Latin America in focus

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Latin America in focus

For his latest exhibition, Tales from Latin America, photographer Matthew Williams-Ellis climbed volcanoes in Ecuador, traversed high-altitude salt flats in Bolivia and met gauchos in Argentina. He talks to Shafik Meghji.

LAB: What first drew you to Latin America?

Initially I was drawn to Latin America by the prospect of photographing and experiencing the hugely varied landscapes: the 70km “W Trek” in Torres del Paine in Chile, the 5,897m Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador, the bizarre Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, and Cerro Fitz Roy at El Chalten in Argentina. These locations did not disappoint, however, having spent five months in Latin America I can now say that I am equally captivated by the fascinating history and unique cultures on offer. The Incas and Machu Picchu are just the tip of the iceberg both historically and photographically.

LAB: What was the inspiration behind the exhibition?

In some instances I simply wanted to share stories of the beautiful and fascinating places I visited and the interesting people I met. In others, such as a series of photos of the dreadful working conditions inside the Potosí silver mines, the aim was to make people realise how fortunate they are. I want to open peoples’ eyes and inspire them to travel.

LAB: What are your favourite photos in the exhibition?

This is tough, as I become very attached to the photos and find it difficult to look at them subjectively. They bring back the emotions of how I felt when I was taking them. For this reason alone, my most memorable series is of the climb to the top of Cotopaxi volcano’s glacier-covered summit. Reaching the summit of Ecuador’s second highest volcano is without a doubt the toughest physical challenge I have faced, but equally it is one of my most exciting travel experiences. Other favourites include a collection of landscape photography from Lake Titicaca and a series of photos from the south of Bolivia.

LAB: What most surprised you during your time in Latin America?

The biggest surprise for me was how everything seemed to be on such a grand scale. I knew there was a lot of variety in the landscape, but the sheer scale of the likes of Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, the Atacama Desert in Chile and the volcanoes of Ecuador are simply immense.

LAB: What are you working on next?

I have just set up travel photography workshops to Peru and Madagascar in association with two travel companies, which means I will be able to return to Latin America and expand on the collection of short stories that I have already taken. I would like to photograph “Doma India”, a form of horse whispering in Patagonia and perhaps return to San Juan de Poriahu, to photograph the gauchos at work on a traditional cattle farm. 

I am also working on a series of six-minute exposures, a celebration of my career change from accountant to photographer. The idea sprouted from the need to complete a timesheet accounting for the whole day in six minute “units”. Each photo represents a unit of time when I am infinitely more happy now having found the courage to follow my passion.

Tales from Latin America is on at the Gallery on the Corner (www.thegalleryonthecorner.com) in Battersea, south London, until 7 November. For more information on Matthew’s work, visit: www.matthewwilliams-ellis.com