Olmedini El Mago - PhMuseum

Olmedini El Mago

Jaime Permuth

2018 - Ongoing

New York City, New York, United States

The last time I had seen Olmendini was twenty years back. I was sitting in a Manhattan subway car when a tall, elegant man entered pushing a small, rectangular cart. It seemed odd to me that he was wearing a tuxedo and a red cotton shirt. And his head was crowned by an old-fashioned top hat. With great dignity and parsimony he began softly whistling and reached into his pocket to produce a long, multicolored streamer.

Over the next few minutes, he went through a classic Latin American magician’s routine. Things would get tossed and disappear mid-air instead of coming down again. A boring, nondescript handkerchief would be funneled into his closed fist and emerge as eye-popping red silk, and then unfurl to release a real, live dove in a flutter of wings. There were other sleight-of-hand tricks that led to the grand finale: pulling a beautiful, plump white rabbit out of a seemingly empty velvet box, its heart beating rapidly in its chest, eyes darting nervously from side to side. When the whistling stopped, the magician extended a long velvet pouch with golden trim and collected donations from passengers. Dropping a bill into his pouch, I thanked him in Spanish for his wonderful show. He smiled back and produced a small business card from his pocket. His name was written out in glittering letters on a velvety black background: Olmedini El Mago.

Already a famous magician with his own TV show when he left Ecuador in the early 1990s, Ol-medini came to New York in search of even greater fame and international acclaim. His dream never materialized. Olmedini is now seventy eight years old, a stroke survivor and blind in both eyes; yet he still works the subways on an almost daily basis. To my mind, he is a modern-day Don Quixote, caballero de la triste figura, knight of the sorrowful figure. His dream of making it big in New York remains undiminished and every time he descends into the city’s netherworld, he does it for the greater glory of his art and chosen profession.

In 2018, twenty years after we first met, I was able to find and reconnect with Olmedini. This project is a photographic document of his life as a blind magician: his faith, determination and grit as he continues to work the subways of New York City to make a living.

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  • Olmedo Renteria, also known as Olmedini El Mago, was born in Ecuador in 1940. He is now seventy eight years old, a stroke survivor and blind in both eyes; yet he still works the subways on an almost daily basis.

  • Olmedini starts his show with a brief introduction in Spanish and English. While performing his routine, he likes to punctuate tricks by singing out the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: "tarara, tarara!"

  • Olmedini is a classic Latin American magician. His repertoire features a variety of sleight of hand tricks delivered with great personal warmth and humor. For his grand finale, he funnels a multicolored streamer through his fist and produces a live dove in a flutter of wings.

  • "Quisiera ser luciernaga, brillar en la obscuridad" (I would like to be a firefly and shine in the darkness)

  • Olmedini lives in a housing complex for people with disabilities in East Harlem.

  • Lluvia (Rain) and Sol (Sun) are his constant companions.

  • Being blind means keeping a very strict order at home; every prop has a specific place where it's stored. Each morning the magician prepares meticulously for that day's work.

  • Strumming a guitar and singing old Ecuadorian songs helps alleviate the pain of solitude.

  • On an average day, the magician works the subway for four hours, either looping between 59th St and 125th St on the 4 Express Train, or shuttling back and forth between Grand Central and Times Square on the 7 Train.

  • Waiting his turn.

  • The magician works hard and keeps a brisk pace. The first time I photograph him, the health app on my phone tells me we've climbed 19 flights of steps in three hours. Olmedini never tires and despite the suffocating August heat, he refuses my offer to buy him a bottle of cold water.

  • Home

  • In 2018, twenty years after we first met, I was able to find and reconnect with Olmedini. This series is a photographic document of his life as a blind magician: his faith, determination and grit as he continues to work the subways of New York City to make a living.

  • On the walls of his living room, framed newspaper clippings chronicle the highlights of Olmedini's career in magic.

  • Christmas Eve, working the 7 train.

  • Olmedo + Houdini = Olmedini

  • Christmas Eve, working the 7 train.

  • I joined Olmedini for the second half of his night working the 7 line. I brought him some shortbread cookies and a bottle of water. He took a bite of the first cookie and mentioned he hadn’t taken any breaks yet. I was not surprised; he works at a brisk pace. The 78 year old blind magician is a force of nature.

  • Taking a pizza break after a visit to Tannen's Magic Shop

  • To my mind, Olemedini is a modern-day Don Quixote, "caballero de la triste figura", knight of the sorrowful figure. His dream of making it big in New York remains undiminished and every time he descends into the city’s netherworld, he does it for the greater glory of his art and chosen profession.


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