nostalgia

A feeling of nostalgia is hitting me tonight.

As I sit here, after spending the whole week preparing copies of my Altiplano book to be shipped out, I can’t help reflect upon the journeys I’ve made over the past decade or so.

I’ve said many times, that the time we spend outside making images, is a way of us marking our time. Photography gives us a great chance to stop and think about where we are ‘right now’, and then as time goes on, we can look back at images we created and they bring us right back to that moment.

altiplano-books.jpg

Who we were, what was going on in our lives. Photography gives us a chance to not only relive the past, but also to draw contrasts with where we are now, who we are now, and how we’ve changed.

I can’t think of a better way of marking my time. Photography has given me a way of remembering the past, and of noting just how much I’ve done with my life.

And for that: I can’t help but feel rather nostalgic tonight.

I’m not entirely at ease with the emotion. I think nostalgia is sort of interlaced with a sense of loss. I think that’s ok though. Isn’t it? We must all accept that what water has passed under the bridge won’t return. What we experienced, what we felt and saw, happens only once.

For me, I think the feeling of nostalgia tells me one thing: to cherish every. single. moment. Who we are, are our memories. We are the culmination of everything that went before us. To revel in what we did, where we were, who we were, what we were doing, is such a precious gift.

Great times are often happening right now, except we lack the foresight to know it. You may be forming some of your most precious memories this year, except you won’t know it until much later on in life.

Well, I digress….. but it does have a point. I can’t help thinking about the amateur photographer I was, with a few friends around me who said ‘you should go pro’ (Don’t all friends tell you that?). Except I was daft (stupid) enough to believe. it. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s also been the best thing I ever did.

My Altplano book wouldn’t have happened without the past. I needed to go create some memories, and I needed to go and live. I went to the Altiplano of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile several times, so much so that I can mark my life by it. I know where I was in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

My Altiplano book couldn’t have happened without the culmination of experiences. As I said a few days ago, you don’t create work by watching YouTube tutorials, or by reading loads of blogs. You create work by finding out who you are. And to do that, you need to go explore.

That’s exactly what I did. I went exploring.

My Altiplano book couldn’t have happened any other way. And looking back, I realise it’s given me more than just a nice book, and some nice images: It gave me some special memories and markers for my life.

Nostalgia. Well, sometimes it serves us well :-)

Forthcoming Book

This year will see the publication of the second instalment of my Colourchrome book that was published last year. The new book will be of similar format: same dimension, but this time it will be a detailed monograph of my Altiplano images, interlaced with stories from my time at high elevation. The book will also contain some context towards the geographical and cultural region: Bolivia is a high altitude landscape and the land here is the way it is due to the environmental conditions and local farming.

Forthcoming book cover (prototype).

Forthcoming book cover (prototype).

I've been photographing the Altiplano regions of Argentina, Bolivia & Chile for the past nine years.

I had hoped to publish a book on the Atacama regions of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina  several years ago, but the project just kept extending as I found each year that I went back to complete the work I would find more locations worthy of exploring.

A handful of images

A handful of images

The whole region would take a lifetime to photograph, so I came to the conclusion recently that it is a task that has no end in sight, and I should really draw a line where I feel there is some kind of personal natural conclusion.

Expect an announcement later in the year.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina.  Image © Bruce Percy 2017.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina. 
Image © Bruce Percy 2017.

Campo de Piedra Pomez (the pumice stone field)

Imagine a field with white pumice rock, in strange shapes and patterns, that goes on for tens of kilometres. This is where I camped for two nights so I could be there for sunrise and sunset.

The elevation is around 3,500 metres. The drive in from the nearest town of El Piñon is long, perhaps two hours, and not that easy to find again if you are trying to leave the Pumice field after the sun has gone down. A GPS system is very much needed.

But I chose to camp here for two very long days.

In the daytime the tents that my guide brought in would bake. They were like greenhouses with the sun beating on them, but to be outside was even worse. And there was no shade from the overhead sun. So I just had to open the doors of the tent and pray for a breeze. The final hour towards sunset would start of slow, but as the light started to change, things would happen fast. Too fast, and even though I had spent the afternoon scouting out potential locations that I thought had great composition potential, I still found the light didn't react the way I had anticipated. I had to change plan and react fast.

After sunset had finished, and after a few moments of wrestling with my camera because the film back would occasionally jam, the temperature would plummet. I'd return back to the camp site to find my guide Pancho had made a dinner for me, and we'd stare at the milky way (what a sight to see when there is no light pollution for many many miles all around!), before deciding it was now getting too cold to stay outside.

The mornings would be worse. Really, really freezing cold. Can you imagine having to get out of a nice warm sleeping bag to try and put on some freezing clothes? And then stumble around with a head torch looking for good compositions? My hands would be biting cold and sometimes I would swear to myself. It was painful.

Once the sun was up, I'd feel a sense of relief. The feeling had returned to my frozen hands, and I was now glad that the long wait was over: we could leave this place. As beautiful as it is, and as fascinating as it was to walk around this massive field of strange structures the size of houses, I was glad to be leaving for civilisation.

You have to put the effort in, to get something back. I had planned to come back here for two years and although the two days of hanging around here had been long, boring and uncomfortable, I had felt I'd managed to tap into the potential of this place. Often it's the places that are hardest to get to, that intrigue me the most.

Delving deeper

It's good to get to know a landscape. Well.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, April 2017
Image taken by my guide on his Samsung phone. My films won't be ready until the very end of May !

I've been back in the Puna de Atacama region of Argentina this past week making some new photographs. My first visit here was two years ago. It was only a fleeting six day visit to the area where I felt I was often in the wrong place at sunrise and sunset. Despite being pleased with my first efforts, the experience left me feeling I had only scraped the surface of this amazing place. So many locations were wonderful but I was often there during the middle of the day when the light wasn't good. This is often the way with visits to new places: the first visit is more about finding out what it is I want to photograph and the second visit is about photographing it!

I like to get to know a place well, and repeated visits are the only way to do that. I see photographing a place like a continual learning experience where I hopefully grow in terms of my understanding of the place, as well as in my photography.

Logistics are often the biggest obstacle in getting to photograph a place well. With the Puna de Atacama, the region is vast. So vast in fact that my first visit left me feeling frustrated because in the space of a mile or so, there would be so many locations that would be suitable for the brief 20 minutes of beautiful light at either side of the day. With only 20 minutes to play with before the light would be bleached out at sunrise, and only 20 minutes to play with before the light was gone in the evening, it made choosing locations very tough indeed.

On location in the Puna de Atacama desert, Argentina, April 2017

So this visit was more about finding those special locations, areas where I wouldn't have to move so much to capture different aspects of the landscape before the 20 minutes of beautiful light was gone. That meant a lot of day-time scouting and many hills were climbed to find vantage points where I would have better luck when the light was good.

Spot-metering the desert in Argentina, April 2017

Location scouting seems to be a trial of errors. Working out where the sun is going to be and how it might react with the landscape can be done to some degree with Stephen Trainor's wonderful TPE application, but there still needs to be a lot of walking and climbing done to find those beautiful compositions where shapes in the landscape form the symmetry and balance I'm seeking.

Indeed, standing still in one location that is (hopefully) the best spot I can find, sometimes reaps dividends. With the Cono de Arita (the volcano shot at the top of this post (made by my guide on his Samsung phone), it was a learning experience to see how the shadows of the surrounding mountains interplayed with the salt flat and the silhouette of the cone as the sun dropped behind the horizon.

I believe it is only by spending time, and observing how the light interplays with the landscape that I can truly learn to be a better photographer. To obtain the images I want, I need to put the effort in, and that often means re-visiting a landscape many times over. Indeed, any landscape that I fall in love with will often become a regular part of my yearly photography because it has the capacity to teach me so much.

The Labyrinth Desert, Puna de Atacama

I've often felt that the more I get to know a place, the deeper the connection becomes. Over the years I've been traveling and making images, I have slowly built up a collection of places I love and keep returning to for that very reason.

This summer I visited the Puna de Atacama. It is a new location for me despite being, on the surface, similar to the Bolivian altiplano that I know and love so well.

One place in particular that I really found most interesting is named 'the labyrinth desert' - it's yet another high elevation landscape, but it was so far removed from all the other kinds I've experienced to date in the Altiplano of Chile and Bolivia, that I felt it has been overlooked somewhat.

It's difficult to get some scale to this landscape, and you may be forgiven for thinking that this area only encapsulates the mountains you see in my shots. The mountains are actually small pink clay hills - approximately around 30 to 40 feet high. Not that big at all, and so the scale of these photos is maybe a little deceptive.

But what you can't gather from these shots is just how selective I was in making them. This is only a very tiny section of the entire area. Due to the limited time I had here - one evening of good light which lasted for about 10 minutes, I had to quickly make these shots with the time and limited positioning I had. 

Research is key to good landscape photography. I only feel I've just become acquainted with this place, and really need to spend a lot more time here - because it's the only way I will know where the best locations are for the kinds of light that I like to shoot in (often with the sun behind me).

The other complication to this landscape was its fragility. It is made up from a very soft pink clay and gypsum. The gypsum is scattered all across the surface like broken shards of glass and the terrain is really fragile to walk on - when you do go anywhere, it's like walking across the crust of a chocolate pudding. Each footstep breaks through the surface and seems to leave what I was convinced was a permanent scar on the landscape.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama

Today I just published some new work. This time round, from a place I've never photographed before - the Puna de Atacama.

I visited this high plateau early on this summer. Perhaps the most startling location here is the cono de Arita - a small volcano that is only 122 meters high.

I was really taken with its conical shape and the tonal contrasts - the white salt flat is at polar opposites to the dark tones of the cone. The place has a surreal, alien quality to it and I really wanted to convey that in the final edit you see here.

But it's a tough place to visit: at a high altitude of around 4,000 metres, and very basic amenities (more basic than in Bolivia), plus very very long traveling distances between locations - I found my time here a challenge.

I missed a lot of places because we were passing through at the wrong time of day, or because we simply ran out of time. In my minds-eye I can still see so many key locations that I failed to capture, that I know I really do have to come back. So I've already begun planning some time there again in 2016.

I love how photography has the ability to steer you in new directions and take you on new journeys :-)