My parents emigrated from Uruguay to Australia when I was 18 months old. With my extended family still in Uruguay, I never had the opportunity to really know my relatives−particularly my grandmother, who always seemed to be really old to me. The brief, scrambled international phone calls throughout my childhood did little for me to understand who I was and where I had come from.
In 2002, I went to Uruguay for my grandmother’s hundredth birthday. She had grown up in a rural community at the turn of the twentieth century, and I would always ask her about her childhood whenever possible. She described the first time she saw a car with her sister and the difficulties of living without running water or electricity. She showed me my great- grandfather’s parole photograph. He had killed a man for stealing his horse. Her stories of her childhood played out in my head like a cinematic black and white movie and became the catalyst for my decision to shoot in black and white film. I chose Kodak Tri-X 400 in 35mm format for its extreme latitude and paired it with Microdol developer to tighten up the grain on large prints. There are many other practical reasons why I chose to see this project in black and white, but ultimately both the execution and the choice of film came from a desire to simplify my approach to photography.
After my grandmother’s birthday, I headed north near the Brazilian border. Initially, I approached people on the side of the road, at gas stations and in bars. Eventually I was introduced to a ranch owner who invited me out to his cattle station. The isolated ranch sat about 40 miles from the main road. There were four adults and one child living on the ranch with no neighbors in sight. The solitude was intense for an urban dweller, and I could see how it had defined their character. I followed them around, randomly photographing their day-to-day lives, while trying to stay out of the way. They were generous people with little to spare who appreciated my company. It wasn’t long before I saw a mirror of my own upbringing and of the values that my parents had instilled in me. It was a threshold moment in my life, and this trip would become a model for the entire series.