(above: images from Moon Kingdom)
In the last 3 years, Chiara Zonca's travel has taken her into New Zealand, Spain, Oman, Chile and the Bolivian Altiplano. She grew up in Milan, Italy but even at a young age she never really liked the city. This later on becoming a recurring theme for her journey into documenting remoteness and seclusion - using photography as a medium for her growing desire for escapism. In university, Chiara picked up photography, an interest she attributes to the 'need to grasp the basics of how an image is conceived, created, edited etc.' Currently based in Canada, Chiara is now a full time video editor and motion graphics. We had a chat with her on her relationship with isolated places and her return to photography after a 10 year hiatus.
Did your approach to photography change after 10 years of being away from it?
My return to photography happened by chance. When I first enrolled in my photography course about 10 years or more ago, my dad gifted me an Hasselblad 500c medium format, a camera that even at the time was making me feel like I didn’t deserve it in a way. Safe to say I didn’t use it very much, it gathered dust for all those long years.
Then all of a sudden, I had a ticket booked for an exciting trip to the United States and I really wanted to take something with me on the trip that was special to document such a pivotal moment in my life. I had to re-teach myself how to use it, load up the film roll, how to take the correct exposure. Everything was so manual and technical after years and years using only my phone. It took my mind off things and made me fall in love with photography again.
Back in school my approach was completely different: I was studying photography as a commercial endeavour. This time round it was a very selfish and personal need to document my life that made me take photographs. I felt free to experiment, free from judgement and was having fun with it without the added pressure of turning it into a profession.
Magma - Lanzarote Spain, 2017
Memorable experience: Visiting Jameo del Agua, a series of lava caves but also an art and culture centre created by local artist César Manrique. I loved the juxtaposition of raw lava fields and refined architecture. That is something very special that I only experienced in Lanzarote.
Tread Softly - Oman, 2018 Memorable experience: Getting our car stuck in the desert was quite a good one! My husband and I thought to camp in the empty quarter, a vast expanse of sand in Oman and packed our 4x4 to make the trip. Shortly after passing a village and when driving uphill our car got stuck in the sand. We had to walk back all the way to the beduin village where no one spoke a word of English or had a car. It took us quite some time to ask for help and eventually some local kids found a truck they could drive up and down the desert and off we went to tow our car to safety. Except that as soon as we left the village, in a bizarre twist of events we couldn’t locate our car anymore.
It was a sort of mirage, it just had vanished and everyone around us started to think we were crazy, trying to rescue the invisible car. In the end we found our way and the correct path leading to our vehicle just as it was getting dark, but it took a very long time.
Deserts are fascinating places, you think you know your way out but it’s actually mind-blowingly easy to get lost.
It Devours - New Zealand, 2018 Memorable experience: Visiting White Island, an active andesite stratovolcano a few miles off the coast of the North Island. I am fascinated with volcanic and otherworldly places and being there felt like crossing a portal to hell. The whole island was emitting sulphuric steams and was surrounded by rough seas. I have been told waves there can go over 20 meters high in bad weather. Imagine being stuck there during a storm, trapped between monster waves and flaming earth without any shelter whatsoever.
Isolation seems to be a big theme in your photographs,
what is your relationship with rural and quiet places?
Isolation is like a creative catalyst for me. If I am alone
I am able to connect with my surroundings, document
my feelings much easier than when I am around people.
Maybe it’s because I am terribly introverted but I always
find a lot of social pressure when being in a crowd,
I often feel “judged” and like I have to behave
in a sort of way. I realize this is probably all in my head
but the end result is that my images are often contrived
and less authentic when I am not alone.
It’s getting better though, as I now live in Canada and
can chose to be alone if I need to, I am starting to
crave some human interaction.
It’s all about finding the balance.
In 2017, Chiara together with her husband (who doubles up as her production assistant) traveled to Chile and the Bolivian Altiplano region, an area of the Andes mountain where you can find the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth. At 3500 metre above Bolivia, this area which also stretches into neighbouring Argentina and Peru is where you can find the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth (apart from Tibet). Conditions are extremely harsh in this area - rocky reddish mountains, misty smoky lakes and vast empty land fills up this series titled "Moon Kingdom". If it wasn't for the occasional road signs, tyre marks and the random roadside flower, one might mistake these images as something otherworldly. Yet, like many of her other photographs, a certain softness lingers - a recurring mood in many of Chiara Zonca's works.
Her latest book, "Desert Portraits" published by The New Heroes and Pioneers Publishing House is a 112-page hardcover book based on "Moon Kingdom".
What is the process on creating a book like?
I shot so much material in a small time frame there as I was so inspired by everything I was experiencing. It was only when I came back that my editor approached me about the possibility of turning Moon Kingdom into a book. The curation process was very smooth and natural, I tried to select those places that were closer to my heart. The ones that changed me, that made me feel something. I am excited to share them with the world as they are so precious to me. I am hoping that by flipping through the pages people will get the sense of the altitude, the silence, the introspection I felt there, even a small fraction of it.
How do you decide where to travel to next?
If I am not on commission it’s usually dictated by what project I am interested in and where I want it to be based. I usually know well in advance what I’m going to be working on and try to plan the locations accordingly throughout the year.
Out of all the projects that you’ve shot, which one left a profound mark on you when you left the place.?
Definitely Chile and Bolivia. I was first surprised and marvelled by the beautiful landscapes and I increasingly felt a sense of utter respect and desire to preserve it for future generations. It’s crucial we understand there aren’t many places like those left in the world and once we ruin them -whether if it’s for overcrowding or “bad tourist” behaviour or whether it’s for pollution and general disregard for the environment- they’re gone forever. It’s insane, we really need to start doing something about it.
Top 3 songs that
you always listen
to when you are
That’s a good one!
My playlist changes
all the time but those
three always make
their way in:
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, I've been shooting my latest body of work this year and it’s taken away my life a little bit.
I have relocated to Canada last Summer and I wanted to create a series that was a bit of a love letter to North America, a thank you for becoming my new “home” whatever that means. Started last October and hopefully will be ready in Spring/Summer ’19 but I am not rushing it this time, so it might take a lot longer.
Photography by Chiara Zonca
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