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Best of ASMP 2009


While traveling through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Barbara Boissevain was awestruck by the resilience of the ancient Quechua culture, which exists much the same today as it did 500 years ago. In 2008, her photographs of Peruvian children were compiled as Children of the Rainbow, a traveling exhibition and book project. As a way to give back to her subjects, Boissevain is donating all proceeds from the book to the non-profit Bridges-Puentes, a humanitarian organization that provides support for medical missions to Peru.

Barbara Boissevain

Website: www.amarelostudio.com

Project: Children of the Rainbow book and exhibition on Peruvian Quechua children and culture produced as a fundraiser for Bridges-Puentes non-profit.

© Barbara Boissevain
All images in this article © Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: How long have you been in business?
BB: I began freelancing in 1995 after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute with a B.F.A. in photography.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
BB: Since 2003.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
BB: In the past I have worked primarily as an architectural photographer specializing in interiors. This work from Peru is a personal documentary project that culminated in the book Children of the Rainbow, Images from the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru. Although I love working commercially as an architectural photographer, documentary work has always been a touchstone for me and is the reason I went into photography in the first place. It is just much harder to make a living doing documentary work, so I am very grateful when I can complete a project like this.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
BB: For my commercial work it is definitely my Nikon D3. For my personal work I still sometimes use film cameras, including my medium-format Widelux and my Hasselblad with a 40mm lens.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
BB: Probably my willingness to work with very different aspect ratios within the same body of work. I love pairing the square-format Hasselblad images with the panoramic Widelux images because it allows the viewer to experience the intimacy of the square (used for portraits) while contextualizing the subject in a landscape or urbanscape within the panoramic format.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
BB: These images were all originally shot with film and then scanned into hi-res digital files. After working on them in Photoshop, I printed out test prints that I used for the editing and sequencing of the book. The book was laid out in Adobe InDesign and was printed from a PDF using a digital printing technology at Edition One Studios in Berkeley, CA. There were several iterations of proofing and color profile adjustments before the final book was printed. The prints for the exhibition were printed using an Epson 9800 printer by Picture Element in Santa Clara, CA and were output at 24x24 inches for the square format prints, and 18x32 inches for the panoramic prints.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: What initially compelled you to travel to Peru? How much time did you spend there?
BB: I spent just under a month in Peru on this trip. I had read about the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Quechua people and wanted to explore it as a possible subject for a personal project. (Very different from architecture that does not move or speak!)

ASMP: Tell us about the nonprofit organization, Bridges-Puentes. How did you come to be connected with them and what are the terms of your relationship?
BB: Bridges-Puentes is a non-profit humanitarian organization that provides logistical support for medical missions to Peru. They also provided humanitarian aid to Peru after the 7.9 earthquake hit Peru in August of 2007. One of my close friends founded Bridges-Puentes in 2005, and I was in awe of the work they had been doing in Peru. I wanted to contribute in some way and, before this book project, I had been an active volunteer for fundraising and other organizational activities. All of the proceeds from the book go to Bridges-Puentes.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: What were the conditions like during your travels? Did you travel alone or were you accompanied by a guide or translator? Please elaborate.
BB: The Sacred Valley has a wonderful infrastructure in place for tourists, so in general it is very easy to travel there when compared to other places I have been, such as certain parts of Africa. The high altitude was not really a problem for me because I had enough time to acclimate slowly while staying in Cusco. While shooting this project I had my daughters with me (and a Peruvian nanny who traveled along with us while in Peru). The nanny also acted as our translator for most of the trip — I definitely could not have come back with the images I did if I did not have her there with us!

I think in a way, the hardest part of the trip was going through the airports where, in addition to trying to get through security with 40 rolls of medium-format film, I was trying to keep track of my 15-month-old toddler. I had gone through security many times with just the camera equipment and film, or just the diaper bag and toddler. I had never gone through with both — truly an insane experience. I almost missed my connection in LAX when they made me open up every single wrapper of medium format film while my little one was screaming, I almost turned around and went home right then and there.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Did you face language or cultural barriers in your travels? Do you have any suggestions for how others might deal with these kinds of issues?
BB: One terrific asset on this trip was the Quechua nanny I had hired to travel with me and my daughters. She spoke decent English and excellent Spanish and Quechua. What a fantastic resource she was! In another project I did in Northern Greece photographing Greek Muslim Gypsy women, I also had someone that could speak not only Greek, but also the Romani language. I would always make sure to have a translator and make sure that they can speak the indigenous language, not just the dominant language.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Did you face any technical issues that impeded your work while traveling and if so how did you resolve them?
BB: Because one of my favorite cameras is the Widelux, I am used to dealing with the unpredictability of this camera — half the time I want to throw it off a cliff, but when it behaves it is capable of superb panoramics. It only has three shutter speeds and cannot do double exposures so you are limited to shooting at certain times of day. It also has some banding issues that seem to show up and disappear completely without warning.

ASMP: How do you go about approaching your subjects in the field and gaining their trust?
BB: Ideally, I like to approach my subjects first without my camera — to have the opportunity to play with the kids before I bring out the camera. In Peru I found that many of the families I photographed were honored that I wanted to photograph them, and I was impressed by the gentle and open culture of the Quechua people.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: It appears that children are a main focus of much of this work. Why this particular focus? Did you find that children in this culture responded to the camera differently than adults?
BB: I have two daughters of my own and being a mother is a huge part of my life, thus children are natural choice in subject matter for me. While shooting this project, I had my daughters with me (and a Peruvian nanny that traveled along with us). I think that traveling with my family in this way made my subjects curious about me and thus we had a more natural exchange than if I had been traveling on my own. Children are the innocent victims of poverty around the world. In the case of the Quechua people, a lack of basic necessities such as potable water and fuel to keep their homes warm in many cases results in a very harsh existence for these children. I am hoping that my work will help facilitate changing their quality of life in a positive way. Children, no matter where they live in the world, deserve to have their basic needs met.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Were your subjects aware of your connection to the non-profit while you were photographing and, if so, did this impact on the pictures you made?
BB: No, I did not know at the time that the images would be used to raise money for a non-profit.

ASMP: Was the book and exhibition planned at the outset of this project or did this come later? How much planning and control did you have over these elements?
BB: The book and exhibition was not planned at the outset of this project — it was a natural outcome after I realized how this body of work could be used to help Bridges-Puentes. One of my close friends founded Bridges-Puentes in 2005, and I was in awe of the work they had been doing in Peru. I wanted to contribute in some way and, after I came back from Peru and got a sense of the images I had taken there, I realized that they could appeal to a broad audience and could be edited into a book. It was really very synergistic, but was not a pre-conceived idea before I went to Peru.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: With a project of this kind, do you use any of your pictures for future commercial purposes (i.e: stock licensing or other commercial applications)? If so please describe your distribution network.
BB: So far I have not done this. I am open to doing this in the future, although I would definitely consider giving a percentage of any revenue I receive from any commercial application to a non-profit working to directly improve the lives of my subjects.

ASMP: Do you ask any of your subjects to sign model releases? If so please talk about your procedure for this.
BB: Whenever possible I do ask my participants to sign releases, as this allows me to have multiple options for how I use the images.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASPM: Have your experiences in working on this project spilled over to your other projects or image making? If so please describe how.
BB: The entire process of creating a book was a huge learning experience and I think this will definitely benefit my work in the future, both commercial and personal. I would like to do more books in the future and I am hoping to leverage this experience, even when creating books on totally disparate subjects such as architecture. There is a real art to sequencing images and placing text and image together on a page. This experience was phenomenal for developing my skills in these areas.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: How did the project positively affect your subjects and the community it depicted?
BB: The proceeds from the book go to the non-profit Bridges-Puentes, which to date has provided support for four medical missions to Peru. I have also donated several large prints for an auction to raise money for another non-profit called Medlend, which leads medical missions to developing countries all over the world.

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Please describe any long-term positive effects to producing this exhibition and book for your own work and business.
BB: When appropriate, I mention this project to my commercial clients. I feel it has the positive effect of allowing them to connect with me on a different level and it gives more depth to me as a person with whom they are doing business. I think in most cases it really works in your favor as a photographer to have your commercial clients exposed to your personal work. Of course there are always exceptions to this, and you can probably think of what they might be!

© Barbara Boissevain

ASMP: Do you have any plans to return to Peru to further document this culture? Are there any other cultures or locations you’re planning to visit to continue this type of work?
BB: I will be returning to Peru in the summer of 2010 to do a “Shooting Back” project with underprivileged children in Cusco, Peru. I am currently working with Bridges-Puentes to find a partner nonprofit in Peru that has ties with different social service agencies that can refer children to participate in our project. I would love to talk to any ASMP members who have mentored or taught in a shooting back program and who would be willing to share their experience with me as I develop this project!

© Barbara Boissevain