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Ivan Kashinsky

Submitted by on October 27, 2011 – 3:56 pm

Ivan Kashinsky is a freelance photographer based in Quito, Ecuador. His work has been published in National Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and Geo, among others.  Ivan has traveled from El Alto, Bolivia, documenting lucha libre for National Geographic to the Bogota Savannah, where he explored the mammoth flower industry for the Smithsonian.  He was born in LA in 1977 and relocated to South America in 2004.  Kashinsky fell in love with photography when he picked up his father’s Nikon and began documenting his teenage life.

TribalTruth is pleased to present Ivan Kashinsky's photographs of  South America with his story entitled Fiestas of the Andes. 


The dust from the paramo wrapped around dancing forms in brightly colored ponchos before reaching towards the condors of the Andes.  Oranges flew through the cold mountain air as hands sprang up to meet them.  A man on horseback waved to the spectators with a giant grin of satisfaction as he reached into his bag for more fruit. Ten foot-long tubes called bocinas rose into the air, the rich sound bounced off the mountain walls.  Large drums with a deep sound were beaten as men dressed in costumes and head-dresses covered in colors and mirrors, honored the power of the sun, as the Incas did hundred of years ago.

A virtual army of family and friends helped to prepare the fiesta. The smells of corn, potatoes, chicken, and roasted cuy, or guinea pig, filled the air as thick blankets of smoke escaped from the small windows of dwellings made of cement blocks and adobe.  Inside, women stirred enormous pots of mote, or hominy, as fires burn below.  Little girls worked at their sides doing what their ancestors had done for hundreds of years.  Quick whispers in Quichua, a pre-Colombian language, slipped through the smoke, occasionally ending in bursts of laughter.

Throughout the fiesta, villagers gathered in small churches and sang catholic songs in Quichua.  They were sung in high pitch voices and the powerful, almost haunting, sound echoed off the churches’ cold walls.  Older indigenous women and men who still farm the land brought crops into the church.  After mass the priest sprinkled holy water on the crops and on paintings of Jesus and other Catholic saints.

Catholic influences were highly visible during the fiestas, because the Spanish conquistadors placed Catholic celebrations over indigenous harvest festivities in order to convert the locals. Large churches were built over the native people’s sacred places. But the Spanish conquistadors were unsuccessful in completely stomping out indigenous traditions.

In Otavalo, a city where indigenous pride runs high, rituals were celebrated throughout the year with an amazing respect for nature, the basis of pre-Colombian belief.  During the summer solstice, when corn is harvested, the fiesta of Inti-Raymi, or Celebration for the Sun, took over the northern Ecuadorian Andes. Offerings, including food, soil, water, fire, and chicha, a fermented corn drink, were presented to pachamama, or mother earth. Large groups of people bathed under Peguche falls and other places considered sacred to the indigenous the night before the fiesta began. They believed that the water gave them the energy to dance for days.

In many of these Andean communities the young had abandoned their agricultural life to make it in the larger cities, leaving the old to care for the toddlers.  But these young men and women came back for the fiesta.  They brought aspects of their city life to their communities, converging modern symbols found in global mass media with ancient traditions.  Many of the fiestas included reenactments of the Spanish Conquest and even became violent at times.   The ever-evolving celebrations of the Andes were filled with joy, as people revisited their roots, and pain, as the violent injustices of the past were remembered. They were lessons in history, evidence of atrocities, and a cathartic celebration of a people who have work too hard for too little, for too long.  Fortunately, in communities such as Otavalo and Cotocachi, a wave of indigenous pride has increased tourism, sparked global and local movements of awareness, and spread commerce of music and goods throughout the world.

In 2009 Ivan and Karla Gachet, Ivan’s wife, and fellow photojournalist, completed an epic journey from the Equator to Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America.   Throughout the journey they posted photos and text on their blog, which has received over 24,000 visitors.   Their trip culminated in the book Historias Mínimas, published by Dinediciones, and an exhibition at the Centro Cultural Metropolitano, Quito, attracting thousands of people.

To see more of Ivan Kashinsky's work, visit his website: ivankphoto.com and runaphotos.com, a collaborative site with his wife Karla.

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