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Capturing Costa Rica’s centenarians

June 5, 2012

From the print edition

It began in Mónica Quesada’s great-grandmother’s kitchen, making tamales. “I said, ‘Grandma, if you live to be 100, I will give you a great-grandchild,’” Quesada recalled. But when that 100th birthday came around, Quesada wasn’t quite ready to reproduce. “Don’t worry,” her great-grandma told her. “I won’t hold you to it.”

Years later, the time the two women spent in the kitchen became an inspiration for a  different sort of baby: a film and photography project documenting Costa Rica’s centenarians, people who live to 100. Quesada was an ideal person to lead such a project. 

She grew up in Costa Rica, studied chemistry in college and made a last-minute switch to photography. In her early career, she took pictures for Costa Rica’s La Republica and The Tico Times. Since then, Quesada has traveled the world and sold photographs to international publications. 

Now, she studies photojournalism on scholarship at San Francisco State University in the United States. But her ongoing, seven-year centenarian project in Costa Rica is still a priority. 

Costa Rica’s Centenarians 2

Eduardo Rodríguez, 103.


Mónica Quesada

“You need to get into their rhythm,” she said of centenarians. “They live at a different pace, they know how beautiful life is and how we all need to slow down and enjoy it.”

There are 425 Costa Ricans who are 100 or older, according to a 2011 assessment by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Costa Rica, but that number declines each year. To date, Quesada has photographed 13 centenarians here, and she plans to photograph 101 for a short documentary and photo book. 

With the project, Quesada aims to transcend the stigma around aging, she said. All the creams for wrinkles and shampoos to grow thicker hair make getting older seem undesirable, but really people should have pride in their years, she said.

To fund the documentary and photo book, Quesada is running a campaign on www.indiegogo.com. On the site, people can share information about projects and viewers can donate. Donors receive rewards, including postcards, digital prints of Quesada’s photos and copies of her documentary and photo book. She needs to raise $26,000.

“Doing the math for how much this would cost really scared me,” Quesada said. “The biggest cost is printing the photo books. Each centenarian will get one. They deserve more but that’s what I can do.”

Additional books will go to publishers and donors, and other expenses include car rental, fuel, lodging and food.
 At the time of print, $4,641 had been contributed by 34 donors. 

Quesada’s fundraising campaign lasts 45 days, ending July 6. If the $26,000 isn’t reached,  donors will be refunded and Quesada will be back at square one, with no funding.

“We all have an aging someone in our lives whom we love,” she said. “This is a way of honoring that person, and what’s a better way to celebrate life than to recognize those who have experienced one hundred years?”

Quesada’s great-grandmother made tamales until she died, and to Quesada, the bean tamales are the most memorable. “She could show her love by feeding people,” Quesada said. “Her tamales de frijol were wonderful, and she had many secret recipes. I regret never having documented her cooking.”

What Quesada will document is the grace of living 100 years. View and contribute to Quesada’s Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/CRCentenarians.

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