Carlos Jaramillo's Pigeons
RFP Who is Erislandy? How did you meet him?
CJ Erislandy lives in Old Havana, Cuba. I met him while I was exploring around Cuba at a time when I was frustrated from a failed project I had in mind. I went to Cuba with high expectations of executing a project I proposed only realizing that I went with a documentary crew and multiple photographers who where trying to expose the same thing. At the time I said screw it and wanted to just enjoy my time in Cuba and explore it the most authentic way possible and not to shoot the typical street photography we see all the time. During this time my friend and I went exploring inside abandoned buildings and others that were falling apart that people lived in. We ended up on roof that had an amazing view of Old Havana and from across the roof I saw a man playing with his pigeons. Somehow he was instructing them where to go. I was pretty amazed by it and yelled over to him if I could come over. He quickly waved his arm towards us inviting us to come over. Once we found where he lived he told us that he raises and races pigeons. He had 3 different shacks where a lot of pigeons were being raised. I then spent my last 3 days shooting with him and it was one of the most amazing things that could have happened to me there. Since then I've had multiple people I've never met contact me, wanting to meet Erislandy. They've gone over to his home with my photos and other gifts to give him all just to meet his pigeons.
RFP How big is pigeon racing in Cuba?
CJ It's hard for me to say how big pigeon racing is in Cuba. It felt very niche since I only met two pigeon racers. They both had trophies and they where extremely passionate about what they do. I think it might be similar to how it is here [in New York City], the majority of people don't even know about it. Erislandy gets guests from all over the world, primarily Europe, who come to him to buy his pigeons. He wraps them in newspaper and I guess they put them in their luggage. I'm not really sure how this works out but he told me they fly them back to their countries.
RFP What brought you to Cuba?
CJ I came to Cuba because my friend Eby went on a trip a couple times to help out the skate and art community in Havana. I went through a program and the idea was to help bring as much skate and art supply to help give away for the people in need. At the time I was working for some skate companies and they were awesome enough to donate a lot of products, and all the program needed us to do was carry duffel bags full of products and pay for it to get on a plane and set off to our destination. After that, I felt a bit useless and they didn't seem to care what we did when we got there. I was hoping it would be a bit more hands-on but it wasn't. I'm contemplating going back to shoot more with Erislandy. Shooting with him and his birds was an amazing experience and I feel like I could dig in deeper and meet more pigeons racers. I hope everyone there is okay after the hurricanes, I know they got hit pretty hard.
RFP Your latest project has taken you to prisons in Lima, Peru, and you'll be returning soon to keep shooting. How's that experience been?
CJ Shooting in the prisons of Lima was probably one of the most craziest experience I've been in. I don't really think there's any words to describe how insane it was. Maybe it's not as crazy as it seems, people were extremely nice and inviting but the idea is insane. I also experienced an insane amount of corruption with the cops inside these prisons and saw and learned a lot about the prison systems in Lima that people typically talk about but there's nothing anyone can do to fix it. My friend Willy, who did a collaboration with a guy from Lima who taught inmates how to make clothes, invited me to come out there and explore one of the prisons. It's extremely easy to go inside the prison to visit and explore all you want on your own but once a camera got involved, it got very complicated. It eventually led to me visiting another prison to shoot in and now working on a project based on these two prisons in Lima. The plan is to go back with a stronger plan and also have a writer from Lima join me to help execute the project at a larger scale.
RFP You told me your liason there the first time you went, the head warden, was fired right before you got there. Can you tell me that story again?
CJ So I went there with absolutely no plan. The fact that I eventually got inside a prison with a camera was luck. My first visit inside the prison without a camera was incredible. The inmates we met through our body guard, who is an ex-inmate at the same prison, introduced us to the head warden of the prison. He was extremely nice and I told him how I wanted to take pictures of the prison for a personal project. He invited me to come back the following week and gave me permission to take pictures. Two days later, my mom who lived in Florida sends me a text and asked me if I saw the news about how the warden got fired after he was accused of letting a prisoner escape. I then got another text from my cab driver saying the same thing and asking what the plan is, since that warden was my only access. I was bummed that the timing was so bad. It was all over the news and every news media was wanting to get inside this prison. I eventually was able to speak to some people who gave me access. It was a very stressful situation to be in especially being some random guy who's asking for a favor to a government official. Luckily, I knew someone who is connected, and they did everything they could to help me out.
RFP Hopefully that won't happen again! So what comes next with that work?
CJ Planning on going back with my friend, Anais, who's a really talented writer from Lima and plan to collaborate with her on this project. We have the right connections now and we're going in with a plan. We'll see how everything goes, I don't want to have high expectations because you never know how things can turn out with these kinds of situations. Anything can happen at the last minute but that's the risk we're willing to take. You'll be the first to hear and see how everything turns out!
RFP Are you working on anything else?
CJ I'm constantly working on commercial jobs that helps make money to continue my personal projects for traveling and other expenses. I'm about to purchase a car and I have some projects in mind to start up here in the states. The car will be a major game change for me to help carry around my equipment and explore areas that aren't accessible through public transportation.
behind the scenes photos by Cheney Orr