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Friday, March 27, 2009

Visions of Cuba and Cambodia

By By Anne-Marie Smolski, Townsman Staff

Wellesley - When Nancy Carbonaro hung her photography exhibit in the Wellesley Free Library lobby at the beginning of the month it should have taken her two hours. Instead, because people were so interested in the images, it took five.

“CUBA/CAMBODIA/CARBONARO,” an exhibit of 19 photographs, is still attracting lots of attention. Carbonaro said each time she stops by the library, she has to bring more cards about the show and business cards for her photography studio on Crest Road, since they’ve been flying off the small table in front of the exhibit. As of last week, she had sold 10 photos (they are in editions of 25 per image). Proceeds from the sales will go to nonprofit foundations helping the children of Cambodia.

As the owner of Carbonaro Photography in Wellesley for the past seven years, she has specialized in creating natural, spontaneous portraits of children and families.

What is it that drives her to the slums of Phnom Penh?
“It’s the connection to the people. I use the camera to connect with people and learn who they are,” while always being careful to be respectful, Carbonaro said. That connection builds trust, she said.

In 2005, she had the opportunity to attend a private photography workshop taught by Ernesto Bazan in Cuba. When she was studying with Bazan, who has won international awards for his documentary work, she used the wide-angle lens of 28 mm, to be as close as possible to her subjects. “We had to be in our subjects’ world,” she explained.

For the workshop, she had to shoot in black and white. (The photos in the exhibit are in color. She used a Canon 20-D in Cuba and a Canon 5-D in Cambodia). Part of the workshop involved documenting various elements of life in Cuba, specifically in Vinealas and Havana. Carbonaro visited homes, tobacco farms, and even attended a cock fight. The class visited a tobacco farm, where Bazan had been documenting the family for years. “They’d raise the pig, they’d slaughter the pig. The next day they’d serve it for lunch,” Carbonaro said.

She loves learning about the customs of other countries, she said. For instance, there was the time when she was photographing a young girl who was receiving a scholarship in Cambodia. Carbonaro wanted to photograph the girl with her parents, but was told they wanted to include another person because they believed it was not good to have odd numbers of people in photos. In Cuba, she found when visiting poor families in their homes they would offer her group anything they had. “If it’s offered, it’s like a gift,” she said. How do you turn down a gift?” And although she doesn’t consider herself a “political person,” she finds that once she gets into these countries, she feels compelled to find out what’s going on there.

Inspired by her trip to Cuba, Carbonaro visited Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006. The experience was memorable in more ways than one — a member of the workshop in which she was participating got run over by a bull. “She was a real trouper,” Carbonaro said. The woman was a little scuffed up, but OK.

In 2007, she had the time and the money to visit Cambodia, where the average family earns $400 a year.

“What I’d like to do is to get back to these countries. I’d really like to set up a project where I could be there for an extended period of time and really get to know the people,” Carbonaro said.
In the meantime, she is thinking of going to Brazil in September, and would really like to go to Appalachia. “They’re the poorest of the Americans,” she said.

Called a humanitarian photographer by Word Press, Carbonaro sees her work as “shedding light on those that live in darkness. These are the people of the world that don’t have a voice. It is her vision to give them a voice, a place to be seen and be heard.

From butter to photos
Born on wheels in an ambulance, Carbonaro is from Minneapolis. She went to college in Wisconsin, at UW-Stout.

She came to Boston when she was 30. She said she thought, “I’ll get a camera and document life in Boston.” She took continuing education classes at Mass. College of Art and New England School of Photography, and recalled that she “really started to fall in love with [photography].”

At the time she was working for Land O’Lakes in consumer product sales. “I sold butter,” she said. She continued working for Land O’Lakes for seven more years, and left as a district sales manager before starting her own photography business.

As for the work she does in Wellesley and nearby towns, she said, it’s a happy job. “I give a product to my clients that they love. It’s going to bring back, hopefully, really good memories. That’s the joy, that it makes people happy.”

Married and living in Newton, she spends her free time renovating her house. She also takes courses, and likes adventure sports, such as hiking, skiing and go-cart racing. She said she enjoys “anything that is on the edge,” anything that pushes her out of her comfort zone.

About the exhibit

CUBA/CAMBODIA/CARBONARO is on view at the Wellesley Free Library, 530 Washington St., through March 31. In April, the exhibit moves to Boston University, at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 940 Commonwealth Ave. In May, she’ll be showing at Coldwell Banker Hunneman in Jamaica Plain, and in September, the show will go up at the Center for Adult Education in Cambridge. Framed 16x20 prints are available for $295, with profits from the sale going to foundations that help the children of Cambodia. For more information, call 781-237-5990;
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