30 Days In Chugchilán: Life In A Small Village
In Ecuador, I found myself living in a small village in the Andes, called Chugchilán. Coming from Australia, everything about the village fascinated me, from the struggle of the people to live off the land to the dramatic mountain scenery. I wanted to share my visions and perceptions of the village through photographs. I made it my personal project to document the town of Chugchilán, one photo per day, for one month. This made the project relatively short term, with quite a bit of pressure to produce one beautiful image per day, no matter the weather, lighting conditions, or what I happened to encounter that day. I find that limitations give birth to creativity and I work well under pressure.
Chugchilán is a remote Andean village with roughly 400 indigenous inhabitants. It’s about a four-hour bus ride along bumpy track from the closest ATM or post office. Because of its remoteness, the people maintain strong traditional customs and practices. Most villagers are poor and survive by farming potatoes, beans, and maize. Tourism is new to Chugchilán. I wasn’t the first foreigner to visit, but usually I was the only one in town.
I shot the images throughout April, 2010. Because it was the rainy season, clouds regularly filled the sky and it was rare to witness a “magic hour” of golden sunlight. However, I took advantage of the diffusion created by these clouds which allowed me to shoot softly lit images, anytime of day. Each day of April, I photographed a different subject. I varied the time of day that I devoted to shooting, as the daily happenings of the village were very habitual, and the little activity that did pass tended to happen at the same time, in the same light, each day. Undertaking the identical project during another season would have resulted in a completely different mood in the photographs, as light quality and direction is such an important element.
I wanted to create photographs which offered an intimate insight into village life, from the cheeky kids to the old men, the friendly shopkeeper, and the homeless wanderer. I sought to capture the true personality of each person I photographed and the landscapes in their most striking light. Each day after shooting, I returned home smiling, because my photography had led me to discover a new corner of the village, make a new friend, or witness some majestic view.
I worked with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and for the 30 days only used a Canon EF 24-105mm IS lens or a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. The wide angle of the 24-105mm lens allowed me to get close to the portrait subjects to give a feeling of intimacy. The wide angle of the 24-105mm lens was also great for capturing sweeping landscapes, while the zoom allowed me to crop in for a perfect frame. For certain portraits I preferred the 50mm lens with limited depth of field. I avoided using flash, instead working with natural light, to mirror the simplistic, natural lives of the people I was shooting. By limiting the equipment I used, I achieved consistency throughout the series.
To take a good photo every day I had to employ various shooting styles depending on what I encountered during the day. Sometimes I would find an interesting subject, visualize the image I wanted to create, prepare my camera, and wait, ready to capture the frame at the critical moment. I used this for portraits as well as landscapes. In the landscapes it was the ever-changing clouds, and light, that created such strong drama in the images, and which needed to be captured at the perfect moment. With some portraits I took a more directive approach. After spending time getting to know the people I positioned each in a pleasing frame with effective lighting.
In postproduction, I adjusted the color cast and manipulated the curves. Due to the clouds diffusing the sunlight, the lighting was quite flat, so I boosted the contrast for more “punch.” I added vignetting to most of the images for a classic look and to draw the eye into the center of the image. Most of the postproduction was completed in Adobe’s Lightroom, with some local changes made in Photoshop.
I am really happy with the outcome of this project. By setting myself the goal to capture one high-quality image per day, I achieved a solid output of photos. I enjoyed working with the conditions at hand, actively seeking and creating the photos.
I now have a set of images to add to my portfolio and to generate interest in my work. I have already sold my Chugchilán prints through the online shop Etsy.com. More importantly, the photographs will serve as a reminder of the special place I had the privilege of living in and the wonderful people I met there.
Through shooting for this project, I witnessed more stunning sunsets and laughed with more children and wise men then I otherwise would have. This was the most satisfying part.
Alicia Fox, Bio
I am a professional photographer from Australia. I studied photography formally in England and Australia, but my greatest lessons are always learned on the road. This is where I developed my individual style and love for environmental portraiture. My travel photography has been published in magazines, books, and websites throughout Australia, Canada, the UK, and Japan.
Prior to traveling Latin America, I ran my studio, Alicia Fox Photography, in Melbourne, Australia, where I shot for the music, fashion, and commercial industries. Naturally, while running the studio, I took time out to travel and fulfill my love of travel photography with trips to Fiji, Thailand, and Cambodia. In 2009, I lived in Japan for six months where I shot a fashion and portrait folio on the outlandish fashionistas of Tokyo.
Currently on the road, I collaborate with my partner, James Galletly, who is a writer, producing travel articles for various publications. I am also working on a portrait and fashion photography book which I hope to have published in 2011.