All The Magical Things

T o help humanity is the goal of the Dutch-Equadorian photographer, Cris Toala Olivares. Born in Manta, Ecuador in 1982, Olivares grew up with dreams of helping people through medicine. Guided by his desire to become a “great thing,” Cris Toala Olivares moved to Amsterdam and obtained a medical degree. One might wonder how a man pursuing a career in medicine ended up in photojournalism, the answer: a goal to help humanity. While volunteering in the Gaza War, Cris Toala Olivares began taking photos in order to expose the harsh realities of war and the struggles of those exposed to it. The photo that got him started was a photograph of a child suffering from cancer in Gaza who was told that he couldn’t go to Egypt to pursue treatment. In response, Cris Toala Olivares sent a photograph of the child to a newspaper. Much to his surprise, the Red Cross saw it and requested the contact information of the child in order to help him. It was in this moment that Olivares realized the power of photography and the impact for change he could have on the world with a camera in hand.

“In every story, what we come of and every topic of what we are doing you see all the magical things. In every story, you learn all these things and you are always with people. I don’t know how to explain. For example, I work on a story about a dog and it’s so hard to understand what is inside the mind of a dog: What is he thinking? Is he scared? Is he happy? The best things about my job is that you are always learning, there is always a different story. We are not like news photographers, they take photos and walk away. We are different, we stay with the people. It’s crazy when people start to cry because you have to go away, we become a part of the island, a part of them, a part of the community. We are always with the people and the topic we have to do. We see the magical things. That is the beautiful thing of my job, you are always learning, you know we are not egos because we don’t keep the information, we share the information and inspire the world [sic].”

Olivares has always pursued his own desires and his own beliefs, going his own way. Through the career of photography, Olivares has discovered not only the world, but himself, learning a deep respect for humanity. Guided by his own intuition, interests, and heart, Olivares seeks out stories that he feels passionate about. In addition to winning many awards, having featured his work in many galleries and museums, and publishing his book, “The Amsterdam Canals: Through the Eyes of Cris Toala Olivares,” Olivares’ work has appeared in internationally renowned newspapers, magazines, and news agencies such as, National Geographic, GEO, der Spiegel, Reuters, The Associated Press and many others. Despite his achievements as a photographer, Olivares sees success as only an outcome of a pursuance of his passions, not a goal.

Photo of a tear gas attack, this image won ‘Overall Favourite Image’ in CPN Editors Choice 3
“I think that all my works are actually my favorite because they are a moment, a moment of life, a beautiful experience, and I can’t say that this is better or this is bad. No, it’s the same. I have a lot of respect for what I have been seeing in the world and that is the reason why I don’t have any favorite. you know? It’s a part of your life [sic].”


“It is heartbreaking when you see that you are connected with the island, but that is my job, you have to keep moving and go to the other place, countries, and you can’t stay in one place like the people from the island [sic].”

“In a very beautiful way,” is how Olivares has been affected by traveling the world. Through his travels and his exposure to many different countries and cultures, Olivares has learned “what respect really means.” For example, he describes how when visiting an Islamic country he needed to know that he wasn’t allowed to touch the women in any way, even to shake their hands. Being exposed to societies and cultures not of his own, Olivares has become more humble and has learned that you must have respect for everyone and everything, everywhere you go.

Life Advice

“Respect the earth,” is the life advice of Olivares. He describes how when he was in Stromboli he met a fisherman who only catches what he needs and not to excess. Olivares thinks that it is vital to have respect for both people and the planet even if it’s not what society wants right now. He believes that if you show respect for the earth, the earth will show respect for you.


Amsterdam canals
“I learn from the streets, it’s the way you see, it’s your perspective. You only see what you see, you only try to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that [sic].”

There is a spark of joy in Olivares’ voice when asked what his favorite photography job has been. He believes that “every time you go for a job, you go for a reason” and “every job is different.” Unable to choose a favorite, Olivares describes how hard it can be sometimes to achieve a job and how one must “fight to get it.” In his line of work, Olivares sees “the truth.” He is exposed to everything that life is: happiness, sadness, horrible things, good things, etc. Everyday is different for Olivares. Unlike those who have office jobs and “always see the same people, the same people,” Olivares is always seeing new things and constantly moving on to the next new, raw, exciting thing, all whilst capturing the truth of life.

One of Olivares’ most well-known jobs is his work photographing volcanoes. Photographing volcanoes with people of all races, Olivares seeks to tell the story of what it’s like to live in the footpaths of a volcano.

“I photograph volcanos with Asian people, Islamic people, etc. and at the end I will put them all together and tell of the story of the people who live volcanoes. They have been teaching me learn with the Earth and to be connected with the earth. When you feel the energy of the Earth, you know, I’m not scared of the volcano, I have respect for the volcano. I don’t have fear of the volcano, I respect it and that’s what happens with people who live 3 or 4 kilometers from the volcano, they respect it and they know how to handle it. It’s crazy when people come here, when I go to Europe people say ‘Bye Cris, why do they live there? Why don’t they go away?” They dont have to because they live with them, they respect them [sic].”

“Look in the eyes of the people,” is Olivares’ best advice when it comes to photography. He stresses how important it is to connect with those that you are photographing, to show them that you are “observing” them, not just mindlessly photographing them. To do this Olivares recommends using a short lens such as, a 24mm or 28mm. Through using such a short-range lens, Olivares believes that one can show their subject that they respect them and that they are on the same level as them. Olivares often spends hours connecting with his subjects, this is how he manages to create such meaningful, emotional work.

In addition to connecting with your subjects, Olivares stresses the importance of making plans as a photographer. He believes that if you sit around waiting for a job to find you, “you will die.” This is why Olivares seeks out his own work by follwing his “intuition” and discovering interesting subjects he can capture. This freedom to pursue any subject he desires is one of the most attractive things to Olivares about his job. This suiting freedom allows Olivares to view the world with the knowledge that there are potential stories everywhere.