The Puna de Atacama or Atacama Plateau is an arid high plateau in the Andes of Argentina. The term "Puna" (Quechua) means "Moor" or "Cool Earth".
I first came to know about it though a chance encounter in my dentist's waiting room about a year ago. A travel magazine featuring pictures of what I initially thought was either the Chilean or Bolivian Atacama grabbed my attention. So familiar was the landscape that I assumed I must know of it. But I had never been here nor heard of it until this very moment.
One picture in particular drew me in. In a double-page spread, I found myself staring at the oddest looking conical shaped mountain I’d ever seen. Cono de Arita rises 122 meters above the Salar de Arizaro, the sixth largest salt flat on earth. It is also quite a distance from the nearest village of Tolar Grande which is 70km away.
Cono de Arita is an arresting object to experience. The way the tones of its dark pyramid shape contrast with the surrounding salt flat is quite startling. From the moment I saw that first picture of it, I knew I had to come and visit.
All the images in this portfolio were made during a six day tour. Just myself and my guide Pancho in his little 4WD pickup truck. He had water canisters in the back and a collection of Argentine music in the cab.
We spoke of many things during our drive across the plateau - he of Argentine culture, the geology of the landscape and most importantly, of his love for his beautiful little daughter. I spoke of what it's like to be Scottish and my love for the high plateau landscapes of the Andes.
At each moment of our many conversations, we remained the only static things in the landscape while outside, the terrain was always changing. Sometimes the transition would be instantaneous, other times we would spend many hours with the landscape not changing at all.
For instance, the journey out to the Cono de Arita for sunrise, a mere 70km away from the town we slept in, seemed to last forever. Despite seeing the volcano for well over an hour from the front seat of Pancho's 4WD, we seemed to get no closer to it. Such is the optical illusion of driving over a large salt flat: things far away appear to be deceptively close.
But what I discovered in the Puna was much more than the tantalising shape of cono de Arita. The Campo de Piedra Poméz (pumice stone field) for instance, is a massive area littered with pumice rock as big as boats and shaped just like them. Each rock faces the same way, with their sharply defined bows pointing towards some imaginary destination, ready to sail.
I ran out of time. Six days isn’t really nearly enough time to do the Puna justice. The distances were great, and due to frustration of not knowing the places well, I missed an awful lot. I often felt I turned up at places that would be great during sunrise, but I was there for sunset.
Like I always say to people who ask me how I find out about where to shoot:
"I often go at least twice, the first time to find out what it is I should photograph, the second time to go and photograph it. And if I really fall in love with the place, I keep going back to delve beneath the obvious".
I am already hatching plans to do just that.
Bolivian Altiplano 2015
Valle de Dalì & the Siloli desert Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa
The high altitude thin air and the light that accompanies it, makes the Bolivian altiplano like no other place I know. The landscape is surreal, sometimes exactly like a Dalì painting with colour palettes that I don't find in other landscapes. The altiplano is a place I find I can work on simplifying my composition skills. It is a vast, empty and strangely beautiful place to be.
These are a few of the hardships one may encounter while here on the Altiplano of Bolivia. At an elevation of 3,600m at its lowest point and 4,800m at its highest, it is a hard environment to exist in. But it’s not just the lack of air. The temperature in the shade can often leave you wishing for warmth, while outside in the sun, the UV content is so harsh that sunglasses and a hat are necessary, if not mandatory. Your down jacket remains on, at all times, like a permanent fixture to your body.
Is something that does not exist here. After almost three weeks at high elevation, my skin began to crack on the back of my hands. Abrasions appeared whilst taking my winter gloves off for brief moments to operate my camera at -17ºC. My lips were constantly chapped.
There were many times when I thought my camera had seized up in the cold of the morning, only to find that it was my mind instead, that had stopped working. I lost many shots because of user error, exacerbated by hands that would not, and could not work the settings of my camera at low temperatures.
A landscape full of light
But what light! The reason why I am here!
Every hardship that I experienced at high altitude was worth it - for those gorgeous rays of light that I witnessed each morning and evening. Like clockwork, always on time and never disappointing me, the light possessed a vibrancy that affected my Fuji Velvia film in a way, that no other landscape has.
I'd like to express my deepest of thanks to the following guides and drivers who assisted me over the three week period I was at high altitude:
Abel Valdivia Lopez Armando Mamani Flores Demetrio Chavez Vergara
Alvaro Oropeza Carbera Marisol Maydana
Torres del Paine national park, in the southern region of Chile, is a place that I've been going to since 2003. I love this place dearly, despite it being a very difficult place to photograph.
For years I've been seeking to shoot this place with a lot of colour in mind. I guess I have been drawn in by those red Patagonian skies. But things have changed for me recently. I've come to realise that some places have a character due to the coldness of the light they are bathed in. Torres del Paine national park is one such place. It is a beautifully stark place, and I feel I've only just begun to understand it.
About the last photo
I always find myself full of thoughts about where I've just been and what I've experienced whilst there. Each time I fly home from Patagonia, the glaciers and mountains are sometimes hidden by a bank of cloud. There's something quite calming about seeing an inverted horizon above the clouds with beautiful tones. It's a great way to say goodbye to a place that is one of my homes from home.
Weather, Light, Colour, Emotion
Most folk who live in Scotland find the weather during November harsh. It's often wet, windy and cold.
But visiting the isle of Harris when there are many winter storms coming through, has given me the chance to work with atmosphere more than anywhere else I know of.
Although the island offers little in the way of craggy coast-line or sharply defined mountains, I find this lack of attributes ideal, because it allows me to focus on the basic elements of colour and tone.
Harris is all about atmospheric changes.
Often overwhelmed by the space around me, I find I seem to tune in to the elements, so much so, that I can spend days here absorbed in it all. And days I must spend, because Harris does not offer up its secrets in one day.
The variances of light on the landscape change and evolve slowly over days if not weeks and I often feel Harris is all about the study of time.
Above all, the changes in the landscape seem to reflect the changes that I notice within me as a photographer. And I feel there has been a change. Perhaps I'm trying less to tell the landscape what I want, and instead, I'm more at ease with letting it tell me what it wants.
Timkat celebrations, Lalibela, Ethiopia, 2015
There is much to be said for returning to a place.
I first visited the sacred town of Lalibela in September 2010 for the christian orthodox celebration known as Meskel. During that stay, I got to know the Ethiopian people and also discovered how much their faith in christianity is core to their lives.
But I’d always wanted to visit for Timkat - the orthodox celebration of Epiphany. So five years since I first visited Lalibela, I returned in January of 2015 and met my guide for the second time. Muchaw is a church deacon and with him I seemed to be allowed access to all areas for this special celebration. I can’t thank him enough.
This time round, I saw a few changes in the town. I noticed that the Tuktuk, the strange little taxi that is so common in India, had made it here. I also noticed that there had been some growth in decent housing for the people of Lalibela on the outskirts of town. But mostly I found the people of Lalibela had not changed and were still as warm and open as I found them upon my first visit back in 2010.
During Timkat I saw many women wearing an ornate head dress. I’d not seen this on my last visit and I believe it is traditional jewellery worn by the women of Eritrea.
In one of my photographs, two priests have ornate head-dresses - they are actually Tabot's (symbols of the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments). One of the priests holds the Tabot on his head hidden in layers of colourful velvet shelter, not to be viewed by anyone. On the first day of the Timkat celebration, the Tabots are taken out of the monasteries with a large procession. All the monks shake Sitras (religion bells) and winding horns.
I loved the celebrations of Timkat. The town was full of people who had come from far and wide, from not just within Ethiopia, but also from Europe and America.
Muchaw escorted me to all the auspicious occasions, often dressed in his official clothing for the celebrations, and with his beautiful daughter and son in tow.
I'd like to thank Muchaw for his help in gaining me access to the heart of the celebrations. Without his help, I wouldn't have been able to make the photos you see here, particularly the close up portraits.
I’ve been going to Iceland for quite some time now. When I first visited the country in 2004, I had a clear idea of the places I wanted to photograph because there are many stunningly beautiful iconic places to go photograph. I think most ‘first trips’ are like this. I go and I photograph the obvious. But it’s been more than ten years now, and I feel that I’ve been drifting away from these iconic places to photograph anonymous locations, or locations that are lesser known. I should add that there is no conscious decision to do this - but it’s just been an organic evolution of sorts and each visit finds me diving a little bit deeper below the surface.
So it was of great satisfaction to me to find that my south-coast tour this winter did not yield the same expectations or studies of places that I often gravitate towards. Instead, the environmental conditions were such that most of the places I would pass by, held great interest to me.
For example, due to the high winds in Iceland, I found that many of the sand deserts presented an interesting interplay between the black sand and snow. There were also surprises in the north east of the country where the light colour of the sulfur rock was interwoven in zigzag textures with snow and ice.
I feel that Iceland is somewhere that will remain in my photographic-psyche for a long time to come and I’m very happy knowing this :-)
With the utmost of manners, and what felt like genuine consideration for their guest, I found the Geisha to be completely spellbinding.
Everything about them leaned dramatically towards a time-honoured, refined image of femininity; the hair, the lightness of skin, the lipstick and the softness of manner.
All were an inescapable, highly impressionable window on a past.
A past, where feminine delicacy had been unashamedly celebrated.
Many of the Geisha I met were not mature woman. Maiko, as they are known, are young girls, whom from the age of 15 serve an apprenticeship until their early 20’s. From then on, they are known as Geiko.
As beautiful as they were, at a distance, I could have easily assumed them to be much older than their years. It was only upon being introduced to one, that I realised she must be around 16 years old.
Centuries of tradition, elaborate yet elegant costume and an air of old-fashioned politeness had made a young girl seem much older than she was. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much reverence for such a young stranger before.
I got the impression that Japan leads one to feel a great respect for everything, because respect is evident in many things the Japanese do. I felt that they are a mindful people at heart.
Monochrome in Colour
I first made images of the black sand beaches of Iceland in 2011. Since then, I've noticed that I seem to be using the colour palette of a location to provide a 'theme' for the work at hand.
I think this set of images are a continuation (or development) from my first set of images made here in 2011. They are more mono-chromatic in nature; a little bit more fine-tuned perhaps.
I seem to have become obsessed with colour as a theme to unify a body of work. And if the subject is mono-chromatic in nature, it has to be listened to, and respected in the final work. Even if I am shooting in colour.
I'm always aware of changes in my own work
I think that the stage I'm at with my work these days is of fine-tuning a style that has been in progress for 12 years or so. There is a shift, but it's subtle.
I think as photographers, or as creative people in general, we should observe, and notice these subtle shifts in our own work. It is through this process of self-awareness, that we are given clues as to where it is that we are going.