Photography: The 12 x Chile project

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Galletue - Araucania ©12xchileGalletue - Araucania ©12xchile
By Marcela Martinez
Translation by Rebecca Neal
The architect and photographer Manuel Fuentes took first prize in the Chile National Awards 2015, part of the Sony World Photography Awards, with a picture of the peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park. The prize inspired him and his partner Isidora Campagne, also a photographer, to launch 12xChile, a project which aims to photograph one destination in the country for each month of the year.
“We thought about travelling around Chile to get to know the country and photograph it. Eventually this turned into something bigger, into a project which not only would give us personal satisfaction, but which we could share with other people and which would let us do our bit to showcase the various locations in our country,” says Fuentes.
The couple share a love of travel and photography, with each person having their own area of interest when it comes to the latter. Isidora, who also manages hotels, specializes in photographing people and situations, whereas Manuel’s speciality is landscapes. “We each have our own way of doing things, and we give ourselves the space and the freedom to develop that. This is how we defined the project, looking for what each person can add to create the overall result,” explains Manuel.
Highlights of the chosen destinations include national parks such as Lauca, Volcán Isluga, Tres Cruces, Nahuelbuta, Torres del Paine and Pali Aike, the Elqui and Maule valleys, and other iconic Chilean places such as the town of San Pedro de Atacama, the Andean Araucanía region, the city of Frutillar, Chiloé Island and the Carretera Austral.
Manuel and Isidora self-finance their journeys, but they also receive financial support from Fundación Valuartes and Chile’s national tourism service (Sernatur) and have agreements with a number of businesses and hotels. “We both have our work and daily responsibilities. We make all of our journeys on our days off, primarily on weekends,” explains Isidora.
Here, Manuel discusses the couple’s project and their approach to photography.
What are you trying to do with your photographs?
We want to bring Chile closer to the Chilean people, and also to make it better known abroad. We want to encourage everyone to take risks, to free themselves from the daily stress we are all under, to get in touch with other people, and to switch off for a while. We hope that they will experience amazing landscapes and do something with their lives that they will remember later on. We all have needs and responsibilities, but at the same time we have a responsibility to ourselves to have fun, as we only get one life.
What techniques would you recommend for people who enjoy landscape photography?
There are a few different ways of dealing with techniques and equipment, but one thing that isn’t so easy is the photographer’s way of looking at things. You have to ask yourself what you want to photograph, why you’re doing it, what you want to achieve, where you are going with it, what surprises you, what motivates you, what makes this experience vital for your personal growth. If you start asking yourself this kind of thing, the journey and the adventure become a search and technique and equipment are secondary considerations.
How do the techniques that each of you use complement each other?
We each have our own way of doing things. Isi is more in the moment; she has a special way of looking at situations and people. I’m stiller; I sit down and look until something catches my attention. I enjoy the landscape, the calm and the solitude. It’s cathartic. We each just let ourselves be carried along by what we see, but deep down the passion is the same.
How do you prepare to take photographs? What equipment do you carry?
Isi just goes with the flow. As she says, she likes to see things through the eyes of the soul. She lets herself be surprised by everything. Although she pays attention, she doesn’t go out looking for the photo – she just takes it. I do a bit more preparation: I look for places beforehand, look over the terrain, see what the weather is going to be like, check where the sun rises and sets. They’re general things, but they depend on the kind of photos you’re taking. As for equipment, we carry four digital cameras: Nikon D700, Nikon D3s, Sony A7 and Sony A6000. Sometimes Isi takes her analogue Nikon, portrait, telephoto and wide-angle lenses, tripods, a couple of neutral density filters and remote shutters. It’s quite a lot of weight, but with this variety of equipment we can get a range of shots.
Which place has surprised you the most?
They are all incredible! But we have a special admiration for the Araucanía region, which we fell in love with. It has landscapes filled with monkey-puzzle trees and surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes, with fog that you can hardly see through. We’ve already been in summer and winter, and we’re going to go in autumn. It’s one of those places where there are so many hidden things, like Conguillio, Malalcahuello, Galletue, Icalma and Lonquimay. You are constantly surprised by new views, the amazing calm and the majestic scenery. Saying that, we can’t forget places like Torres del Paine, which we want to go back to again and again.
What makes Chile such a special place to photograph?
Chile is a big country with a lot of morphological variation. We have an enormous sea, a mountain range with lots of volcanoes, and a climate which takes us from the world’s driest desert to the powerful and changing weather of Patagonia. We have snow, rain, sun, lively valleys and varied flora and fauna at every place. All these conditions come together to create a distinctive local culture. Anyone who enjoys photography, whether this involves photographing landscapes, portraits or special occasions, can find an incredible range of colourful and unique scenes in Chile.
For more info on Manuel and Isidora’s journeys, visit their website,