Author: John Torrente

It's three-thirty in the morning and I'm on the coastal railway from Bombay to Mangalore. Nineteen steamy hours on the Matsyagandha Express. The woman on the bunk across from me has reconstituted her sari into a blanket. There’s a full moon. It’s my forty-second birthday. And I haven’t slept a wink.
The retired banker occupying the bunk just above me is resting peacefully, though his gentle snore is no match for the relentless grind of steel on steel. The windows are wide open and I’m drenched in the rush of the unforgiving night air. Earlier questions from my friendly bunk mate have my head spinning. They were simple. General curiosities people share when they come across me in a space clearly not my own.
Mine is a story that’s taken over a decade to create. And a lifestyle I struggle to explain.
In nineteen ninety-nine I dropped my corporate copywriting gig in San Francisco and went searching for Big Change. Having been a social worker on the overnight streets of Manhattan, I secured a volunteer position in Oaxaca, Mexico working with families living in the surrounding mountains. A year later, with my suburban ruse dismantled, I knew there was no going back.
I traveled by bus through Central America and eventually wound up studying photography in Quito, Ecuador. I started taking portraits, printing the images and bringing them back to the people. This exchange broke down language barriers, cultural differences, economic disparities and complex social mores. Photography was bringing me deeper and deeper into the lives of the locals.
My process is simple. I make contact with a group. I live with them for a month or two. And when it feels right, I use my camera as a means of cultural exchange. When my time is up, I head to a city where I can process the film and make the prints. Then I put them in a box and send them back.
I’ve done projects with the landless farmers movement in Brazil, Indian schoolchildren who lost family in the tsunami, indigenous tribes in Mexico and Peru, gypsies in Turkey and seven foot tall drunken fishermen along the Danube river in Serbia.
Three years teaching English in China and the occasional freelance project has helped finance my work. My home is where I land. And everything I own fits in a backpack. I use a forty year old Rolleiflex 2.8f TLR and typically shoot black and white film. I don’t publish or sell any work.

May 18, 2011
March 24, 2011
March 18, 2011