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Existential crisis, revisited

There but for the grace of God: A house in a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima. Photo by Rebecca "Rebel" Verner.

Many moons ago, I visited PerĂº for the first time as an adult. I was a second-year art student and somehow piggybacked an independent study on top of my vacation. So, I dutifully brought my sketchbook along, hoping to fill the pages with brilliant observations and fodder for future paintings.

To be sure, everything I saw was new and visually stimulating. But I returned to Minnesota with only a handful of half-hearted sketches. I had tried doing some pieces on the shantytowns, or "pueblos jovenes" outside Lima, which, for all the misery they embody, do have a certain visual beauty. But in the face of such mean poverty and a civil war that was in full swing at the time, the act of drawing or even thinking about art felt, in a word, selfish.

By contrast, I've had no problems taking pictures on any subsequent trips. With photography, I'm able to tell myself and believe that it's worthwhile, because I'm documenting the experience and the place. If it happens to be artful, all the better. And with this blog, the photographs become even more important. They serve as catalysts for discussion and reflection about how and why the world is how it is.

The photo above, by the way, was taken by Rebecca Verner, whose nickname is Rebel. She has two sites that are very interesting. Rebel's Peruvian Adventure documents her experiences volunteering at an orphanage in one of Lima's poor neighborhoods. It's a good, uplifting read and there seems to be a new development every day. Her Flickr site contains photos that help to illustrate many of her blog entries.

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