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A Puerto Rican Musician Follows His Muse to Instagram

Fernando Samalot is, among other things, a gifted musician from Puerto Rico's independent music scene, known for his participation in the experimental group tachdé [es]. The guitarist and vocalist launched his first solo effort, inner, a couple of months ago, after a series of intimate concerts that resulted in its production. The album's cover, an image of Samalot extending his hand towards a setting sun, points to another one of his great artistic interests: photography.

Through his Instagram profile (instagram.com/simonebirch), Fernando began exploring this new passion while sharing the results -a collection of genuinely inspiring photos, filled with adventure, spirituality, and plenty of heart- with the rest of the world. Now living in Los Angeles, he continues to share his explorations into nature and other discoveries and observations through the most popular online social network for photography, which has become one of his main avenues for expression.

We sent Fernando a few questions about his incursion into photography through Instagram and asked him to shine a bit of light into some of our favorite photos from his collection.

Global Voices (GV): How did you get into Instagram and what inspired you to use the medium as a new vehicle for expression?

Fernando Samalot (FS): Instagram has played an important role in my life for the past two years. Its significance and its purpose has evolved through time, in tune with my needs at the moment. Originally, it came into my life thanks to my good friend Ferdy Valls (of the electronic duo GRLS) – in October 2011, during a Portishead concert we attended in New Jersey. I didn't have any previous experience with photography so at first I simply took pictures of whatever caught my attention.

Months later, I found myself at a crossroads after the end of a relationship and the separation of my band, tachdé, where I had spent all my life – and my Instagram turned into a photo-diary of sorts where I could channel all my processes. It was then that I began to use it as a vehicle for artistic expression, although it was really more like therapy.

Once those wounds had healed, it became a diary of my adventures in Puerto Rico. By then I had more followers on Instagram and I knew nothing else that I would want to share more with the rest of the world than Puerto Rico's treasures. I was interested in being like an ambassador, showing off a side of our island that many don't know. I wanted to share all the peace and inspiration that I found in its rivers, beaches, valleys, and mountains. It was definitely one of the most beautiful times of my life.

Since then, having moved recently to California, I've maintained a big part of that aspect in my photography – it's still a photo-diary of my adventures. I've documented many trips and explorations, both external and internal. It's the channel where I've manifested myself the most emotionally, spiritually, and artistically.

I owe a great deal of my development in photography to Instagram, since by being exposed to so many incredible photographers from around the world I've been able to develop my “eye” and found my own style. Instagram has been a great source of inspiration, my school, my gallery, and main social link – and contrary to my experience on other social media sites, it has opened many doors and has invited me to explore, learn, connect, experiment, and grow.

GV: How would you describe your image “feed”?

FS: My feed consists largely of landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits. There's an abundance of sunsets, silhouettes, mountains, valleys, forests, and whichever beautiful landscapes I've had the good fortune of visiting. I try to capture to the best of my abilities the magic and serenity I feel in these places. Since my feed is so personal, each photo usually carries an emotional charge. It's been therapeutic and liberating for me, being able to share my processes through photography and even more gratifying my musings resonate with others.

GV: What qualities do you look for in a photo before sharing it?

FS: The most important quality I look for in a photo is for it to transmit a real and honest emotion – whichever it may be.

GV: Can you walk us through part of your process?

FS: All of my photos are taken and edited on my iPhone 4S. They arrive spontaneously, I seldom think of a photo I'd like to take beforehand. I usually capture moments when my subjects are off-guard, and that gives them a more organic and natural feel. When I'm the subject, I ask whoever might be my companion at that moment to take the picture for me, taking into account some directions I give them in terms of composition. In this way, a lot of my photos are collaborative efforts between my friends and I.

Then comes the editing. It is one of my favorite parts of the process and might very well be its own art-form. I love sitting down with an image, little by little transforming it until it gets to where I want it. Although I try to maintain as much fidelity to what I saw with my eyes as possible, sometimes I find myself taking the images to a more dreamlike plane.

GV: How do you edit them?

FS: The three main apps I use, for color, contrast, and lighting, are “Snapseed”, “PicFX”, and “Afterlight.” Sometimes I also use “Superimpose” for a double exposure effect.

The editing process allows for so much experimentation that each image presents numerous possibilities. This keeps the process refreshing and prevents me from falling into a formula. A lot of times I end up with nine versions of each image, and then comes the most tedious – but funny – part of the process: choosing just one.

GV: One of these images ended up as the cover to your debut EP as a solo artist, “inner”. The music you produced as part of tachdé is very cinematic as well. How does your music relate to image? And have you ever thought about the music that would accompany one of your photographs as you work on it?

FS: Good question! I feel there is an energy that flows between my music and photography, as both are born from a deep space within me and I feel they resonate with the same sensibilities. My intention is the same as with any art I practice, transmitting an honest emotion that passes through the superficial veil and gets to the root of our true nature. Be it as it may, I want to share my love with everyone. I've seen the healing and transformative effects this can have on other people, strangers and friends alike – beginning with myself. Many times I've seen an image so beautiful or listened to a song so stunning that it inspires real change within myself. Music and photography both have served as my medicine. It's with that same intention that I share them with others, hoping that they might help others as much as they've helped me. In the end, all the love you put into your work is what people will receive – that's why I put so much of me into mine, because I want to be an instrument of light at the service of others.

Perhaps I veered off topic a bit, but to answer your second question: few times I've imagined the music that could accompany my images, although in more than one occasion I've found myself remembering Fripp & Eno's album, Evening Star, as I stare into a beautiful sunset. It's one of my favorites. There is something in those repetitions and melodies that I've found perfect for meditation. It's just the type of feeling that I wish to induce in others.

Gallery

The following are a small sample of the images found in Fernando Samalot's Instagram gallery, which you can visit at instagram.com/simonebirch.

This photo was taken at Angeles Crest, the mountains to the north of Los Angeles. It was my first day out adventuring in California and one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen. That day we ended looking at the sun until it disappeared into the Pacific. It was majestic. When the time came to choose a cover for my first solo album, this photo popped out from the others. I feel it captures much of what I wanted to say with the album. The exterior light reflecting the interior.

This photo was taken at Angeles Crest, the mountains to the north of Los Angeles. It was my first day out adventuring in California and one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen. That day we ended looking at the sun until it disappeared into the Pacific. It was majestic. When the time came to choose a cover for my first solo album, this photo popped out from the others. I feel it captures much of what I wanted to say with the album. The exterior light reflecting the interior.

My first week in California, and thanks to Instagram, I made a friend who invited me to Joshua Tree to spend the day. I think I had never seen such a vast landscape. It was very moving and just a preamble to all the other places and beautiful moments that were waiting for me.

My first week in California, and thanks to Instagram, I made a friend who invited me to Joshua Tree to spend the day. I think I had never seen such a vast landscape. It was very moving and just a preamble to all the other places and beautiful moments that were waiting for me.

Esto es uno de mis experimentos con el app de "Superimpose". I was sleeping on a flight to Puerto Rico when I woke up agitated from a dream where I was falling. This was my attempt to channel that dream. It was very symbolic for me, specially at that moment when I was about to make the decision to leave the island, of facing my fear and jumping into the unknown.

I was sleeping on a flight to Puerto Rico when I woke up agitated from a dream where I was falling. This was my attempt to channel that dream. It was very symbolic for me, specially at that moment when I was about to make the decision to leave the island, of facing my fear and jumping into the unknown.

My last months in Puerto Rico were filled with adventures. This photo was taken in Orocovis, in the river known as The Hippie. It was cloudy out but for a moment when the sun came out. I was able to capture its reflection on a pool that glowed with colors I had never seen in a river. A real treasure in every sense of the word.

My last months in Puerto Rico were filled with adventures. This photo was taken in Orocovis, in the river known as The Hippie. It was cloudy out but for a moment when the sun came out. I was able to capture its reflection on a pool that glowed with colors I had never seen in a river. A real treasure in every sense of the word.

In 2012 I had the good fortune of traveling to Spain for the second time. This was taken at the Natural Park in Peñalara, to the north of Madrid. In this forest I contemplated my future, which at that point was still uncertain. The photo was taken by my great friend Mariola Rosario, one of the photographers I most admire and respect. Then I cropped and edited it. It ended up being one of my favorites and just looking at it takes me back to that place.

In 2012 I had the good fortune of traveling to Spain for the second time. This was taken at the Natural Park in Peñalara, to the north of Madrid. In this forest I contemplated my future, which at that point was still uncertain. The photo was taken by my great friend Mariola Rosario, one of the photographers I most admire and respect. Then I cropped and edited it. It ended up being one of my favorites and just looking at it takes me back to that place.

This photo is definitely one of the most charged I took following my move to Los Angeles. It was a really intense time when I didn't know I had made the right decision. I'll share the caption I wrote for it: "Remember, you chose this. You chose to be a ghost." - I need to get my head straight. I'm all over the place. Floating in a sea of uncertainty with nothing to hold onto and no solid ground to stand on. My mind escapes me. It waits until I'm most vulnerable and then runs off to those same old familiar places... as if comfort and nostalgia ever shared a bed. Well, I don't want to go back there for anything, anymore. I don't have to. I just want to be here, now. As afraid as I am, just be here now. In that moment of loneliness and uncertainty I found a strength I didn't even know I had. That's when I found that life's darker moments are precisely when your light has the most potential to shine. This was three months ago and since then my entire life has changed. I am grateful of having this chronology of events and processes, of being able to look back and see the progress. It's funny to think of what a little app on my phone has brought about all these events. Incredible, perhaps - but that's what happened.

This photo is definitely one of the most charged I took following my move to Los Angeles. It was a really intense time when I didn't know I had made the right decision. I'll share the caption I wrote for it: “Remember, you chose this. You chose to be a ghost.” – I need to get my head straight. I'm all over the place. Floating in a sea of uncertainty with nothing to hold onto and no solid ground to stand on. My mind escapes me. It waits until I'm most vulnerable and then runs off to those same old familiar places… as if comfort and nostalgia ever shared a bed. Well, I don't want to go back there for anything, anymore. I don't have to. I just want to be here, now. As afraid as I am, just be here now. In that moment of loneliness and uncertainty I found a strength I didn't even know I had. That's when I found that life's darker moments are precisely when your light has the most potential to shine. This was three months ago and since then my entire life has changed. I am grateful of having this chronology of events and processes, of being able to look back and see the progress. It's funny to think of what a little app on my phone has brought about all these events. Incredible, perhaps – but that's what happened.

…and the story continues…

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