The widespread blackout that began in Venezuela on March 7, 2019, lasted longer in Maracaibo than in any other city in the country. Some areas went for days on without electricity in scorching temperatures of over 86º F and with power cuts that continue even today. To survive those exhausting hours when everything seemed suspended, photographer Iván Ocando Urdaneta clung to his daughter and his camera. Through the images that he captured in pitch darkness, he tells the story of how he resisted.
On March 7, 2019, I left the office a little earlier than usual, annoyed for not having been able to finish all pending tasks. That day, at 4:50 p.m., we were left without power, which prevented me from closing my workday as scheduled. In Maracaibo, the city where I live, one which swelters at 86º F, power cuts are a daily occurrence. The only thing I was excited about leaving that early was that my daughter was waiting for me at home and I would have more time to share with her.
I arrived home and locked the door to the main entrance, and the screech of the rusty hinges announced my arrival. It got dark after a short while. I looked up and saw two shining stars lighting my way to the dining room.
A mischievous laugh spiced up the greeting. “Dad, dad!” called out Julieta, my little girl, as I approached her. She ran away, as if saying “Catch me if you can”. I followed her lead and chased her. There came the night, and we were still without power. Julieta could not understand why we didn’t turn on the lights. She began to call us in a frightened voice. It was the first time that she had experienced a blackout at night. I just thought:
“Let this one pass quickly.”
That was a terrible first night. We didn’t know anything, communications failed or there was practically none, and the telephones ran out of batteries. We didn’t expect it to last through the entire night. There came daybreak and we found out, with the little signal that we could get, that the blackout was nationwide. I decided to go out to try to charge my equipment’s batteries as much as I could and get more information about what was going on. Loneliness flooded the streets. Bewilderment and despair wandered by the sidewalks.
No one was sure about anything. I went back home.
It was our second night without power. I woke up and saw and felt how the shadows and the sun played in the room, and all of a sudden the name of Guido Orefice, the character from the Life is Beautiful movie, came to my mind like an epiphany, and I declared: it is time to draw Julieta a more bearable reality. “Life is beautiful”, I repeated to myself.
Day 3. I see how this sense of “normalcy” has taken hold of the city. It is as though we have never had a continuous supply of electricity before. I wonder if that is what we should get used to. If so, I refuse. My daughter and my camera, which I call Andrés Eloy, sustain me and force me out of that getting used to. I take pictures.
Day 4. Julieta is tired of playing the same games over and over again, and of the heat: a crushing heat that gives no respite. My daughter gets out of bed. She has a goal in her mind and, despite my calls for attention, she does not yield. She walks to the TV and presses the power button on: Tom and Jerry are not coming to play today.
Day 5. There are various symbolic meanings to these days. But we run out of patience. In my mind, I just repeat to myself: “Resist, resist, this has to end”. There is still no exact information as to what is happening.
On the night of this fifth day, power is restored two blocks from my house. However, in La Fusta, where I live, we were still in darkness.
The lights would not go back on until a day and a half later.
Translation: Yazmine Livinalli
Note: This is a story of the Venezuelan website La vida de Nos. It is part of its project La vida de Nos Itinerante, which develops from storytelling workshops for journalists, human rights activists and photographers coming from 16 states of Venezuela.
A little black angel and photography marked a before and after in my life. I am addicted to the sensations and hidden symbols of ordinary life that metaphorize our existence. I am the creator of an imaginary based on the unconscious. Not all stories can be put down in words.