained the same, but my 45-year-old eyes saw quite a few differences. My parents and I were “extranjeros permanentes” in Argentina; my father worked for a company that built oil refineries and tanks and things like that for the oil companies. We lived in “pleno centro” and I went to local schools until high school. The culture is mine but not really. I am an American citizen but sometimes feel a little odd here in Texas. Tango music makes me melancholy and I daydream of riding a colectivo in the rain. The Argentines I meet in the US are astounded that “vos hablás castellano igual que nosotros,” but my English doesn’t have an accent either. Your photographs are outstanding! Thank you!

  2. dougbarkey says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jade. It was a distinctive and invaluable experience to grow up immersed in one culture while belonging to another. In the U.S., “multi-cultural” is a code word for minority populations, but for me that term always resonated…

  3. Lee Loser Gable says:

    Thankyou for articulating what many of us have experienced. I too, grew up in argentina and my parents were there for 30 years. I also attended the reunion and have kept up with some of my friends from BA. I met my best friend on a main street in Kingston NY. She is now a “sister.” But I feel that we have the best of both worlds. When I go back to BA, I feel like I’m back home. Yet, when I return to Saugerties, NY, I also feel like I’ve come home, too. And I always thank my Dad for the gift he gave his family–being raised in Buenos Aires and meeting some wonderful people and broadening my horizons.

  4. Douglas Barkey says:

    You are right – we have parents who broke out of their own geographic and cultural boundaries and that is a perhaps unexpected gift that the children received.

  5. Just wanna remark on few general things, The website style is perfect, the content is really great : D.

    • Douglas Barkey says:

      Thank you, Karissa. Feel free to add your viewpoint whenever you see something that triggers your interest.

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