jaimemontilla.com
About
 
Growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico my father was a photography enthusiast.  He built a dark room in our house and watching him develop black and white pictures using an Omega enlarger instilled in me an interest in photography.  Soon my brothers and I were spending hours in the dark room developing our own black and white pictures.  This interest in photography continued into my High School years when I joined the school photography club and was soon taking pictures of all sports and other activities for the school's monthly bulletin.   
 
Now at retirement age, that interest in photography has again surfaced.  Years have passed and technology has changed.  Film photograpy and dark rooms have been replaced by digital photography and software, but the techniques learned years ago still remain true to proper picture taking.

Our idea is taking pictures of old structures remaining of what once were important industries which are no more.  The initial industry documented is the sugar industry.  Why sugar?  Well, during my youth in the 1950's, as the 7th largest producer of sugar in the world, sugar was everything in Puerto Rico.  As mentioned above, I spent my youth in Ponce where Central Fortuna  and Central Mercedita , the largest locally owned sugar mill were located.  The adjacent towns of Juana Diaz to the east and Guayanilla oto the West were the site of four additional sugar mills, to wit: Rufina San Francisco Cortada and  Boca Chica .

Every family had in one way or another ties with the sugar industry, everybody had a friend whose family was directly involved in the industry.   The neighborhood of El Vigía where I grew up was at the top of a hill overlooking the town of Ponce, it was where families directly related to Central Mercedita , Central Rufina and Central Cortada called home.  Members of my family on both sides were directly related to the sugar industry as well.  On my mother side, my 3rd Great Grandfather Antonio Francisco Negroni Mattei was the owner of Hacienda Florida and Hacienda San Colombano , my Grandfather Juan Antonio Negroni Antonmattei worked at the Guanica Centrale and my cousin Asunción Negroni Albelda was married to Arturo Lluveras the owner of Central San Francisco .   On my father side, my Great Grandfather Emilio Montilla Valdespino appears in the Catalogue of the Spanish Section of the 1889 Universal Expo in Paris as a Producer of muscovado sugar from San Juan and my 2nd Great Grandfather Juan Francisco Watlington del Toro was owner of Hacienda Buena Vista in Arecibo.

Additionally, as a result of research done for this project, I have found that the history of the sugar industry on the island has been distorted throughout the years, especially the reason for its demise.  The local government policies implemented to fight and eliminate the four US sugar corporations on the island not only succeeded in their closure but in the closure of more than thirty locally owned sugar factories as well.  Part of the reason for this fight was stopping the repatriation of profits generated by the US corporations, without acknowledging that this same practice existed during the Spanish colonial time probably to a greater extent.

After all is said and done, Operation Bootstrap  as the program established to convert the local economy from agricultural to industrial was known, succeded in transforming a primarily agricultural economy that was the engine behind the island's economy for over 100 years to an industrialization program that lasted approximately 30 years and is today practically non existent.