Monday, February 21, 2011

Cigars: Handmade in Honduras

Mr. Jorge Arturo Bueso Árias, holding a "Don Melo" cigar
Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, 2011

Whenever I immerse myself in an intensive photographic project, I become acutely aware of the thematic cues that guide my eye.  These do not develop consciously, but rather are cultivated and gently evolved throughout the process of image capture.  Sometimes, these themes run deep and are subtle, not much else than a lingering emotion throughout the portfolio.  Other times, the storyline is much more defined, much more vivid and bold.  This past week, while photographing the Humo Jaguar Tobacco and Cigar Festival in Honduras, the theme made itself evident rather quickly, perhaps a little too obviously, but I could hardly object to its propriety or importance.

The world of cigars is one of gentle luxury, deep passion, and a sense of bon vivre that is particular to a certain handmade product (like wine or fine liquors, food crafted from the local terroir, or the organic feel of tailored leather).  Cigar smokers are acutely aware of the steps involved in the manufacture of cigars, relish in the process of producing them that is little-changed over the centuries.  The word "manufacture" comes from the Latin manufact, which means "to make by hand."  The more I photographed, the more I noticed my focus resting on the fingers and hands of the people who sow, plant, reap, and process the tobacco, then the manual dexterity of those cutting, rolling, and packaging the cigars, and finally the inter-digit casual grip of the smokers themselves who reap the rewards of the final product.

It is for this reason that this particular photograph holds such an incredible value.  The hand holding this cigar belongs to Mr. Jorge Arturo Bueso Árias, undeniably the Patron of the tobacco and cigar industry in Honduras.  This portrait, for the weight and personality it carries, was taken inside the factory-turned-museum that housed his original cigar venture many years ago.  The ninety-one year-old is a bastion of the Honduran economy, a one-time presidential candidate, Minister of Economy, founder of the Banco de Occidente (Western Bank), and also founder of the Flor de Copán tobacco factory in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, in 1976, following a long family tradition of involvement in the tobacco industry since the years of Spanish colonial rule.  He is a man widely admired and respected for his honesty, integrity, humility, hard work, and passionate sense of nationalism.  I find, in this image, every single one of these descriptive words captured in this simple object in his hand, this cigar touched by so many others' hands and made with love, to be enjoyed and savored at the end of a long day--or at the end of a long career--with a deep sense of satisfaction.   

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