Solar Portraits

Determined to tell a positive story, Rubén Salgado Escudero traveled to Myanmar’s rural areas, and quickly to India and Ouganda on assignment for National Geographic, to show the various uses of the solar panels in remote communities.

Salgado_23_16_MM8418_150610_3398.jpg#ass© Rubén Salgado Escudero, from the series Solar Portraits - In India’s state of Odisha, villagers trap fish using cone-shaped baskets and solar light. Fewer than half of Odisha’s 42 million residents use grid electricity. Roughly 1.1 billion people in the world live without access to electricity, and close to a quarter of them are in India. The portrait was set up using solar lights as the only source of illumination.

Being surrounded with electricity, we tend to take it for granted. The International Energy Agency actually estimates that roughly 1.1 billion people in the world still live without access to electricity. In rural Myanmar for instance, where Rubén Salgado Escudero was based for the past two and a half years, communities still rely on candles and kerosene once the night has plunged everything in the dark. “There is an electrification project for rural areas but it is estimated to take between 5 and 10 years”, he explains. In places like that, solar panels are a quick, inexpensive, momentary solution until a real one is found.

Technology should not be a privilege”, he exclaims. “The challenging part is how can these technologies be affordable for everyone?” A witness of the way in which this small rectangular energy provider improved people’s daily life, Rubén Salgado Escudero decided to tell what media are too rarely giving a voice to: a positive story. He traveled to Myanmar’s rural areas, and quickly to India and Ouganda on assignment for National Geographic, to show the various uses of the solar panels in remote communities.  

The project is about people sharing their life’s story. I talk to them and ask what they do with their light. They tell me their stories and I come up with the idea of how to set up the photo. So, their story is the starting point, then interpreted through the light in their environment.” The result is a series of playful, theatrical scenes lit with this empowering light. A documentation of various lifestyles and cultures, they form a social panorama of rural life.

Salgado_06_07_MM8418_150531_1924.jpg#ass© Rubén Salgado Escudero, from the series Solar Portraits - May 31st, 2015. Butcher Mugerwa Lawrence (50) sits in his small shop at night where he sells meat until 1am in Kalagala, Uganda. Electricity is a rare luxury in Uganda. The portrait was set up using solar lights as the only source of ilumination.

There is a little anecdote to be found everywhere. What about in Cuba, in the Amazonian, in a refugee camp? There are a million stories.” In Myanmar, fishermen can set up their boat in the dark and go to fish earlier to get more.

In India, they use solar panels to see the air bubbles from the mud fishes at night. In Ouganda, an elderly woman raising chicken came up with the idea to feed them during the night in order to have them bigger – something they would not naturally do since they don’t eat in the dark.

Children can study, people can milk their cows at night. Apart from that, it’s also used for recreational purposes – they can play chess or soccer at night. All in all, it enables to create better standards of living”, he adds.

To learn more about Rubén Salgado Escudero's work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram

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