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From cover to cover, a man’s second chance

Once homeless and addicted to alcohol, a Sweetwater man found redemption through his passion for photography — and recently launched a Spanish-language community magazine featuring his work.

BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Camera Lucas Magazine earlier this month at El Novillo restaurant, 6830 SW 40 St. More than 40 of his family and friends were present to witness the unveiling of his accomplishment. The Spanish-language magazine is named after his father, Juan Lucas Portocarrero.

The free monthly magazine displays 12 pages filled of news relating to immigration, health, social and community issues. But the highlight is Portocarrero’s colorful photographs showcasing images such as local wildlife and people celebrating birthdays.

“This is a job that is healthy,” he said. “This helps me recuperate from the alcoholic life I once lived.”

More than 5,000 copies were printed for the first edition and will be distributed in several restaurants and grocery stores from Sweetwater to Hialeah. He plans to print 6,000 for his next edition of the magazine, which he funds with his own money as well as sponsors. He said he plans to include articles in English in the future.

Mercedes Jiron, Portocarrero’s wife of seven years and mother of his 5-year-old daughter, cried tears of joy after hearing her husband speak.

“It has cost him a lot of long nights, but with the help of friends and family he has a firm step,” she said at the July 8 event.

Before ever thinking of releasing the magazine, Portocarrero worked with his father at a photographic studio in his native Nicaragua, where he learned the ins-and-outs of the business. He dropped out of high school to pursue his own photography business, but it fizzled amid the Central American country’s economic woes.

Portocarrero, who has three other children from a previous relationship, arrived in South Florida with hopes of earning enough money to send back home. He worked in restaurants and attended Miami Dade College to study photography.

But he said homesickness led him to pick up a bottle of alcohol. “People would deny me jobs because they knew I was an alcoholic,” he said.

He was homeless for years, wearing the same clothes and drinking any alcoholic beverage he could afford. His brother Cesar Navarrete tried to help him, but he refused.

“I would hide from him,” Portocarrero said. “I was afraid.”

In 1994, he was arrested for disorderly intoxication and for driving under the influence after he stole Navarrete’s car and drove it onto the Palmetto — on his way to purchase liquor. He was apprehended after swerving on the road.

“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “I remember opening my eyes inside a jail cell.”

Portocarrero never quit on his passion for photography. He managed to take pictures of people at restaurants while under the influence, and would sell the photos to patrons.

“With the money I made taking pictures I would buy drinks,” he said. “Then I would lose the camera.”

Members of Intergrupal, an Alcoholic Anonymous center located in Sweetwater, approached him and offered to lend a hand. That’s when he picked up his camera, began taking pictures of people at restaurants — but this time saved his money to afford an efficiency apartment instead of spending it on alcohol. Friend Jairo Velasquez Flutsch allowed Portocarrero to use space at his shipping company as a makeshift photo studio, where he would take family portraits.

“I have always supported him,” said Velasquez Flutsch.

Velasquez introduced his friend to Nicolas Lopez-Maltez, director of La Estrella de Nicaragua newspaper. Portocarrero was offered a freelance job as a photographer.

“He waits for the best moment to catch the expression of the people,” Lopez-Maltez said.

Since then, Portocarrero also continues to work as a freelance photographer for various Spanish-language news sources.

Portocarrero said he has put his tumultuous years behind him.

“People invite me for a drink, but I tell them nicely, no,” he said. “I think of my wife and my kids when alcohol is around.”

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