Independent Photography

Archive for February, 2012

The Red Cross and fire

I spent the last Thursday to Sunday with the Red Cross unit here in Nosara.  Here is some key background about healthcare in Nosara: Healthcare in Costa Rica is universal, provided by the state.  Doctors and hospital services are allocated based on population size and density.  In Nosara, a town with a fluctuating population (due to tourism) health service are few.  The Red Cross (a non-governmental organization) set up to provide basic, essential, paramedic and emergency services.  However, due to the lack of adequate healthcare in the region they have slowly become the main providers of health services in Nosara and surrounding areas.  They cover everything from pregnancy, injuries, illness, even hospice services.  The government only reimburses the Red Cross for emergency services and the organization itself survives on donations and volunteers.  As a result, the Red Cross in Nosara has had to cut back on non-essential services in recent years.  The people of Nosara put the blame on the Red Cross, in reality the government has failed to provide adequate healthcare to the people of Nosara and are content to let the Red Cross shoulder their blame.


Victor Hugo, a full-time paramedic, answers the phone, this time its not an emergency but someone with the flu. Due to a lack of proper healthcare services in the Nosara region locals often turn to the Red Cross for minor health concerns. Despite the fact that it costs them money, money the state won't pay back, the Red Cross answers every call as if its an emergency,


Thursday: A simple affair, I followed Victor Hugo, a full-time paramedic, as he went about his evening shift.  Thursday’s are typically slow. He dealt with a dog bite and a sick infant then made dinner and relaxed.


Victor Hugo, one of three full-time paramedics at the Nosara Red Cross cleans and dresses a dog bite in the Santa Marta neighbourhood of Nosara. Although rabies has been eliminated from Costa Rica, dog bites are a major issue in the country infections can develop after.



Following the dog bite, Victor Hugo fills out an emergency report in his ambulance. Although the Red Cross operates independent of the Costa Rican state, the state health insurance provider will reimburse the Red Cross for emergency services. This is part of the states national healthcare strategy, these forms are vital for receiving reimbursement from the state and thus maintaining Red Cross operations.



After a long day Victor hugo eats dinner in the Red Cross office in Nosara. Shifts can be 8-12 hours and the office is open 24 hours a day, staff and volunteers nap in the dormitory's just to the left of Hugo. Further left, volunteers review notes from the days board of directors meeting before sending them to the Red Cross central office in San Jose for processing.


Friday: A quiet day for most of it.  In the evening I hoped in the back of a local’s SUV with Hugo.  The Red Cross has limited ambulances and on Friday they were all out (one was in repair, two were making trips to the nearest hospital, 60km away and the fourth was on a call).  The SUV took us to a house in Santa Marta, a neighborhood outside Nosara, inside a family’s matriarch was dying of emphysema.  Hugo told me after she had a week, maybe less.  He hooked her up to an oxygen tank, explained its use to the family and left.  I didn’t shoot a single frame, something about it seemed wrong, as there were 15 members of the family standing around me watching.  Although I had permission to take Hugo’s picture, I did not have the matriarch’s permission, I chose to respect her privacy.


Ilse Lopez Juárez, the office administrator takes a break from filing receipts and accounting to clean and dress a wound from a motorcycle accident. The staff at the Red Cross (three full-time paramedics, one administrator and 18 volunteers) is severely over worked due to a lack of political interest in extending healthcare services to Nosara.


Saturday: Another slow day, the crew at the office busied themselves with maintenance and cleaning.  At dusk I followed David Perez Montiel, a volunteer paramedic, to the Nosara soccer field.  The Red Cross sponsor’s a kids soccer team as part of a community outreach effort, he brought pop to give out to the kids at the end of the game.   That night the Red Cross had six different calls and had to make two trips to the hospital in Nicoya, 60km away.


Gustavo 'Pelon' Díaz, a volunteer driver and mechanic washes down an ambulance. Volunteers have their uniforms paid for and are given free meals while on shift. Despite that, Díaz says he volunteers to give back to the community and because he likes the people he works with.



Carlos Villalobos Espinoza (in red), president of the red Cross committee in Nosara fills out an emergency report, while volunteer paramedic Gabriel Chavarria Acevedo looks on holding supplies. In the room, volunteer paramedic David Perez Montiel attends to a patient with epilepsy. The patient was later transferred from his home in Nosara to the Nicoya hospital, 60km, away for treatment.


Sunday Morning: I was offered breakfast, consisting of fried pork and fried cheese in a tortilla, as well as a trip home to Guiones beach in the ambulance.  On our way back, as we rounded the second to last corner, the road was filled with police and firefighters.  I realized this was the fire my boss had texted me about earlier that morning.  Because there hadn’t been any injuries the Red Cross wasn’t called, I asked them to stop and I hopped out and started shooting.  Unfortunately, I missed the flames, which had been doused by 8-8:30, I arrived at 10:30 and was only able to catch firefighters dousing hotspots.


Firefighters from Nicoya work to douse a few remaining hots sports at a fire just outside of Nosara. Volunteer firefighters from Nosara had the blaze 80% under control by the time 'professionals' arrived from Nicoya (60km away). The cause of the fire remains unknown, one volunteer freighter speculated that a power line fell on dry leaves while the property owner blamed arsonists.


This one was my favourite because of the faces.


Firefighters from Nicoya work to douse a few remaining hots sports at a fire just outside of Nosara. Volunteer firefighters from Nosara had the blaze 80% under control by the time 'professionals' arrived from Nicoya (60km away). The cause of the fire remains unknown, one volunteer freighter speculated that a power line fell on dry leaves while the property owner blamed arsonists.


I also saw the paper copy for this month; I have about 90% of the photo credits in it… Now its back to work.

Paz siempre,

Adam Dietrich

Days of sun and boredom

The last couple of days have been real slow, I didn’t shoot anything on the 30th.  However, all of that changes today, I’m headed out of the office for four days and living with the local Red Cross unit until Sunday.

In Costa Rica, there is universal access to health care, although the state covers most healthcare costs and processes, paramedic work is carried out by the Red Cross then billed to the state insurance provider.  In Nosara there is an issue though, many of the locals understand that the Red Cross provides paramedic services, however, when they call sometimes there’s no answer…  The reason is because all emergency services are routed through the 911 system here, which is based out of San Jose, the number most people call, is the administrative office of the Red Cross in Nosara.

Really its an issue of popular misconception… why call 911 in San Jose, when the Red Cross is in Nosara?  Except the number for the Red Cross is their administrative line…  So the idea of this piece will be to dispel some popular myths about the Red Cross and hopefully open up the organization to people here.

For me it’s an opportunity for a hell of a picture story, maybe some multimedia too.  The access is pretty incredible, as the Red Cross station is staffed 24 hours, I’ll be with them the entire time and I’ll likely be following them on calls.

In the interim here are some photos for yesterday… I camped out at the edge of the beach, read a lot and shot some random stuff and more sunsets…

A man wades ashore with his fishing net empty after an unsuccessful attempt, while birds, I think a type of Heron? continue to look for fish. Everyday right before dusk the edges of the beach are filled with locals fishing.

Those birds were huge… but they weren’t the only ones.

A.... I think they're some kind of Turkey Vulture? Circles over the ocean looking for fish

The moon too is consistently visible in the sky from about 2pm on.  Its kinda cool to see them both there as the sun and the moon control the tides and thus in a way, beach life.

The moon, clearly visible at about 4pm.

Low tide reveals these sea rocks everywhere, worn and shaped by the ocean into weird shapes.  In the pools left by the ebb tide there are tiny crabs and minnows.  I picked up a seashell thinking it looked nice… it turned out there was a hermit inside.

A man makes his way across the beach shortly before dusk, in front of him is a field of sea rocks which will be covered by the tide in about an hour.

Then the sun started to set in earnest, so I made my way back…

An elderly couple watches the sun set in some beach chairs they brought out.

And another…

a man standing in the shallows watches as the sun dips below the horizon.

***The following contains camera talk, follow the hyperlinks to better understand***

I recently watched a PBS documentary on Ansel Adams, perhaps one of the most famous fine art photographers in history.  He belonged to an informal group of photographers (painters have ‘movements’ photographers have ‘clubs’) called ‘the f/64 club.’  So named because they would shoot landscapes at f/64, which means the aperture of the lens is super small, which means the depth of field is huge which means the area in focus is huge.  Back then too (the 20’s) film (or rather glass plates) had really low light sensitivty, well below what we would call ISO 50…  Until now I’ve never had a lens combo that lets me shoot at f/64, they’ve always capped out at f/22.  However, the 135 and the 2x extender make this possible.  So just after the sun went below the horizon I found a rock, stabled the camera on it, set it to ISO 50 (the lowest I can go), f/64 and a 30 second exposure.  The low light sensitivity meant really smooth tones, the slow shutter speed turned the ocean to fluff and the narrow aperture made everything sharp enough.

A rock sits in the surf just after sunset. I can't wait until my medium format gets here, I have some Ilford Pan F plus (50 ISO) to use...

Then I decide to cast myself in the photo.  I set the timer and ran in.  The distance from camera to rock was about 75-80m so it took me  just a little more than the 10 second timer to run in, however, because of the 30 second exposure I still had time.  Looking at this photo though, I think it too should be in black and white…

Nice end to the day

Well thats it.  My boss will be here in about an hour, then I’m off to Nosara.  I intend to post this coming Sunday, which I’m sure will be a  long night of editing…

Paz siempre,

Adam Dietrich