A banana picker, symbol of the resistance to the volcano of an entire island

On Thursday 23, Europa Press photographer Kike Rincón visited a banana plantation in the town of Tazacorte threatened by the advance of the volcano. That same day, the picker Yulian Lorenzo went at the same time to the same farm, hired together with his crew, to hastily remove the bananas before the Civil Guard blocked access as they considered it dangerous. Lorenzo and his companions began to put the so-called “pineapple” of bananas on their right shoulders, which in some cases reach 70 kilos, and they carried them on the run, “lightly”, as he says, knowing that they did not have much time. From the leaves of the banana trees the sandy and annoying ash that the volcano threw – and throws – was constantly falling on the entire island and which also spoils the crops, staining the bananas, disfiguring them for consumption.

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Rincón, from 40 years, he approached Lorenzo with the camera, instinctively perceived the power of the photo he composed, the rounded foreshortening of the arm, the face forced by the weight of the load, the dark ash stains on his face and shirt, and fired. I knew the photo was good. Although he did not imagine that it was so good.

The next day, after being published in several provincial newspapers, someone reproduced the image on social networks and it multiplied exponentially throughout the Canary Islands and all of Spain . In a few hours it became the pure symbol of the battle of an entire population against the volcano, of the resistance of the inhabitants of La Palma, all conspiring to save what they can before the lava knocks it down or the ash chokes it. . The palmists sent it to each other, proud of the concentrated and hard expression of their neighbor, the televisions broadcast it constantly, and even famous presenters, such as El Gran Wyoming, alluded to it to appeal to solidarity with the Canary Islands. The image of the ash-smeared banana picker became everyone’s. And the photograph that symbolizes the tragedy of the La Palma volcano is one in which, paradoxically, the volcano is not only not the protagonist, but it does not appear.

The photographer Rincón, who had not even After uploading the photo to his personal Twitter account, he began to realize that his work that day had become famous because calls from colleagues congratulating him followed.

Yulian Lorenzo carga una piña de plátanos, el pasado jueves en una finca de Tazacorte (La Palma).
Yulian Lorenzo carries a pineapple of bananas, last Thursday at a farm in Tazacorte (La Palma). Kike Rincón / Europa Press

The same happened with Lorenzo, whom many friends recognized despite his sooty face and blue anticovid mask. However, on Tuesday, he is surprised when he discovers that some journalists have come to look for him: “Why me?” He wonders. He wears a t-shirt and shorts covered in fruit picking stains and walks in mid-mountain boots. He does not fully admit that it has become a symbol, although he likes the idea, and he loves the photo and what it means or has come to mean: “I have been called from many parts, from relatives and important people on the island , of managers of banana plantations as well. They all speak well of that photograph ”. When it is explained that they are going to call him more, possibly asking him to participate in a television program to raise funds, he adds: “We’ll see, I’m a little overwhelmed by that, huh?”

He has been working on banana harvesting since 17 years, always on La Palma. Now you have 33. He is separated, has a seven-year-old son and earns approximately 900 euros per month. On that day of the photo, it calculates that it loaded between 70 and 80 “pineapples”. He assures that he is satisfied with his work and with its conditions, that he likes it, but he fears that the volcano will take that too, the possibility of making a living as it has done since he was a teenager. “We don’t know what will happen. The banana is the entrance to everything. Maybe they have to make an ERTE for us ”, he explains.

The harvest in many farms on La Palma is in danger, either due to the direct and brutal threat of the lava or the ash that scratches and deforms the fruit. From anywhere in the valley, on Tuesday an ugly column of very black smoke could be seen moving towards the sea and that was the result of the burning of the greenhouses and plastic-covered farms that fill the area. It is a reminder that the island’s economy, which depends on more than one 50% of the cultivation and sale of bananas, he is on the edge of the abyss.

Shortly after answering, the fruit picker excuses himself because he does not have much time for interviews: “I must go back to the bananas.” This Tuesday, he collected “pineapples” from 70 kilos in the area of ​​Fuencaliente, his town. At the same time, the photographer Kike Rincón went out to find the best shooting points to take pictures of the volcano from afar, as he has been doing since Monday 17. In the afternoon they spoke on the phone for the first time, since they did not know each other. The one thanked him for taking a picture like that. The other one who allowed himself to be photographed that way.

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