At some point, pressed among a crowd of Indians at the back of a dilapidated bus, I was traveling from Ayacucho to Cuzco, in the Peruvian Andes…an endless two-day ride.
Holes and stones in the dirt road shook the bus in a cloud of dust, and a pot flew off the roof. The driver stopped, and a passenger ran to pick up the pot.
Less than a minute earlier, I had caught sight of the cutest little girl I had ever seen, sitting on the roadside…and could have cried with frustration for being unable to get a picture of her.
I took the flying pot as a miracle. The central aisle of the bus was crowded with Indians sitting on bundles, but I scrambled over them toward the door…just as the passenger was returning with the pot.
“Adonde estas corriendo?” the driver shouted. “Where are you running?”
“To urinate,” I lied, almost unconsciously.
And I ran with my Leica camera in hand.
“This is not the moment!” the driver yelled. “What the devil are you doing? Come back!…Alright. Stay here and wait for tomorrow’s bus.”
And having said that, he pulled off.
My luggage and most of my film was on that bus, but I refused to worry about them just then.
I shot three quick pictures, gave the little girl an avocado pear I carried in my camera bag, and ran back. I would have shot many more pictures, but the bus was getting away. It wasn’t going very fast, and I was a runner. Even so, my heart was in my mouth by the time I got back on board.
My third picture of the little girl was soon seen around the world, melting the hearts of women everywhere.
It keeps selling to this day, more than any picture I’ve ever taken. Even if—in the middle of nowhere—I had had to spend a day waiting for the next bus and had lost my luggage, the picture would have been worth the trouble.
For years I had been shooting magazine stories in Africa and Asia but this was my first South American journey. What was different for me on this trip was that I would keep building my collection of stock pictures. And these pictures would be reused time and again by other picture buyers—people in the media, textbook, travel, calendar, advertising, and other businesses
This time I was traveling at my own expense…but I earned enough from the sale of my pictures to make it worthwhile.
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