Natalie Keyssar

  • After spending the morning in in line since 3am waiting to buy two packets of subsidized pasta, Elixa and her family take a break to watch some tv on Saturday afternoon in the single room they all share in the back of her mother's house in a Barrio in Western Caracas, one of the poorest areas of the city. Despite her husband Richards government job and side work driving a moto-taxi, and Elixa's job at a fabric store, the family barely can make ends meet. June 4, 2016. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • Protesters stand in a cloud of tear gas as they clash with the National Guard in Altamira, a wealthy enclave of Caracas. As protests all over Venezuela against food shortages, inflation, and crime continue into their second month, President Nicolas Maduro issued a statement of his intentions to end the unrest, and the National Guard responded with a heavily increased volume of arrests at the protests. A wave of political unrest hit Venezuela in February of 2014, sparked by the attempted rape of a University student in San Cristobal, Tachira, a traditionally anti-Chavista area of Venezuela. The protesters were largely students from the middle and upper classes of Venezuela. They called for an end to the rampant levels of crime in the country, as well as solutions to skyrocketing currency inflation and shortages of basic goods like flour, milk, and toilet paper. Many called for "La Salida;" the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro, the democratically elected, handpicked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez. Chavez was beloved by the working class majority of Venezuelans, revered as a savior of the poor. At least 50 people were killed in protests across the country. Maduro and his supporters called the protests a violent coup attempt by right wing elites, while the opposition called the President a murderer and continued to build barricades and burn trash in the streets of upper class communities, defending themselves with molotov cocktails and sling shots, against security forces who were accused of human rights violations by organizations like Amnesty International. March 16, 2014. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • A National Police officer behind a riot shield is pushed backwards by a crush of demonstrators during the March of the Empty Pots, which coincided with International Women's Day. A month into a wave of unrest that has spread across Venezuela, protests continued daily in the upper class enclave of Altamira, Caracas, as well as other parts of the city and country. Protesters are calling for solutions to a staggering rate of street crime, skyrocketing inflation, and a rash of food shortages that have led to long lines at grocery stores and lack of access to goods such as milk, sugar, and flour. While many large protests have been peaceful, the youth demonstrations each afternoon in Altamira are consistently characterized by exchanges of tear gas canisters and sometimes birdshot on the part of police, and rocks, molotov cocktails and other fireworks on the part of the protesters. March 6th, 2014. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • A kidnapping gang from a barrio in western Caracas poses for a portrait at one of their stash houses. Crime, armed robbery, and kidnapping are rampant in the city. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, which tracks violence statistics in the country in lieu of the government which does not, numbers homicides in the country at nearly 25,000 in 2014- making it the 2nd highest peace time murder rate in the world. March 22, 2015. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • A young protester wears a sign that reads "Venezuelan Student" in the center of San Cristobal, in Tachira State, the town on the border of Colombia where Venezuela's unrest began in February of 2014. The student label addresses allegations by Nicolas Maduro's government that the protesters are not students at all but paid imperialist infiltrators being used to destabilize the country. April 25, 2014. Cristobal, Venezuela.

  • Victoria Anais Godoy Figuerdo, 7, does her homework in her family's apartment in an expropriated building in downtown Caracas.(Essentially a legally sanctioned squat.) The families live and work for free in the building which is still under construction. February 2015. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • At Lola, an upscale restaurant in Altamira, models prepare for a fashion show during an evening event. Two years after the charismatic and divisive President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez died, the country he left behind is suffering from severe inflation and product shortages, one of the highest murder rates in the world according to independent violence observers, and has made headlines in the last year for a wave of protests from government opposition sectors. As current President Nicolas Maduro struggles to correct the economic free fall, the rift between Chavista government supporters and opposition parties, often split along class lines is vast and seems to be widening. To makes sense of this place, once must first understand that for all intents and purposes there are two Venezuelas, living in distinct worlds and often blaming each other for the country's woes. The poor who composed Chavez' base, living in favelas and poor working class neighborhoods on meager wages and a robust system of government hand outs, and the middle and upper class who live behind security walls and tinted windows, amid a cloud of fear of crime and insecurity, and a culture of outrage against the ruling party. Many agree that this polarization is contributing to the inability of the country to move forward and solve its problems. February 2015. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • In the poor barrio of La Vega, a violent protest against food shortages and some reported looting broke out. After National Police pushed back the protesters and a gun fight broke out between police and local gangsters in the chaos, residents scurried to and from their homes under the sound of gunfire. June 10, 2016. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • A young man with an injured hand advances towards National Guard with a Molotov cocktail in Altamira. April 26 2017. Caracas, Venezuela.

  • Luzmar looks out the window of her apartment in San Martin, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood near central Caracas. The 26 year old teacher, mother of a three month old, who's husband works for the government, says her family can barely get by and by food, diapers and other necessities despite their good jobs. Her brother was killed in a police raid last year and her daughter was born on the same day he died. Last week residents of the formerly chavista area barricaded the main Avenue of San Martin just below her home in protest, and the police responded with tear gas and bird shot, but with the heavily armed population of the barrio and a large criminal element present, Luzmar said she watched as gangsters mixed with protesters and responded with gunfire, producing a 4 hour shoot out that spilled into the streets of San Martin terrifying the neighborhood and wounding a police chief. The next police returned and shot tear gas through the windows of her building, and the fumes caused her 3 month old daughter to vomit. She was Chavista, and says she doesn't regret voting for Maduro out of loyalty to Chavez, but she would never vote again for either side. Of the protests, she says she understands the outrage as she's feeling all of the problems too, but she doesn't think they're fair. "They paralyze the city, you can't work, you can't go out to get food- how is this helping?" She asks. May 4, 2017. Caracas, Venezuela.

Make Me A Little Miracle: Women In the Venezuelan Crisis

The contradictions of Venezuela defy photography. The way the light hits the Avila mountains in the afternoon. The joyous burst of salsa music out a broken car window as it passes by. The cacophony of motorcycle horns beeping and the smell of the absurdly cheap subsidized gasoline and the sizzle of cloudy white arepa dough browning in the pan in the morning as macaws fly over head and the news blares promises for inadequate programs that everyone knows won’t fix the inflation or the total lawlessness of even the quietest of streets. Gunshots in the distance bursting through the eerily quiet nights.
Venezuelans tell me the fear hurts the most. And the outrage. The hours waiting in line for food and medicine. For loved ones to come home from the protests. The exhausting dysfunction. Their older relatives getting thinner without complaint because they’re too worried for their grand children. The minor injury that turned serious for lack of medicine. The friends that left. The family member who was shot for their cell phone. The good times, a few years back, now a memory.
Three years ago I set out to document a well known if little understood crisis in a country full of magic and Caribbean sun and chaos and mountains of oil money. And of course I found tragedy, and crisis, layers of corruption and violence and absurdity and injustice and class disparity and a fear so omnipresent you cease to feel it at all. But my lens, enchanted despite the wild story unfolding, has lingered on something else too. A nation of women with children clutched tight and jaws set in determination, as they fight their revolution waiting in line for food, or behind a riot shield they chose for lack of better options or a love for law their country lacks. Mothers who make sure their children are clean and presentable and get to school despite the transit strike and the blackout and the malandros on the corner looking for what they can get. I lock eyes with the women protesting outside the prison where one of their husbands has been killed in the ongoing brutal game for power between inmate and guard and the pain in their faces aches in my heart but the strength and determination takes my breath away. Again and again over these years, I’m drawn to the women caught in the middle.
Make Me A Little Miracle references Ruben Blades’ famous salsa song called “Maria Lionza”, a Venezuelan saint or goddess figure and icon of strength and the mystical beauty of the Venezuelan woman. This body of work documents they daily life of the Venezuelan woman amid all of the unrest and disfunction, in an departure from traditional representations of violence in Latin America, desperately trying to produce the miracles required each day to put food on the table, keep their loved ones safe, and not just survive but enjoy another day.