By Jacalyn Beales
Laura joined the Photographers Without Borders team in Costa Rica in September, 2015, for the PWB Workshop. During her time with the Workshop, Laura was able to explore the El Trapiche coffee plantation and learn about the fair-trade process of harvesting and making coffee. I spoke with Laura regarding her time at El Trapiche and her experience with PWB in Costa Rica.
What was the most interesting aspect of the PWB workshop for you, as a photographer?
For me, learning how to look for a story in events and places. As workshop participants, we were challenged with 3 photo documentary assignments: to create a story with just 5-8 images. This took me out of my comfort zone, and made me really look for the story, not just shoot a bunch of pictures in a general theme.
You photographed various aspects of the coffee process for one of your photo essays, which takes fair-trade coffee from crop to cup. What was it like to see the process of a beloved food staple harvested and prepared?
For anyone who knows me, they won’t be surprised that I chose to photograph the coffee process …I do enjoy a good cup of coffee :-). So the opportunity to see actual coffee beans still growing on the trees, and learn how they are harvested (by hand), then the number of steps to the final roasted bean, was fascinating.
What surprised you about the fair-trade coffee process?
I was surprised to learn how labour intensive the whole process is, especially the fact that all the beans are picked by hand.
After experiencing the process first-hand, do you feel more people & companies should utilize fair-trade coffee as opposed to commercially grown coffee products?
This is a tough question to answer as I always believe that people/companies should utilize fair-trade coffee/products, but I realize the cost to purchase fair-trade coffee is higher (and rightly so, because of the hands-on aspect of the process). I do think that companies who sell coffee should include free-trade options so that customers can choose.
How did capturing these moments change the way you saw the culture and/or life of Costa Rica?
I didn’t have any preconceived notions coming to Costa Rica so I was open to learning about Costa Rican people and their country. By taking time to photograph moments, I got to exchange a few words and ask questions. It gave me an opportunity to see below the surface and get a glimpse of day-to-day reality in this beautiful country.
What value or message have you taken away from the photographs you captured during your time spent at El Trapiche?
Tradition is so important, but I learnt that it takes more than tradition to keep an industry alive. Even though El Trapiche is run by 3 generations of family, and they've branched out from coffee to include growing sugar cane, sugar production, and cocoa/chocolate production, it's still not enough anymore. In order to keep the business going, they need to supplement with tours of their plantation and production operation. As an outsider looking in, I was thankful for the opportunity to learn about the facility, but it’s too bad that the family’s focus can’t just be on [coffee] production, on doing what they love to do.
Interested in attending our next workshop in early 2016? Click here for more information.