“In the Soil: Nicaragua”

In April of this year, photographer Ryan Booth and some fellow coffee shop hounds went to Nicaragua with a simple mission: Meet the people on the other end of the supply chain and buy coffee direct from the farmers. Booth documented the trip in “In the Soil: Nicaragua.”

More than 35 black-and-white photos make up the exhibit, which follows the path of coffee beans from the farmers who grow it to the co-op that sells it for them (after that it’s on to exporters, importers, roasters, multiple distributors and, finally, the coffee shop). Booth shows us the lush Nicaraguan plants and trees, and in stark contrast, the rundown shacks the farmers call home. We meet Flora, a coffee bean farmer who, on a good year, breaks even. “All over the world people are making tons of money off of coffee, but for the people that grow it, a good year is not going into debt,” says Booth. “We wanted to see how the coffee got from the ground to the cup, to meet the farmers.”

Part of the Ecclesia Arts Center, Xnihilo Gallery is pretty much barebones. Booth’s photos are strung on thick wires that ring the room, appearing much as they might when hanging in a darkroom to dry. Behind them on the wall is a narrative handwritten on graph paper. Some of Booth’s writing challenges the viewer, calling for justice for workers and fair wages. Some simply expands the images, introducing Flora, her family and their heartbreakingly skinny dog (“That’s the image most people are responding the most to,” says Booth.)

See “In the Soil: Nicaragua” from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. Through August 25. Xnihilo Gallery, 2115 Taft. For information, visit www.xnil.org. Free.
July 18-Aug. 25, 2008

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Olivia Flores Alvarez