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In black and white: Venezuelan fishermen among oil ruins

Fisherman Romuel Sambrea, known as a "tripero" for the inner tube he uses to float on, poses for a portrait after a day's work on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela, July 12, 2019. "The situation here is very difficult," said the father of four. "I'm a baker, but I can't live with just one job."
Fisherman Romuel Sambrea, known as a "tripero" for the inner tube he uses to float on, poses for a portrait after a day's work on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela, July 12, 2019. "The situation here is very difficult," said the father of four. "I'm a baker, but I can't live with just one job." AP Photo

The landscape of Venezuela's once robust oil industry lies all around fishermen and their families who live in villages clustered on the edge of Lake Maracaibo. Their struggles on a briny bay fouled by petroleum seeps and derelict oil rigs are etched onto their faces and stained into their clothes.

Seeing these people and this place on an earlier reporting trip, veteran Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd knew he had to go back. This time, he set down his lightning-fast digital Canon and spread the tripod of his 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and the industrial decay they call home.

The Argentine-born photographer had turned the lens of his box camera before on subjects in Guatemala, Afghanistan, Mexico and the streets of his home-base of Lima, Peru, documenting a spectrum of life's emotions, from joy to tragedy. He felt the slower pace and mood of box photography would help capture the poignancy and pain of Cabimas where fisherman live and work among idle, gray machinery.

"In the end, it was a story about the oil industry and people," Abd said. "It was an industry built 50 years ago, but nowadays is broken, and somehow the black and white photos suggest that."

At sunrise, the men of Cabimas wade into the lake to harvest shrimp, fish and crabs. Women wait in the shade of shacks where they hand wash shellfish coated in oil. The workday is done when the fishermen unbolt their skiff motors and stow them on the banks for safekeeping.

Having heard their stories and observed their lives once before, Abd knew he would return, this time lugging along his box camera. "I thought it was a good idea to complete what I already had and to see the same story in a different way, in a more poetic way," he said.

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