Blog  Costa Rica: Using Photography to Understand Others

Costa Rica: Using Photography to Understand Others

By Paige Welikson, Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica 2 2017 Participant

If you know me, you know that I absolutely love photography. I always have my camera, ready to take a picture. My favorite type of photography is photojournalism- specifically photojournalism that explores people. It’s not an easy job, even when cameras are getting better and cheaper. The best photojournalists can capture the complexity of a single moment, their images can inspire empathy, fear, sadness, joy and everything in between. I know I’m nowhere near professional, but when I saw the activities we’d be doing on our trip with Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to further my skill while also helping a community.

What I realized when we traveled into La Carpio today was that my love of photojournalism could help me gain a better understanding of those who live there.

La Carpio is a small town on the outskirts of San Jose. The majority of its inhabitants are Nicaraguan immigrants. As you drive through its streets, you see small, tightly packed houses made of metal. Laundry hangs from clothing lines outside and stray dogs roam the street. The area isn’t the beautiful lush beaches and the mighty volcanoes of Costa Rica that many tend to see, but it has character.

People are quick to see an oversimplified version of poverty. They pity those who are perceived as “less fortunate” just as easily as they romanticize their struggles. Before coming to Costa Rica, I knew that nothing was this black or white, but visiting La Carpio helped me better understand.

While here, we only worked for about 5 hours. We saw a tiny amount of its residents’ lives. In terms of photography, it was one picture, but a multidimensional one at that. We saw two young brothers cry in the street, and girls our age listening to music on their phones. Children with backpacks and uniforms walked home from school hand in hand with their parents and a woman fed the stray dog who hung around the worksite. Seeing all this made me think that the first step to helping anybody is the same thing that makes a great photo: seeing things complexly.