Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

I was an accidental pilgrim. In August, I went to southern Ecuador to photograph the pilgrimage of the "Virgin of El Cisne" — an annual religious pilgrimage that would be full of intentional pilgrims. It was perhaps my American upbringing, but pilgrimage seemed, to me, to be an oddity — something from Chaucer maybe, but not a contemporary religious practice. I knew I was wrong to think that, but I had to see for myself. So I began — as one does at the onset of any good disaster — by entertaining the question: Why? I expected to see cliches, pious religious expression in the open, self-prostration and other oddities, but found that the pilgrimage and El Cisne are a complicated mix of faith, tourism and commerce. I felt a kinship with the guy who walked the entire pilgrimage and slept out in the open, but was selling cotton candy to other pilgrims the entire way. Neither of us went for the the typical reasons one thinks of for going on a pilgrimage, but weren't we pilgrims too?

While photographing in El Cisne and on the pilgrimage, I was one of, if not the, tallest, whitest, pilgrims carrying a big camera and large backpack with all sorts of crap hanging off of it. It turns out that I was the oddity. Several times during my days photographing, I was asked by somone if I could take a picture. Thinking they meant of them and their friends/family, I of course said "sure," put down my own camera and approached them to pick up theirs. It turns out, what they really wanted was a picture with me and so I would pose, usually standing at least a foot above the next tallest person in the photo. The first time I was surprised and mildly flattered — by the sixth it became routine and I knew what to do.

A makeshift tent under a religious statue.
(Steve Remich/GlobalPost)

With this story I wanted to show a complex picture of the pilgrimage that is a mixture of faith, tourism and business all coexisting together. I like — and hope to produce — work that is visually striking, but also full of ideas and presents a complex picture of the things we humans do. At least this is my goal. Stories without one clear side, but a mixture of elements bleeding into each other are the kinds of stories that I am naturally drawn to and what I hope a viewer takes away from my pictures. I like stories that twist you around a little bit and don't tell you what to think, but inspire you to start sorting it out. I want people to be drawn to my pictures and connect with the people in them and then hopefully viewers will have competing ideas about what the whole thing means.

About the photographer:

Steve Remich was born and grew up in Hampton Roads, Va. After studying geology and environmental studies at James Madison Univesity, from which he graduated in 2001, he began a long series of fortunate events that ended with him beginning to photograph seriously in 2004. After completing a year-long book project he began studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri in January 2006. While studying there he worked for Pictures of the Year International, College Photographer of the Year and the Missouri Photo Workshop. He took a year off to work as an intern for the Jackson Hole News and Guide, El Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In June 2009, Steve went to Loja, Ecuador, to begin a 15-month series of photographic projects in South America and is currently somewhere in Bolivia documenting people living with the effects of land reform policies there.

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