Roll #47-49: San Juan (Part I)

Updated: May 20

Three years ago I boarded a plane bound for Puerto Rico. It was my first visit and I must admit, I was excited. Uncontrollable, teeth chattering, knee bouncing excitement---but there was an uncertainty to this excitement. I didn't know what to expect. Like Ferdinand Magellan on his attempt to circumnavigate the globe, I felt as though I was venturing into the unknown. *Cue Frozen II Soundtrack*


With each return to the island, this uncertainty has dissipated as I venture into the familiar---allowing me to better take in all the people, places, food, and culture Puerto Rico has to offer.

During my travels I've found I see things differently than my companions---some might say, through a different lens. It's through this lens I've found myself attracted to specific qualities of the island others might overlook: the light, the shadows, the textures, the subtle difference between freshly applied paint and the centuries-old paint beneath.

At first glance, some things seem ordinary---and for most people, they are. But for those that look closely, the intersection of lines, the color gradient of the sky, the rust, and the contrast of colors on a basketball court, become art. Just like Monet's Water Lilies, the court, the posts, the walls, and adjacent structures, deserve contemplation from the viewer.

In this painting, the blue sky is a base coat---the backdrop for man-made structures and an opportunity for each to highlight their individuality. Telephone lines, like crosses become scars interrupting the azure continuum.

Pastels scream.


Subtle becomes bold.


Once they have your attention, it's impossible to look away---impossible to envision any other way.

Bold is the norm. Classic colors and contours blend in with the distinct palette offered by San Juan. Each chromatic variation a challenge to the bland aesthetics which control our daily life.

A wall surrounds. Despite a design to defend, to the traveler, it welcomes. Just as the wall was built brick by brick, the passerby records the scene to memory---brick by brick. Each brick a whisper from the past to carry in the present.

No matter how far you wander, it remains---even if it's only as a memory, it remains. Mortar, like the culture of Puerto Rico, holds it all together.

Pigeons propagate excitement with their confusion. Each rustle of the feathers, twist of the head, or precarious step, transforms into a salsa with thousands of willing partners. Others however, prefer to dance alone.

The morning sun is strong and quickly drenches the island in light. There is no escaping it---no hiding. Even in a hotel room the light pierces through windows and curtains---reflects off mirrors and tiles---calling you to wake.

Even conformity---repetition when done right, creates beautifully continuous patterns bounded by the sky. People play in the patterns---transporting themselves from one fully immersive art exhibit to another. Each step another note in the visual symphony.

As much as San Juan seems an amalgamation of different emotions, it is, in and of itself, an emotion rivaling any you have felt before. It's an emotion which takes you prisoner and if you escape---an emotion that will have you running back.

Camera: Canon AE-1 (28mm f/2.8) & Olympus Stylus 120

Film: Kodak Ultramax 400 & Kodak Portra 160

When: February & March 2020

Where: San Juan, PR

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Washington, D.C., USA 

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©2019 by Taylor Mackay