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Ivan Kashinsky: Love Bloomed from the Darkroom to the Barrio

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Ivan Kashinsky is working on 'Project Mi Barrio,' an ongoing essay in which he documents his rapidly changing neighborhood in Ecuador with his iPhone. Left: José Luis Chuquimarca, 76, lives off the land, the way most people of the valley did years ago. Right: María Lara prepares her daughter María Alejandra Lara,16, for a photo in Rumihuaico, Ecuador. She is wearing traditional indigenous clothing from Cayambe and is standing on her grandfather's land on Ilalo, an extinct volcano.

Photographer Ivan Kashinsky is working on “Project Mi Barrio,” an ongoing essay in which he documents his rapidly changing neighborhood in Ecuador with his iPhone. The work is part of a larger project called “De Generación,” in which 12 Ecuadorian photographers are creating photo stories under the theme of “Generations.”

I live with my wife, Karla, and my newborn son, Nahuel, in a barrio nestled in the folds of Ilalo, an extinct volcano, which rests in the center of a valley near Quito, Ecuador. How the hell did I end up here? That’s a question I used to ask myself daily.

La Banda. La Súper Banda prepares to play for Juanito y Martha to celebrate the blessing of their new truck in Rumihuaico. #projectmibarrio
About 10 years ago I first set foot in this valley. I was a young man, eager to prove myself as a photojournalist and experience, first-hand, this new frontier—South America. I had met Karla, who is Ecuadorian, at San Jose State University, where we were both studying to be newspaper photographers. She was my photo editor at The Spartan Daily—the university paper.

There we were, so different, a California surfer kid and an Ecuadorian girl from a conservative family. Shortly after we met we were knocking over trays and bottles as we made out under the dim red lights of the darkroom, hiding from professors and photo students. After being separated for months on internships we found ourselves at Burning Man, naked and painted, running through the desert shooting Provia slide film. Karla yearned for her homeland and I was looking for some adventure. We decided to take a chance. I arranged to do my thesis on the indigenous fiestas of the Ecuadorian Andes and we headed south.

Buscando la Dulzura (Looking for the Sweetness). José Aurelio Davila takes the honey of the penco (agave) which they call ‘Chaguarmishky’ in Rumihuaico, Ecuador. This practice has been around long before the arrival of the Spanish and the syrup is said to have medicinal properties. #projectmibarrio
That was 2004, a lifetime ago. Since we weren’t married and Karlita’s father was old-school, I found myself separated from the house in a small subterranean cement room blessed with half a window for light to filter in. It was time to make a move. I found a spacious apartment for practically nothing in the city of Tumbaco. Now, I live in Rumihuaico, a small community on the outskirts of Tumbaco, a fifteen-minute walk from my first home. I’m older, and Karla and I are married. We’ve had some good fortune and have been lucky enough to get steady work. Ecuador turned out to be a good move.

Generaciones (Generations). Luz García, 100, sits with her great-granddaughter, Valentina, 3, in her house in Rumihuaico, Ecuador. Luz has lived here for 75 years. She remembers when the whole valley was farmland. Every year she hosts novenas in this room in which dozens of people come to pray for nine days right before Christmas. #projectmibarrio
As Karla’s belly was growing bigger with the baby, I was looking for a story I could really dig into without traveling too far from home. I began roaming the streets of Rumihuaico, casually documenting daily life with my iPhone. As I explored, I remembered what this place was like 10 years ago. Little old ladies walked their cows through the fields. Men gathered around to bet their monthly wages on cockfights. All of that was still here, but change was coming. Just as two bodies collided in that darkroom over a decade ago, two worlds were coming together here in Rumihauico.

Estilo. (Style). Ximena Arias is hairdresser and owner of Alta Peluquería in Tumbaco. Pichincha, Ecuador. #projectmibarrio
At first the changes were subtle. A KFC was erected in Tumbaco. A small housing development sprang up where there was once just farmland. But recently these changes seem to be coming at an exponential rate. Two monstrous shopping malls now tower over the neighboring city of Cumbayá. Quito’s international airport moved into the valley, clogging up all the roadways. Bulldozers carved out valleys and took down old houses, making the way for a superhighway that will run directly through my barrio.

Superautopista (Superhighway). This highway will eventually, in a year or so, run right through my barrio, which rests behind those clouds. #projectmibarrio
Literally, right before my eyes, the countryside is transforming into cities and suburbs. Advancement? That is a question that can’t be answered, but only asked by these photos. Will hundreds of years of ancestral knowledge be lost?

As I chatted with an elder he chuckled sadly and told me that none of his kids or grandkids ever pick up a hoe. As the older generation dies out, it is likely that most of their customs will go with them. Is it better for a teenage boy to know how to work the land or know how to work an iPad? What if he can do both? Can the sense of warmth and community that I see while walking the back roads survive as the city develops?

Contacto con Otro Mundo (Contact with Another World). Bridget Achance, 4, listens to Sublime for the first time in my office. #projectmibarrio
There are no right answers to these questions, but they definitely need to be asked. Change is coming, and it is coming fast. I think it is important to document it in order to understand what is happening in my barrio and all over the world. I know it may be selfish, but I sure will miss the “old Ecuador,” the one that is being replaced block by block.

Ivan Kashinsky is a freelance photographer based in Quito, Ecuador. He has worked with publications around the world, including National Geographic. Ivan founded Runa Photos in 2011 with his wife, Karla Gachet. Follow him on Instagram and see more work on his website.

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