Luis Sousa was born and raised on the Island of Enchantment, a location that has informed every creative decision he’s made since. Hoping to learn more about how this Puerto Rican photographer and videographer draws inspiration from the land around him, we asked Luis a few questions about his day-to-day and the Island’s future. Here’s what he had to say.
What was it like to grow up in Puerto Rico?
Growing up in Puerto Rico was a blessing. Our culture and blend of races, differentiates us from all others. Puerto Ricans are hardworking and honest human beings, and our affection for and hospitality to others is always remarked upon. Being able to enjoy and explore this paradise since my childhood years is something that I will always be grateful for, and if I am born again, I hope it is on this magical island.
What is it like to live there as an adult?
Despite having lived here since childhood, I don’t think that he adventure has ended yet. I’ll confess that living here has not been easy given the low economic situation of the country — and with the impact that Hurricane Maria had on our Island, the situation is even more dire. My “real” profession is as a land surveyor, and I have been working in the industry for about 20 years. Because of this, I’ve felt the impact of storms and a shaky economy strongly these past few years. But, my family is choosing to move forward and to not travel outside of our island in search of new horizons. We have faith that everything will improve very soon. Everyone just has to do their part.
What is it like to live there as a creative?
I must confess that I never thought that my content was going to be recognized worldwide. Even so, today I do not consider myself a professional photographer, since I still have a lot to learn. But it’s nice when you meet new people and they greet you, recognize you, and congratulate you on your creative content. Above all, it’s nice to know that what you’re doing benefits your country, and home, in some way.
It’s been great to meet new people in this creative community who share the same genuine interest that I have, and to be able to discover and explore new places with them that I never thought existed on my island.
How did you first become interested in photography?
Before photography, I simply liked to explore every corner of Puerto Rico. When I was very young, I also liked taking pictures and experimenting with different compositions, but it was just something I did as a personal hobby.
About two years ago, I started to devote myself a bit more to this practice (though I took 95 percent of my shots with my cell phone), and from there, I started to show others the places that I’d visited.
Today, I’m considered a “self-taught photographer,” and I’m constantly playing with new equipment, cameras, and drones. I also like to learn from other photographers and adapt their qualities into my style.
Do you have a favorite photograph?
Yes, I do — it’s one of San Juan’s “La Perla” community. I like it because it exposes a place that is well known but often avoided — a place where not many dare to visit. The reality is that many years ago, it was a dangerous place; nowadays, any tourist or local can visit without encountering any problems. In addition, this neighborhood is so full of culture and history that if you visit Puerto Rico or are from here, you must see it and get to know it.
What are your photography goals?
Keep learning: I believe that every day you can learn something new, especially with all of the new technology that is accessible.
I would also like to visit more countries and expose their beauty through my unique perspective. I want to be able to teach my friends and local followers about the beauties that exist in other places while learning and sharing about their cultures. In turn, I’d like to help foreign ambassadors realize the same about my island, culture, and people.
How has your upbringing in Puerto Rico influenced your creative work?
My upbringing helped me view my creativity as a means to spread a message of respect and environmental appreciation for the land I come from. And my work has allowed me to honor that land by creating awareness about it. They are both intrinsically connected.
What do you want to show your audience about Puerto Rico?
Everything! I want to share our culture, our hidden places, our way of life, and our beautiful, natural resources. But there are also places that I do not disclose — even if that sounds selfish. Quiet places should stay quiet.
But the main objective of my work, as I said before, is to promote tourism in our island, and to show the world that Puerto Rico is beautiful.
How did Hurricane Maria impact your life and your work?
I thought at first that it would affect me in the long term because most of my photography is focused on landscapes — so I felt frustrated.
I ventured out onto the street the same day the hurricane hit. Seeing so much destruction was humbling, and I didn’t know how to react. In less than 24 hours, the island’s beauty had faded, and for two f months afterward, I was without light. Yet, I was one of the lucky ones. I got electric power 50 days after the hurricane (it was not easy, but it is even harder for those who still don’t have energy). After, I started to go out more frequently and visit the places that I used to. I decided to start sharing photos from these places as they looked after the hurricane — to show the world that we were still standing, that Puerto Rico is recovering day by day and that today, they can visit and enjoy our island in its fullness.
Do you see a role for photographers/creatives in disaster relief and recovery?
Of course — from day zero. Every photo or video that was broadcasted from the beginning of the hurricane helped show the world our need for relief, at that time and today. And now, every photographer or videographer who creates content, both to promote the beauty of the island and to shed light on the affected areas in Puerto Rico, is a key factor in our reconstruction. My respect and congratulations go out to all who have done it. To those who have the creative ability but have not yet shared about our home’s recovery process, I ask you to do so — your island will thank you.