Posts tagged Christo Geoghegan

From a publicity shoot I did for the excellent musician HOLY OTHER from Tri Angle Records. Check out the brilliant track “YR LOVE” below:

"Have you seen TNT before?" he says clutching a stick of dynamite as care free as a character from some Warner Bros cartoon. "You haven’t? Oh, well it’s perfectly safe", he chuckles.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’m quite as impervious to the harms of trinitrotoluene as say Roadrunner. Not to mention that the reassurance of this sentence runs a little dry because, amongst other things, these men collectively only possess five hands between the three of them. Although I’m told that this accident, whilst mining related, isn’t attributed to rogue TNT charges. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what they’ve just said…

Here in Copiapó, in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, traditional mining is still an income for many. Though it’s an ever dwindling number.

Copiapó is also home to the San José mine - famous for its collapse which imprisoned 33 miners for a record breaking 69 days. “Los 33”, as they have been affectionately championed as, have become overnight celebrities here in Chile, although I realise that probably isn’t a very fitting term, given the length of their truly harrowing ordeal. 

Most of those in the mining industry here work for large scale privately owned mines such as San José. However if you travel slightly further afield you’ll find small pockets of men working in a much more traditional and ‘hands-on’ manner. 'Los pirquineros'. Dangerous techniques such as the implementation of TNT charges, that I’m about to have first hand experience with, are common practice. “We’ve actually just set a couple of charges; they should be going off in about five minutes”. I’m feeling very timid all of a sudden.

There’s one explosion. It’s fairly unassuming. Not quite the Hollywood experience I’ve just realised I was secretly hoping for. Then a second. Definitely closer and louder this time; my earlier desire for the Spielberg effect is quelled. It’s over. Or so I think.

"Right so you say you’d like to take some photos of us?". We briskly make our way back into the mine. I start to unpack my camera and set myself up. Swiftly, my calm and focused attitude comes to a rather abrupt end when we’re met with a huge booming roar, followed by a mini earthquake. "Oh, I forgot that there were three charges!" he casually mutters out loud.

We decide to wait a little while longer before taking photos…

I’m not much of a drinker, but I’m also not really a lightweight either. I tend to be able to handle my drink fairly well (unless you’ve given me a few shots of Tequila, then it’s all down hill from there), but I don’t know what’s happened to me here in the Ziro valley, because I’m absolutely off my face. I’m sodden through after just falling into a rice paddy and it’s only 11am. I’ve had two drinks.

The Ziro valley is located in the the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh; the most remote, and arguably the most challenging state to obtain permits for up far away in the Northeastern Frontier States of India. I’ve had to pretend my travelling partner contracted malaria to get through the red tape (solo travellers are not permitted into the state) and after hours of playing the polite and friendly card, I’m up into the hills and away.

There are a few reasons why it’s still so difficult to get into the region. Disputed land claims from neighbouring China and the incredibly high percentage of separatist militia groups in the region being just a couple. But it’s also because Arunachel Pradesh is one of the last bastions of true concentrated tribal culture left in the world. I’m incredibly lucky to be here.

But back to me being wasted.

The drink of choice for the tribes of Northeast India is fermented rice wine. Each tribe/region/family have different recipes and, more importantly, different potencies. I can safely say that the Apatani in Ziro have the strongest I’ve encountered. And they drink it like water. It’s a depressing state of affairs when an 80 year old woman can handle her drink better than you.

As you’ve probably already noticed from the photos above, the Apatani women have distinct facial tattoos and nose plugs. Believed to be the most beautiful and desired women of Northeast India, invading tribes would frequently kidnap/rape them. It was then decided that, to put an end to this savage routine, that Apatani women would have taken away from them the one thing that all men so desired; their beauty. And so, until the 1970s, when Christianity was introduced to the region from missionaries, the practice of imposed ‘ugliness’ was enforced on all Apatani women. The process involved making small incisions into the sides of each nostril and inserting large plugs (called yaping hurlo), which were gradually increased in size over time.

My time in Ziro is brief (I’m only there for 3 days as a permit to Arunachal Pradesh only lasts 10) but the Apatani have left a long lasting impression on me. As well as a killer hangover that I will never forget.

I quickly learn on arrival in Santiago, Chile, that my Spanish is rustier than I thought. The Castillian inflection in my voice that my old Madrileña teacher had drilled into me (with her arguably unethical approaches to teaching) has Chileans laughing. Pronouncing my v’s as b’s, is apparently inherently hysterical to them.

I’ve ended up in Domeyko somewhat by accident; a small village right in the heart of the Atacama Desert. It’s eery. A disused railway track runs through as far as the eye can see. Old water towers teeter over like rusty leaning towers of Pisa. The ratio of dogs to people is about 3:1. A veritable ghost town.

I wander around for a bit and can’t help but feel I’m in the middle of the Wes Craven horror film ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. And in those sorts of films it’s normally always the geeky kid with the camera that gets it first.

Determined not to turn into a horror film cliché, I continue the search for someone who might be able to help me. I’ve been in Chile for 2 weeks now documenting the plight of the ‘pirquineros’ (the Chilean phrase for traditional miners) of the Atacama and my Spanish has slowly trickled back to me, so I’m pretty confident when I eventually do find someone, I’ll be able to ask for more than directions to the nearest bathroom.

After a while of walking through the dusty streets; hoards of inquisitive children now following me, I find myself by the headquarters of the small local radio station, aptly named ‘Radio Domeyko’. I walk inside and my entourage of village children disperse.

Here I meet Ignacio, a man jolly not just by appearance but also demeanour. I begin to explain why I’m sitting in the desert here with him. He beams at me and brings out a photo album. And then another. And then another. Ignacio is a man who clearly is very proud of the township he has spent his entire life in. Before I know it, I’m whisked away to a town meeting where Ignacio introduces me to various local people. I am welcomed in with open arms.

The price of copper is rising exponentially. And with it, the face of the Chilean Mining Industry has irrevocably changed. As more and more Domestic and International investors amplify and shift their focus to Chile, armed with state of the art equipment, the life of the pirquenero is facing extinction; their whole livelihood has become mechanised.

The construction of high-tech mining facilities across Chile has turned mining villages such as Domeyko, once housing entire surrounding communities, into near ghost towns. The pirquenros are left with the choice: embrace the change and learn about their mechanised counterparts, or continue their trade, the only way they know how, with an almost certain clear end. Adapt or die.

Lesotho Herdboy - Mphaki, Quthing District, Lesotho

"You haven’t learnt how to ride a horse until you’ve fallen off one". A sentence I wish hadn’t been translated for me whilst in Lesotho. Peering over the verge of a mountain top, on the back of a horse whose tolerance of my presence is somewhat questionable, I can’t help but start to think to myself "maybe becoming a wedding photographer won’t be a soul destroying as I think it will…"

Anyone who knows me would no doubt figure out that I probably wouldn’t make a good equestrian; I struggle to balance on my own two feet let alone on the back of a four legged accident waiting to happen, but this was just something I’d have to get over throughout my time in Lesotho. 

Well I never did fall off a horse, so I guess I still haven’t learnt a thing. But a lesson I’m perfectly happy to have skipped, especially as the ability to walk is kind of a prerequisite with the work that I do.

After an 8 hour horse trek down the face of a mountain not made to be traversed across (at least not by a paranoid Westerner with a fear of heights and dying in a heap of rubble) we arrive at our destination, a very remote village on the outskirts of Semonkong. Galloping in to the community, my backside no longer possessing the ability of feeling, I congratulate myself on not meeting my maker and ungraciously dismount/tumble off my 4x4 magic horse. A sigh of relief washes over me as I touch down on solid ground and begin to look around at my surroundings - it’s probably just as well I’m a photographer because there are just no words to describe them.

Now, this would usually be the part of the story where I show you all a photo of how breathtaking things are out there, right? Wrong. Somewhere in the middle of my 8 hour ‘try not to scream like a girl and embarrass yourself’ marathon horse trek, my camera is the one that has met its maker. It’s dead. It’s day three of my month stay in Lesotho and my only functioning camera has become a glorified paper weight. But that’s the least of my worries, tomorrow I have to get up to the top of that mountain again. And the carrots I’m feeding my horse are not the olive branch I was hoping they’d be taken as…