When we travel, Katrina and I always search for a distinctive souvenir to bring home. Like most people, we want to remember the places we’ve been and the adventures we’ve had. That’s why there’s a gigantic, horned mask affixed to our living room wall that stares menacingly at our friends and family. It’s a bit evil, but it reminds us of exploring the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica. From Nova Scotia we took home a polished black river stone that an artist had etched with an intricate depiction of two salmon, a fish important enough to the region that it has its own museum. In fact, we found the stone displayed in the Margaree Salmon Museum on the last of a five-day cycling trip around Cape Breton Island. In my office is an oil painting from Traverse City, a green landscape with smudges of reds and oranges and yellows, which reminds me perfectly of a trip we took to Michigan one autumn.
At first glance, our souvenir from Argentina doesn’t look very Argentine — no more Argentine than us, anyway. That’s because our souvenir is a portrait of us — portraits actually, two side-by-side ambrotypes. We had them made by two photographers in Buenos Aires, a couple who started Studio Fotín last year in their apartment in San Telmo, the neighborhood where Katrina and I rented an apartment of our own for three weeks. We were lucky enough to meet one of the photographers, Meghan Stone, a few days before our flight home and asked if we could swing by for a portrait session.
Now this is some old school photography. No need to get into details, which I don’t really understand anyway. But we’re talking 1850s-style photography with the images developed on glass plates in a dark room; their apartment smells of collodion and silver nitrate. Meghan and her boyfriend, Juan Pablo Barrientos, were fabulous to work with and are both extremely creative and talented. They made us espresso when we arrived and spent time telling us about their portrait process. Each exposure took five seconds — uno…. dos…. tres…. cuatro…. cinco…. — which is a fair amount of time not to blink or breath. After each, Meghan let us go into the dark room, where she swirled a liquid chemical over the clear glass plate until a ghostly outline of ourselves started to appear. A much cooler way to see yourself than on an LCD screen.
The next morning, a few hours before our flight, I ran by their apartment to pick up our souvenir. They had brushed black paint on the backside of each glass plate to make the portraits stand out strong and had a few prints made for us as well. Well worth every peso. ¡Gracias, Meghan y Juan!
The white earrings Katrina is wearing, made from seashells, are from an artesian’s shop in Cafayate. The whiskers I’m wearing were collected along our way from the mountains of Patagonia to the streets of Buenos Aires. Maybe I should have worn a guacho hat, too. Anyway, we may not look Argentine, but I have a feeling these portraits will always remind us of our time in Argentina. And they’ll be around long after the wine is gone….