As cyclists, it is hard to quantify what we get out of riding our bikes. It is a sport and lifestyle that gives us endless enjoyment as well as countless memories and experiences in the locations we see and with the people we meet along the way.
Buenos Aires photographer Federico Cabrera and his “ Their Only Portrait” project ask the simple question, “What if we all gave back a little more along the way?”
At the end of October, aboard an Advocate Cycles Hayduke Ti, Federico will be taking off on a 4000-mile bike tour along the Cordillera de los Andes from La Quiaca to Ushuaia giving away 1000 printed portraits along the way. In addition he will be giving away portable solar lanterns to people who need them most.
Federico came up with the idea for this project during his previous travels. In underdeveloped areas he would often notice hundreds of tourists taking photos of the local people without showing much if any respect for the subject. Furthermore, he learned that many of these local people did not possess a single family portrait of their own. With this realization, the idea for “Their Only Portrait” was born.
During his upcoming bike tour, Federico plans to make family portraits of the local people he meets along the way while riding thousands of miles through developing communities. To do this, he will bring a small portable photography studio along, which will allow him to create and give each family a printed copy of their photo. His intention is simply to give back to local communities and hopefully inspire other people to find their own way to give back.
We caught up with Federico in the final days of preparation before taking off on his tour to find out a little bit more about his project.
RK: First off, I want to say that this is such a great idea. We all dream about long rides and adventures, but to connect with people in such a personal way is very special. I can only imagine the remarkable people you will meet along the way, but what excites you most? Is it the adventure of a long ride or the adventure of the new faces and communities that you will surely find in the process?
FC: Thank you! It’s certainly both, but if I had to choose just one it would be the people I’ll be able to meet along the road. The portraits are the most important part of my trip and so the people are central to this idea and I want to make these portraits the best I can, even when that means carrying gear that is definitively not light or “bike friendly” such as the Studio flash & printer and possibly even an umbrella for lighting.
RK: Surely there are many other ways to visit these communities and meet these people. What is it about bicycle travel that you enjoy most? Have you done other long rides like this in the past?
FC: I have, and I still remember the freedom I felt exploring Patagonia on a self-supported bicycle trip almost 20 years ago. On a ride like this it is so easy to appreciate nature and blend in with the environment. It is by far the best way to relate with local people, and to engage with life in its every form.
RK: No doubt, this is a long bike ride. How long do you think it will take you to complete this adventure?
FC: For this trip I’m also collaborating with Fundacion Ruta 40 (a local NGO contributing in the comprehensive development of rural schools) to make & print their students’ portraits. Depending on how many schools I manage to visit before the end of classes in December, it should take around 4 months to make it to Ushuaia.
RK: I see from your photos that you have done some portraits for families in preparation for this project. What kind of reactions have you received from people that you gave portraits to?
FC: Yes, I already did two trips through some of Argentina’s most remote & wild areas in an effort to put myself and my gear to the test before the main trip. Outside of the big cities, most people are very shy with strangers, especially at Argentina’s original communities, and are not used to big flashes, photometers, and the rest of the gear I’m carrying along on these trips. It usually takes them a while to understand what I’m doing and that it is a gift for them to keep, for free, even with other printed portraits as examples. Usually, as soon as someone is brave enough to pose for the camera and they see a familiar face in print, they want their family portrait taken and one of just their kids as well, because they don’t know when they might be able to get another one.
RK: Will you be updating on your progress along the way? Where would someone be able to check in on your adventure in the coming months?
FC: Yes, I’m traveling with satellite technology to keep people abreast of my progress online. You’ll be able to track my daily progress on the project website at www.theironlyportrait.com and also keep up with regular updates through social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
RK: We wish you well on your journey. Thanks so much for letting us be a part of your project.