PHOTOS: In monochrome — Venezuelan fishermen among oil ruins

Fisherman Romuel Sambrea, known as a “tripero” due to the inner tube he floats on, poses after a day’s work on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. “The situation here is very difficult,” said the father of four. “I’m a baker, but I can’t live with just one job.” (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)

CABIMAS, Venezuela — The landscape of Venezuela’s once robust oil industry lies all around fishermen and their families who live in villages clustered on the edge of Lake Maracaibo. Their struggles on a briny bay fouled by petroleum seeps and derelict oil rigs are etched onto their faces and stained into their clothes.

Seeing these people and this place on an earlier reporting trip, veteran Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd knew he had to go back. This time, he set down his lightning-fast digital Canon and spread the tripod of his 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and the industrial decay they call home.

The Argentine-born photographer had turned the lens of his box camera before on subjects in Guatemala, Afghanistan, Mexico and the streets of his home base of Lima, Peru, documenting a spectrum of life’s emotions, from joy to tragedy. He felt the slower pace and mood of box photography would help capture the poignancy and pain of Cabimas, where fisherman live and work among idle, gray machinery.

Fishermen get ready to start harvesting crabs in the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo near Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)

”In the end, it was a story about the oil industry and people,” Abd said. “It was an industry built 50 years ago, but nowadays is broken, and somehow the black-and-white photos suggest that.”

At sunrise, the men of Cabimas wade into the lake to harvest shrimp, fish and crabs. Women wait in the shade of shacks where they hand-wash shellfish coated in oil. The workday is done when the fishermen unbolt their skiff motors and stow them on the banks for safekeeping.

Having heard their stories and observed their lives once before, Abd knew he would return, this time lugging along his box camera. “I thought it was a good idea to complete what I already had and to see the same story in a different way, in a more poetic way,” he said. (AP)

Photography by Rodrigo Abd/AP

Photos taken July 2019

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Fisherman Alirio Jose Lugano holds his catch after a day’s work on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Former oil worker Jose Gregorio Romero poses for a portrait in one of his old PDVSA uniforms, which he uses to work as a fisherman, after harvesting crabs from the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Erick Alejandro poses for a portrait at the end of a workday on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Alejandro Elizalzabal smokes a cigarette as he sits for a portrait after a day's work on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Antonio Tello and his daughter Genesis Tello pose for a portrait as they clean the oil-covered crabs he caught in Lake Maracaibo, in Cabimas, Venezuela. “We have spent a lifetime fishing,” said Antonio. “Seven years ago, this lake was clean. Now we have to fight with all that oil. Now we just have to survive.” (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fishermen pose for a photo before crab fishing in the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo near Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
The uniform of a PDVSA oil worker hangs to dry outside the home of a fisherman, who uses it while fishing on the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Former oil worker Milton Pena poses for a portrait in one of his old PDVSA uniforms, which he uses to work as a fisherman, after a day of fishing for crabs on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo near Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
An abandoned oil platform, once run by the state-run oil firm PDVSA, emerges from Lake Maracaibo near Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Giovani Blanco, the owner of several fishing boats, right, and his assistants stop to pose for a portrait as they repair boat motors that were damaged by oil on the shore of the oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
The Elizalzabal and Silva families, who fish for a living, pose for a portrait outside one of their family’s homes, on the shore of oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Men stand on top of a nonoperational oil pump from the state-owned oil company PDVSA in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Oil and debris cover the shore of Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Emanuel Salcedo poses for a portrait with his daughter Emilialsen after a day of harvesting crabs from oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Oil machinery that belongs to the state-run oil company PDVSA sits idle off oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Kelvin Alcala poses for a portrait at the end of his workday harvesting crabs in oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Former oil worker David Ortiz poses for a portrait in one of his old PDVSA uniforms, which he uses to work as a fisherman, after a day's work on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fabiola Elizalzabal cleans fish caught by her fisherman father in oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Juzman Garcia poses for a portrait after his workday on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Former oil worker William Vilchez poses for a portrait in one of his old PDVSA uniforms, which he uses to work as a fisherman, after a morning of fishing on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
A damaged chair outside a fisherman’s home marked with words that read in Spanish “Fish for sale” in Cabimas, Venezuela, near oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Erick Alejandro and his wife, Taneidis Parra, pose for a portrait after a workday on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
A swamp is contaminated with oil near the state-run PDVSA crude oil shipping terminal La Salina on Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherman Antonio Tello, left, poses for a portrait with his brother after harvesting crabs in oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Ionervis Gonzales poses for a portrait holding part of his catch after a day of working on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fshermen pose for a portrait after harvesting crabs near Venezuela’s state-run crude oil shipping terminal La Salina, on the shore of oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA crude oil shipping terminal La Salina stands on Lake Maracaibo, seen from Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
A fisherman’s assistant poses for a portrait after working on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fisherwoman Ingrid Hernandez poses for a portrait after a workday on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fabiola Elizalzabal stands in her front doorway after cleaning oil from fish caught by her father in oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Fishermen take a nap after after crab fishing on oil-contaminated Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela. (Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP)

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