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One must wonder if many good things inherent to an agrarian society and the small familiar community may not be imperiled as change occurs. In considering this issue, benefits of ecotourism and purchase of land by a foreigner who wishes to maintain or return the property to a natural condition balance positively when weighed against the injury caused by deforestation of large wooded tracts for croplands or grazing space for beef and milk production. Even if practiced on small scale, not all agriculture can be considered benign except through overly romanticized arcadian lenses. The fact remains, however, that the distribution of wealth and the principle types of employment within a society whose economy centers around the service industries of tourism and funds received from the selling off of lands to expatriates, differ greatly from those of an economy centered primarily about the small farm and associated comparatively more intimate rural communities.

Clearly in this evolution, just as significant as products marketed by Costa Rica are products consumed and value structures assumed. While the official and highly visible state religion of Roman Catholicism, which one might believe would ask its devout to eschew the wealth of this world for that of the next, can be seen in many aspects of life including popular festivals and widely observed holy days, the fashions and logos of the developed world appear not only in the larger cities such as San José and Cartago but pouring through more rural areas as well. The country is quite small (about 51,000 square kilometers) and it would not be difficult using only ground transportation to be standing at the Pacific Coast one evening and at the Atlantic the next. With an abundance of automobiles, cheap taxis, and well developed public bus systems, there is generally no hard and fast border between highly rural and highly urban areas. Tommy Hilfiger jeans, Chicago Bulls ballcaps, and more regionally derivative articles of clothing such as U.S. military veteran club jackets readily find their ways from city to campo. Campesinos existing largely by subsistence gathering and tracking their daily activities more by movement of the sun than by clock time can be seen wearing large wristwatches and clothes emblazoned with designer logos and English language slogans. And while the fiscally-troubled educational system may not be perfect, there is a high rate of literacy with much of the population following both the printed word as well as broadcast television. In addition to regional, national, and international news coverage, large colorful ads for North American and European cars, trucks and SUV’s can be regularly found in the pages of the major newspaper, La Nación. The national electric utility has brought power to many remote areas and generally the consumption of television is great with English to Spanish translated programs such as Walker, Texas Ranger, as well as Spanish language programming out of North America, such as Univision Network’s Sabado Gigante, being available and popular. Cell phones as well as land-line computer modem connections can be seen not only in the city but in the campo with the children often being quite internet savvy.

With the photographs of this project, I wish to point to what I consider to be an innate goodness of a people close to the earth and to their respective families and communities joined in common enterprise. I would hope to show the naturally occurring as well as the humanly cultivated beauty of a land and people. In recording these portraits, activities, and scenes of life in the Costa Rican campo, I would implicitly examine the dialectic of what seems in some ways an ingenuous culture confronting the hegemony of global capitalism, embraced with few questions as to its true worth by many Costa Ricans as by so many citizens of other nations. I would present images of what I fear may be vanishing small agrarian community phenomena as well as, at times, the texture of their overlap with current globalization. I would hope the product of this photography begins to form a significant collection of records of people and modes of life in rural Costa Rica at the beginning of this new century.

All writing and images on this site © 2001 J. Vitone.

Please contact for permission prior to any reproduction.

Statement regarding Costa Rica photography
Joseph Vitone

Much of my work over the past five years has centered on small agricultural community subject matter in Costa Rica. Within this country, the vocation of many of whose citizens has long been found in farming of various sorts, can be seen meetings of such joined family and cooperative enterprises and an accompanying appreciation of the nearness and interdependence of ourselves and the earth. Looking beyond agriculture alone to modes of life in the countryside, or campo, and to the larger society within which these modalities lie, can be seen just as clearly a society in transition, listing and tugging at this historical anchor of agrarian lifestyle as it tilts in response to the globally marketed culture of the developed world. With the idea for this photography project initially growing from the fact that Costa Rica's political and economic histories are intimately tied to agriculture, and that currently, agriculture has been replaced by ecotourism as the primary income producer of the nation’s economy, I first made photographs in the country in 1996, returning in 1998, and most recently as a senior Fulbright scholar for roughly the first half of 2001.

There appears for many campesinos, or rural inhabitants, to be a connectedness to the land not only economically but spiritually. There exists in many locations a balance of delicate grace between people, land, and lifestyle. While Costa Rica has managed to maintain a more or less egalitarian society with many of its citizens retaining ownership of land, the majority of its population resides, nevertheless, within urban areas on the Meseta Central, anchored by the sprawling national capital, San José. Yet even within cities one can find inhabitants knowledgeable in farming ways, having worked at some point in the countryside or at times actively involved in agricultural enterprise in addition to any city-based employment they might hold.

While historically agriculture has provided primary sustenance to the nation and, through this primacy, done much to determine the nature of its society and apparent high regard for the family as both social and economic unit (though certainly there exist numerous and significant examples of non-family corporate enterprise involving export crops such as bananas, pineapples, coffee, and palm oil), growth associated with a burgeoning tourist industry and general exposure to nationally external culture and media are changing the character of the place. Additionally, when crop prices fall and it becomes difficult to eke out a living growing coffee or chayote squash, many are tempted into selling land to foreign nationals searching for an idyllic piece of tropical green or to corporations interested in further development of the tourist trade. When such a sale occurs, family land is likely forever lost with future generations often forced to find employment in urban settings.