Revisiting Terceira Island

I am lucky. My grandparents on my father's side immigrated in the early 1900s from the Azorean island of Terceira to Hanford in the San Joaquin Valley, where my grandfather started a dairy farm. Additionally, my mother chose to investigate her in-laws' homeland 40 years ago and fell in love with the people there and the traditions they have been carefully passing down for hundreds of years. Her subsequent work in Portugal and the Azores, along with the work she has done with the Kuna people of Panama, have come to define her distinguished career as an anthropologist and museum director. She currently is the director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum at UC Berkeley. 

This trip was my first time back in 15 years, and the thing I take away as much as anything is a sense that very little of what is important has changed on Terceira. Certainly, as a Portuguese autonomous region and a part of the EU, the island has advanced technologically, and the trappings of modernity are there. But the population is actually smaller than it was last time I was there, and the houses and roads are still made the same way they were 50 years ago. There is no sprawl, there are no chains or amusement parks. The 'highway' that was built 10 or so years ago between the airport and Angra Do Heroismo, the historical capital of the Azores,  blends in perfectly with the quiet landscape and would be considered a quaint road in most other places. 

Young Azoreans have eagerly taken the torch of tradition in ways that surprised me. They are in the bands that play in the streets during neighborhood celebrations, they are handing out food and wine during Festas, they are running in the streets with the bulls (or watching from windows). The young are farming and singing Desafio (think freestyle rap).  But on Terceira, the old are not forgotten and they are not relegated to quiet years of solitude. This is at the heart of what is so special to me about the island –– the sense of community is overwhelming. Azoreans take for granted that they will regularly come together in ways that don't happen in the part of the world I live in. Whole neighborhoods sit down for dinner together at long tables set for 250 or more. Neighbors parade through their streets singing, and laughing and drinking together. They mark one another's occasions in grand fashion, and everyone –– old, young, poor, sick, rich –– is welcome. Even the American with the camera. 

I took 2,000 pictures over 6 days. I carted all my lighting gear, diffusers, tripods, etc. I never used them. In fact, I basically had my d90 with an 50mm 1.4 (75m with crop) on it over one shoulder and my d700 with a 20mm 2.8 over the other. The d700 stood up well at night, the d90 gave me focal length when I needed it. Mainly I just tried to photograph what was in front of me. Since it's often foggy, light was pretty even. Nice for people, tuff on landscapes but interesting and moody. Since I've been a kid, the part of the festivities that enticed me most has always been the Tourada a Corda (Bullfight on Rope). I know that not all people will share my enthusiasm for this sort of thing, but Hemingway did, and that's what counts.   

So, mom and I were there to update her work documenting the traditions surrounding the celebration of the Holy Ghost Festival (Festa do Divino Espirito Santo) throughout the island. Festivities revolve around the crowning of a person in the neighborhood at the local Imperio –– a tiny chapel with distinct architecture located in each neighborhood and the hub of all Festas. These photos will hopefully appear in an exhibition at UC Berkeley in the near future and one day make it into a book. I hope the photographs below speak more articulately than the words above, or at least help make some sense of them. Thanks for stopping by... If you have interest in seeing more images of the Azores, please feel free to visit my site where I have put up a gallery of images from my Nikons and one of photos made with my iPhone: