Elaine Minionis street/documentary Photography
Our Neighbors/Nuestros Vecinos
The documentary series “Our Neighbors” represents my personal attempt to meet my own neighbors through the observance of their houses’ windows and clotheslines. The term “neighbor” doesn’t refer here to the immediate person living next door; but it relates to the dramatic separation of the social classes in such a divided country like Venezuela, where two completely different socio-economic worlds exist and fight within the city of Caracas, becoming one a neighbor of the other.
In Venezuela, social classes are drastically differentiated by the zones where people live in. Being Caracas the valley that it is, it becomes impossible to overlook the huge mountains that enclose the city. Many of these are crammed with thousands of modest little houses made of brick, aluminum, cardboard or mud, forming these lawless and impenetrable lands called barrios; communities built by poor people for poor people, feared by upper and middle classes because of its danger and violence, anarchy, denseness, insecurity, codes of ethics, crime, etc. The general conviction is that “otherness” is mostly not tolerated within these neighborhoods: those who live in the barrios do come down the hills, but those who live below should not come up. By belonging to the second group, we were raised with that fear in our heads, and the news never revealed anything different.
For this series, all images were taken from the window of a moving car. As an outsider, I entered this picturesque barrio called “El Calvario” located in the municipality El Hatillo, quickly traveling extremely narrow, steep streets and dead ends, surreptitiously raising my analog camera to photograph the windows and clotheslines of the houses that we were passing by. To me, these two subjects became my thresholds: the use of the geographical space by means of their houses could become an expression of how they are, a barely-open book to their lifestyle, beliefs, stories, routines, even the color of their world. Also, clotheslines and windows were the most personal and immediately noticeable elements from my outsider’s point of view, which allowed me to appreciate individuality within a community of equal basic constructions.
Overwhelmed by the opportunity of transgressing into a dangerous unknown place for such a short time, the distance didn’t give me any other option but to idealize, only seeing beauty in the colors, in the humbleness, in the topography, in the unity and in the customs, starting to build up this visual “poetic of the rancho” (hovel) that I’ve never seen this close before.
Separated in the first place by belonging to the middle class, every photograph from this body of work is a starting point to imagine about something I cannot belong to, making of them quaint assumptions of stories that are automatically sheltered behind closed doors. This is why my exploration becomes a subjective way of understanding “the others” who simultaneously live in my own city.
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