This interview was previously published in our sister publication, CasaLife magazine. Inspired by Miriam Calzada’s stunning photography and commitment to sharing the Dominican Republic’s changing environmental landscape with citizens near and far, we stopped by her home in Santo Domingo to view maps of the areas she’s charted and hear her determination to incite change. This interview came to life:
Over the past two decades, she has traveled across the Dominican Republic capturing its mysterious corners, oldest trees, and most recently, breathtaking rivers. With so many details unknown about the country’s landscape, Miriam Calzada sets out with her Hasselblad in hand and brings the island’s remote areas to our doorstep. For many of us, she is our eyes, offering a window to the unknown, and an awareness on mankind’s effect on nature. Since her book “Pacto con la Tierra” published in 2006, Miriam realized how poor the knowledge is of our rivers – their endangerment through pollution, deforestation, and water scarcity. So came “Pacto con las Aguas,” a magnificent journey, largely uncharted, where she has hiked mountains and camped under the vast sky to unveil and uplift the sanctity of nature.
“Living in the city it’s easy to forget about the silence, but it has an enriching energy.” – Miriam Calzada
How did the formation of your first show “Pacto con la Tierra” come together?
Years ago, after I dropped my kids off at school I started traveling. I would make trips every week, sometimes contacting helicopters. I would go around the island and back; you would never realize I was in Bahia de las Aguilas one morning and be back in the capital having lunch with my friends the same afternoon. I was doing it with no plan, just returning to my photography. I was having a great life. I was good friends with an architect, Micky Villa, who marked an era in architecture in this country, and it was he who encouraged me to go into the art world.
Is it the mission of “Pacto con las Aguas” to sensitize and educate Dominicans on water conservation?
I’m concerned about the word educate; with this book I am first creating an awareness, and showing viewers what’s available that they’re not seeing. I suppose awareness is a form of education. Sometimes I come back from a photographic trip and am charged with all this energy from something I saw or heard that needs to be improved. It’s photography, but it has become environmentalism and humanitarianism as well.
Which rivers do you want to continue to document?
Even though it is my artistic work, I want to give back. I have maps with my own coordinates and I take my GPS to follow the rivers. No document exists right now to show a river’s changing nature. I want to continue to photograph Rio Ozama, which is where the eastern part of Santo Domingo receives its water sources; Arti Bonito, the only river left for Haiti which originates in the Dominican Republic; and Yaque del Norte, Yaque del Sur, and Rio Mao, which are significant to agriculture in our region. These rivers are born in the mountains, and I hope for people to see the trajectory of each river through my images.
What spirit of the land are you capturing?
From one setting, the most photographs I take is three or four, and they’re on different scales or stages of life, from a miniature detail on the ground to the eagle view from above. What I want to embody, I can see ahead of time in the picture. It’s very innate. I don’t pretend to be a poet but I write about the feeling I had the moment I took the picture.
How do you feel your attitude has shifted over the years knowing these environmental issues?
I am more aware and involved. I attend environmental conferences and am invited to speak. Now when I stand by a tree it’s different than before. I have respect for the years that tree has been there. I can contemplate better. It’s sad we don’t learn that earlier in life, to listen to nature.
What projects do you envision for the future?
I want to document Dominican women. I started paying attention to the women of Villa Francisca and how they look happy. Buses from all over the country stop in this sector. They’re our neighbors but it’s another life. They are lost in the middle of the city. They don’t have much, and wake in the morning without knowing if there will be water. Often the women have three jobs and are the sole providers for their children, but they never forget about themselves. They do their hair extensions on the street, wear makeup, and try to have a new blouse. I started a project to show how cool they are, how resilient. They are amazing, and they are not crying.
With your work what individuals do you most want to reach?
As I look to a future exhibition, I want to get the message to those who can make a difference. I want to reach the people who live in the mountains. In one of my trips, I spoke with a woman 40 years of age who has had no education and walks her children two hours to school everyday. She throws all of her trash to the back of her house which falls to the river; she’s not conscious of what she’s doing. She should be made aware of the impact of pollution, and moreover the malpractices of chemical dumping and deforestation. She is a witness and, these days with technology, can report on injustices. It’s not about turning off the water from the faucet when you brush your teeth, it’s the social responsibility we all have to ensure our rivers are not destroyed at their origins.
* Photography by Miriam Calzada