Over to You

A trip to South Amer­ica gave Nuala Ma­hon the chance to cap­ture Chile’s vi­brant (and il­le­gal!) street art for pos­ter­ity

NPhoto - - Contents -

Three photo sto­ries packed with bril­liant shots, plus all your rants and raves

In the early 1990s my hus­band and I worked in West Africa as vol­un­teers. I worked mainly with women, many of whom could nei­ther read nor write, and I used images and pic­ture sto­ries, where pos­si­ble, to com­mu­ni­cate with them. I took up pho­tog­ra­phy se­ri­ously when I re­turned to Europe, and I now di­vide my time be­tween an is­land in the south­west of Ire­land and the Luberon Moun­tains in Provence, France. I’m a mem­ber of sev­eral artists’ groups, and ex­hibit my work in both coun­tries.

I love travel pho­tog­ra­phy, and I al­ways back­pack around, as it’s cheap and al­lows for more con­tact with lo­cals. Chile is one coun­try that had long been on my wish­list. I wanted to doc­u­ment my whole trip, but I was blown away by the aes­thetic qual­ity of the street art.

Tech­ni­cally street art is il­le­gal, in Chile, but it’s ubiq­ui­tous from the north­ern­most city of Arica to Punta Are­nas in the far south. Chileans have al­ways used street art as a means of spread­ing mes­sages, and after the fall of the Pinochet regime the ‘graf­fiteros’ were out spray­ing ev­ery­where they could find a blank space.

Santiago and Val­paraiso are the street art cap­i­tals of Chile.

Val­paraiso is the of­fi­cial port of Santiago, although it lies 120 kilo­me­tres east of the cap­i­tal. The flat area around the port runs in­land for two kilo­me­tres and then as­cends sharply up to the ‘cer­ros’. The first set­tlers built their houses on th­ese hills, and the mer­chants of Santiago built sub­stan­tial dwellings there, but in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury many rich res­i­dents aban­doned Chile, and grad­u­ally the grand houses fell into dis­re­pair. The streets of Val­paraiso be­came the graf­fiteros’ can­vases.

Bright heights of Val­paraiso

One way to reach the cer­ros is to take an ‘as­cen­sor’ or fu­nic­u­lar rail­way. Th­ese rat­tling iron boxes were built in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies to trans­port peo­ple up to the cer­ros. Eight of the orig­i­nal as­cen­sors are still op­er­at­ing; the gra­di­ent is about 70 per cent, and for a few pe­sos you’re moved at a stately pace up the hill­side. Ex­it­ing from As­cen­sor Con­cep­cion feels like walk­ing onto a surreal film set. Even the houses that are not can­vases for imag­i­na­tive works of art are brightly painted.

Another op­tion is to walk or climb the thou­sands of steps up into the hills, and even th­ese form part of the graf­fiteros’ tableaux. Flow­ers have seeded them­selves in a mad patch­work of colour in the cob­bled streets, com­ple­ment­ing the build­ings. Houses are of­ten painted from top to bot­tom and from side to side, and some­times the themes spill out onto the pave­ment or from un­der a garage door. Hos­tels vie with each other to at­tract cus­tomers by paint­ing their facades with in­tri­cate, eye-catch­ing mu­rals. Shops, restau­rants, and even dog ken­nels and bus shel­ters form part of the crazy kalei­do­scope.

Colours are al­ways vi­brant, and the de­signs are some­times car­toon­ish, some­times se­ri­ous and very of­ten satir­i­cal. A whole in­dus­try has de­vel­oped around Chilean street art. Agen­cies sup­ply artists, blog­gers blog about it and ‘street art’ tour op­er­a­tors have also cashed in on the deal. Val­paraiso is a must-visit for any­one who en­joys street pho­tog­ra­phy.

01 View ov er th e cer­ros Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF ED VR, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO100

02 blow ing dragon fire Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF VR, 1/125 sec, f/7.1, -1EV, ISO100


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