During a trip through his native Argentina, photographer Federico Cabrera experienced something that struck him: first, he noticed hundreds of tourists taking photos of the local people in low-income communities, often without their knowledge or consent. Then, in an ironic twist, he learned that most locals didn’t own a single photo of themselves or their loved ones. That’s when he came up with the idea for “Their Only Portrait" a one-man 4,000 mile bike-tour along the Cordillera de los Andes on a mission to provide families with necessary items most of us take for granted in our homes: a physical record of family history and access to electricity.
In October of 2015, Cabrera set off from La Quiaca, way up north at the Bolivian border, travelling all the way to Ushuaia at the continent’s southern tip, giving away printed photos and solar Luci lights along the way. We spoke with Federico about one of his most memorable encounters so far:
“I met Tito while setting up my tent under the eaves of an abandoned police station in Fortin Arenales. After lending me a hand with the local well, Tito introduced me to the neighborhood. He and his wife live in a small property off the main road, while his kids and grandkids have long since moved away – there aren’t many opportunities in the town. They live just like their ancestors, living off a small herd of animals and what the forest provides – mainly wild honey and fruits. The only modern amenity Tito owns is a small solar panel on lease that intermittently powers the few light bulbs they own."
"After I explained my project 3 or 4 times, he called over his wife and neighbors to pose with him. Before I could print it, I had to again reassure him that the photo was free, no strings attached. We chatted for a long while after, drinking mate and swapping stories. When I revisited Fortin Arenales on the return trip, I found Tito at the front of his house – he recognized me immediately and welcomed me in. I couldn’t be happier to see the small 4x6 print I gave him as the sole decoration on his bare walls.”
Now, Cabrera is getting the mobile studio ready for a new trip to one of the most resource lacking regions in the country, and he’s added water filters to the roster of portraits and Luci lights. He hopes his project will inspire others to find their own way of giving back. You can read more about Federico and contribute here.