With lockdown and this dreaded virus postponing the majority of my years weddings to 2021, I’ve been left at a bit of a loose end this summer!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually really enjoyed myself. My wife and I had a beautiful baby boy named ‘Lenny Indiana’ and we’ve had all the time in the world to get to know his weird and wonderful rhythms.
Here’s a few pics of the little fellow…
Once the Coronavirus Government Broadcasts got too samey and depressing, I chose to tune out, stay home and dedicate lockdown to family time, chillin’ and getting jobs done!
The loft and shed are (almost) neat, new trellises have sweetpeas climbing ’em and I’m already harvesting gherkins, wild rocket & kale from a lush veg plot.
I’ve even taken on dad-like hobbies, like learning how to paint gorgeous watercolour landscapes by my guru Ian Scott Massie (try his online watercolour courses with lockdown discount here).
…it’s not lost on me how dangerously middle-aged I sound here…
Recently though, I’ve been scraping the barrel of ancient ‘to do’ lists for jobs to do, and dodging ‘SORT WEBSITE SEO!‘ (obvs), I spotted: ‘File and process South America pics‘. Something I’ve been putting off for, hmm, THIRTEEN YEARS!
So I finally did it… and it was a really interesting experience going through them.
I’d say my career as a photographer was born out of wanderlust. If you’ll permit me to reminisce back to ’99, I set out to Bangladesh on a ‘year out’, with a handful of street smarts and a basic compact Rollei film camera. Volunteering in a spinal injuries centre, I loved venturing out to capture the chaos and beauty of this relatively undiscovered land. Photography was the perfect way to chronicle and internalise these visceral new experiences. With new found friends, we journeyed near and far around Bangladesh, filling rolls of film, locally developing them and comparing the results. We continued this tradition at the end of our stint with a road trip to Nepal, via Darjeeling in Northern India. After a Himalayan trek together, I headed solo back into India through Varanasi to Calcutta, before bouncing over to the Gulf of Thailand to join my older brother in ‘a bucket’ and some 3rd degree sunburn. I returned home brimming with tales no-one had the time for, and headed to Nottingham University to study Psychology. 3 years on, and no sooner a graduate, I lost my 2:1 Degree Certificate as soon as it was handed to me (true story), threw on my backpack and set out again to continue the adventure from South East Asia, around the world… Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji and the West Coast of the USA & Canada… a completely magical experience! Once settled home I kept the trip alive by selling travel prints in Leeds’ Corn Exchange craft market. Not long later, I began shooting a wide variety of editorial work for ‘The Leeds Guide’ Magazine and it wasn’t long before friends asked if I fancied photographing their weddings. In 2006 I took on my first wedding and in spite of killing a very expensive camera a pal lent me for it, I was hooked!
(So by my maths, I’ve officially been shooting weddings for 14 years now!)
A year after these early forays in wedding photography, two old school pals and I started plotting & saving for a trip to the Carnival in Brazil, after which I set off for a 3 month explore around South America…
It was plotted on-the-hoof in the days before smartphones, mainly overland with the odd flight / cargo ship leg, and this ended up being my route:
I’ll be writing comments throughout the post below, but before I lose your attention, here’s a slideshow of my pics, set to a latin track I enjoyed a lot on the journey, ‘Chan Chan’ by The Buena Vista Social Club
For the shutterbugs, on this adventure I was packing a beginners ‘cropped-frame’ Canon 350D (used price today: a whopping £44 on MPB.com!) and 2 lenses, a Sigma 50-500mm (AKA the ‘BIGMA’ on account of it looking like a tank canon!) and the more sensible the Sigma 18-50mm f2.8. While not the most creative lenses for depth of field, every focal length (by 35mm equivalent) from 27mm > 750mm was covered… How could I miss?!But going through the 8 thousand shots (which I foolishly shot in JPEG) I did have a few critiques on my style back then… which was kinda interesting. Mainly:
> How pants I was at controlling settings: SOOOOOO many near-miss, smeary snaps, no doubt shooting on “P for Professional” mode ;). So many images at stupid high f-stops with un-holdable shutter speeds… Grrrr!
> How poor I was at weaving together a ‘photographic narrative’: Some perfectly photographic places I hardly hit a set of three images that work together to tell a story of where they were shot. Storytelling through photos is a key thing I’ve developed in wedding photography over the years and it’s fed into my travel photography in a big way. Curation of the story, be it at at wedding or during travel for me needs cinematic scene setters with near and far contextual shots as much as powerful content.
While I’d love to see how I’d get on photographing the same trip with my current pro gear (my Sony A9 workhorse probably cost more than this entire trip alone!) it was fun to not only revisit these wonderful locations, but also to see my travel style evolving…
And so began our holiday in the stunning Rio De Janeiro, where we’d pretty much been told we were going to be robbed, raped and killed from day one!
While I hardly took more out from the hotel than money for feijoadas & caipirinhas and our dancing shoes, my boys Wilux & Zesh & I had no drama there what-so-ever!
Must’ve had someone looking over us…
We weren’t long in Rio, before heading to colourful Salvador de Bahia, where the true, music-centric Brazilian Carnivale goes off!
It was mint! Walking bands and dance troops dance through the crumbling, pastel streets… We were there to party really, so I didn’t go to town on the street photography.
I was probably still working up the confidence to get stuck in, as crime was also pretty notorious during carnival wherever you were.
After splitting from the boys, I flew down to the Iguazu falls and was treated to this pretty special view from the plane as we came into land!
These falls and this beasty river make up the border of three countries, Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay, and you can view the falls from each side with quite different vibes from each.
Get a load of this! Indiana Jones or what?
(A year after I was there they actually filmed the awful 2008 ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘ here, but the less said about that shocking instalment the better)
You can spend several days here walking the gangways to amazing viewing platforms. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
A superwide lens would’ve been nice, but the 500mm Bigma did help pick out some tight crops like the one below.
This is the ‘Devil’s Throat’ or ‘Garganta del Diablo’ – one of the highlights of the visit, making an almost deafening racket going over the busiest of the falls.
Stare at it for too long and it creates a spooky optical illusion that everything else in the landscape is rising upwards!
Another entertaining feature as you stroll around the falls is that these giant, bolshy butterfiles land on sweaty tourists to drink their sweat!
After a glorious sunset at Iguazu, I bussed to Buenas Aires and immediately noticed a SEIZMIC upgrade in food and booze quality!
Dear lord; I’ve not since eaten ‘Bife de chorizo’ as juicy, Parrilla street grills with such variety or stuffed empanadas as tasty, all with bargain Malbec to wash ’em down.
I remember it being a beautiful town, with couples salsa-ing in the streets, metal balconied Spanish colonial architecture and the smell of sizzling grill smoke wafting through the streets…
And yet I hardly caught any photos of it that I like!
But I didn’t waste my time! I found a bunch of travellers at my hostel (some Spanish speaking, which is useful for a linguistic heathen like me) heading to Patagonia to check out the Andes, and find lakes, fjords & glaciers, so we all hopped on a flight and headed south…
And the landscape certainly did have a different vibe. More like New Zealand, with rocks covered in smelly Guillemots.
We visited ‘Los Glaciares National Park’ and with the highlight being the epic ‘Perito Moreno’ Glacier below, where if you wait long enough huge 75m shelves of ice break off and crash into the turquoise lagoon.
Crossing into Chile – the longest country in the world, Pub Quiz fans – the national vibe again had a different flavour.
I had a nice long chat – and plenty local Concha‑Y‑Toro vino tinto – with this chap who ran my guesthouse. The broken English somehow got less broken the more we drank… hic.
My limited experience in this interesting country though, was that it felt poorer and less happy-go-lucky than their Argentine cousins. Locals drank nescafe instead of fresh coffee, the food was less flamboyant and the people somehow harder and more repressed. Even their language apparently used significantly less Spanish vocabulary on average than their neighbours. It’s no doubt due to suffering under Pinochet’s Dictatorial regime, kindly installed under a United States-backed coup d’état in 1973, and ruling with a cruel hand until 1990.
We didn’t stop long though, as I boarded a cargo ferry with a handful of tourists looking for an offbeat week cruising the Chilean Patagonian Fjords!
With supplies of ‘Gato Negro’ wine, we cabined up with strangers and were called for simple meals by foghorn! It wasn’t long before we got to know one another over endless card games of Shithead.
If the sea wasn’t too rough, as the clock passed the yard arm, the ‘bar’ opened to serve lethal pisco sours – a popular silky Chilean cocktail containing whisked raw egg whites… that gets you pissed from your feet up!
Safer not drink them on tall bar stools, as you might break a leg on the the dismount…
The views were pretty outrageous, circumnavigating a warren of glacial-tipped, mountainous fjords, sometimes forced to stop an extra day due to ‘difficult sea’. Especially around an infamous stretch of open sea at the Golfo de Penas (or in English ‘the Gulf of Sorrow’), where the waves were as high as the ship.
I’m rarely one to get seasick – I generally get a thrill out of being on rocky seas – but this was something else. At the time Navimag ran a pretty rough-and-ready, access-all-areas type operation. You could bowl in and join the Captain and crew on the bridge. And with waves higher than the ship, you held a rail and watched as we climbed, the landscape turning to sky, then crashed over the top into an almighty bellyflop that again showered the entire ship in spray. You even caught air in a moment of anti-gravity as the ship dropped down the wave. Bonkers.
Mostly smooth-sailing later, we arrived in Puerto Montt and a handful of us continued on travelling together through Chile, taking in some pretty special Andean scenery.
We hopped the border into the bizarre Argentinian town of Bariloche, a resplendent Alpine-looking swiss resort complete with local chocolate production and log-fronted buildings.
Then like brave New World pilgrims we headed for Mendoza, Argentina’s wine mecca and the spiritual home of Malbec!
Originally an ‘old world’ French grape used for padding out reds, the Andean ‘terroir’ – a perfect combination of soil-type, weather and topography – produces an almost unrecognisably different, delicous Malbec.
We did a few trips round the old, rustic and state-of-the-art vineyards (such as Moet’s ‘Bodega Chandon’, famous for it’s ‘Chandon’ Argey Fizz).
Further north is a lesser known wine region called Salta (check your labels winos, you see Salta on Malbec’s too) and the more deserty country also makes for gorgeous vino, both tinto & blanco.
Keep an eye out for aromatic Argentinian ‘Torrontes’ whites, if you like a Reisling!
The landscape up here gets pretty nuts too, as you push north towards Bolivia. Wild Llama, Cactus and salt plains. Amazing landscape.
‘Adobe’ (mud) pueblo villages dot the landscape, for workers who harvest the salt plains. Nice tones in this pic.
I love this one in a dusty North Argentinian town overlooked by the ’14 colour Hornacal mountains’
The local fashion started to shift to a more tribal style too, more indicative of the bowler hat wearing women of Bolvia.
Not everyone had style, of course, as shown in this dusty attempt at a self-portrait. I decided 3 months away from anyone I knew was a good time to see what happened if I ‘try’ to grow a ‘beard’. Very patchy. Very ginger.
Makes sense to ‘diptich’ it with a nice, ehem, phalic cactus.
Still in the the northern reaches of the Salta Region, near Cachi, I passed through the pretty incredible ‘Parque Nacional Los Cardones’, Argentinas Cactus National Park. Fitting name!
Leaving tight compadres I’d travelled almost the length of the country with, I set off solo towards Bolivia
In La Quiaca, I took a look in the giant Catholic church there. Bolivia is still a predominantly Catholic country with about seven million Catholics out of a total population of nine million.
The Jesuit Missions kicked it all off, and this Bolivia Mission Church in Chiquitos is a pretty impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next stop, La Paz – highest capital city in the world quizzers!
Get a load of this badass taxi! Additional storage on the roof AND EVERYTHING!
I remember the markets of La Paz being pretty awesome, packed with old leathery ladies in funky hats selling crazy local colourful maize…
And then like Paddington, it was off to Peru!
Cuzco was a pretty amazing city, once an Incan stronghold, the influence is still in their incredible Peruvian stonework! Some of these ‘bricks’ had as many as 13 sides, weighed over a tonne each and (without mortar) fit together so tightly you can’t slide a sheet of paper in between the stones. They even build earthquake-proofing into the base with smaller stones to take mother nature’s rumbles! When the Spanish Conquistadors came claiming, they couldn’t knock many of them down, so just build their own buildings on top of them. Mental.
One night in Cuzco square there was a military parade & festival, and I got creative with some slow shutter dance action!
Next I set off into the prairie-looking landscape in search of the Inca Trail!
This was another pretty spectacular part of the trip.
As the classic Inca Trail is expensive, often booked up and you end up walking arse-to-nose with tourists, I booked onto an alternative trail that had some down-hill mountain biking and few days trek through lesser known Incan ruins, ending at the town of Aguas Calientes, known for its thermal baths and as a gateway to…
Setting off in the pitch black, we clambered to the top for sunrise, and goodness we weren’t disappointed!
This Incan citadel, high above the Urubamba River valley dates back to the 15th century. The Incan’s apparently retreated up their trails to it to hide from the Spanish, but later abandoned it.
In 1911, this ‘Lost City of the Incas’ was re-discovered by explorer Hiram Bingham. Still only partially uncovered, its exact former use remains a mystery, but is renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls (as a Yorkshireman even I’m impressed!) that fuse huge blocks without mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views.
And as the sun lit the rock behind, it pretty much took my breath away.
Tip your head to the right and you see ‘the face of the Inca’ in the mountain – a human profile is formed by the mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu behind it – showing what appears to be a chin, mouth, nose and a cleft with a wisp of cloud in it, that gives shape to the eye.
Pretty special hey?!
3 months well spent and a real pleasure to revisit these memories, whether or not I missed a tonne of photographic material and couldn’t control my gear properly!
It’s certainly made me want to go back to Argentina and get some steak…
Big love to y’all in lockdown, and thanks for reading!