Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with photographer Andrew Meredith

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How do you define good travel photography? I’m not sure what other people think but for me, it’s an image that beckons with its infusion of colours, seduces with its ambience and caresses with an intriguing subject matter. It’s not so much about capturing something divinely exotic as it is about viewing an unfamiliar and mystical part of the world through the window of a photographer’s lens. I’ve always been allured by such landscapes which is why I recently found myself trekking across London on a constipated District Line in the blistering heat, to check out photographer Andrew Meredith’s new exhibition, ‘Excursions’.

I came across Andrew’s work a few months ago when I was writing up my Pete Fowler interview, which he kindly provided the images for. A nosy parker by nature, I couldn’t help but Google stalk him. The search results threw up an impressive website, with an even more impressive portfolio.

Santiago, Chile 2008

Counting big names like Selfridges, Chanel and Anya Hindmarch as his clients, The Falmouth College of Art graduate has worked on numerous projects, including one entitled ‘The Slaughtermen’ for OnOffice Magazine, featuring a day in a life of an abattoir worker. This subsequently led to Andrew winning the 2008 ‘Best in Book’ Category for the Creative Review’s Photography Annual. Amongst other photography award nominations, Andrew’s credits include Kanye West’s Late Orchestration album cover and his work has been featured in The New York Times, Vogue Russia and Frame Magazine amongst several other well-known magazine titles.

Santiago, Chile 2008

Having exhibited at galleries across London over the past eight years, Andrew’s latest project, ‘Excursions’, spans two years’ of travels across the Americas and the Caribbean. Now before you start visualising cheesy smiles in front of Machu Picchu, bottom shuffling down Chichen Itza or staring moodily into the distance with a vintage Cohiba in the Plaza de la Revolución a la Che, the photographer has decidedly taken a less conventional approach by capturing less familiar, deserted and occasionally dilapidated landscapes in favour of popular picture perfect landmarks.

Describing the exhibition’s theme, Andrew explains: “Excursions is a photographic journey through Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba and America to document every day scenes that are far removed from our own. The route I took was mainly by road, impulsive and unplanned and avoiding all the obvious tourist traps along the way.”

The result is an honest and raw photographic essay that pitches the beauty of nature amongst rugged urban landscapes. Having developed a deep bond with Chile, Andrew will also be auctioning signed and framed images of the Santiago stills, with all proceeds going towards the Global Givings Relief Fund for Earthquake in Chile to help rebuild regions that were hit hardest by the earthquake earlier this year.

On a balmy summer evening, we caught up with the photographer at a private view of his exhibition to find out more about his travel encounters…

Santiago, Chile 2008

Your new exhibition is entitled ‘Excursions’. Is there any particular reason why South America is the focal point of these excursions?
I originally went to Chile for my friend Erwin’s wedding in Santiago, but couldn’t help feeling excited about exploring the city. It reminded me of scenes from Alec Soth’s book ‘Dog Days in Bogata’ where he finds himself in Colombia’s capital, waiting to adopt his first child. As he found himself with time on his hands, he decided to document his surroundings as a future reminder of his new daughter’s birthplace.

Based on this idea, I too felt compelled to start documenting the trip and pretty soon we started going off further south of Santiago to places like Chiloe, Pucon, Osorno, Villarrica and Temuco. The fact it was South America was a complete accident; I was merely a traveler passing through. We went off the beaten track and immersed ourselves in the exploration, finding skeletons in forests and tiny villages along the way as well as those impressive cityscapes too. We had some time to fly out to Buenos Aires where I found other types of landscape, greyer than in Chile – a lot more concrete and crumbly. It struck me that the further we went, the more differences we were exposed to and before my eyes, a project started to unravel and evolve the further we traveled.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 2008

Did you literally stumble across your subjects or did you have an idea of what you wanted to shoot beforehand?
I had no preconceptions about Chile and Argentina. I had seen some beautiful holiday pictures taken in the southern parts of the countries, but they were never the kind of images I would like to have captured myself. What I found most interesting were the ramshackle and crumbly parts of the city, with power cables overflowing to the far corners of the buildings. That impressed me the most in a downtrodden dirty kind of way!

Where Cuba was concerned, we all have stereotypical ideas of what Havana looks like; the fine 1950s cars, gents smoking cigars, and a city that is crumbling faster then one can refurbish – I wanted to avoid all of that. My first night in Havana ended up being in this huge hotel which was pretty horrible. However, at about midnight when I looked out of the window, there was this incredible view of darkness with vibrant streams of light blazing through it. It was a beautiful moment as the night sky appeared as if it were on fire.

Pucon, Chile 2008

Your photos are mainly of landscapes opposed to people – was this a conscious decision?
I get a real sense of calm from observing landscapes and cityscapes. Being able to view it from up high above, looking down is endlessly interesting to me. At that distance, you cannot see people’s faces or their problems; all you can see are things moving around in the distance unaware that they are being photographed. I guess I’m sort of a voyeur, although not in a pervy sense! There was definitely an element of escapism for me around capturing images of landscapes. Hopefully through viewing my work, my audience might also join me in feeling that way too.

You mentioned that you wanted to avoid tourist traps – other then the landscapes being less recognisable, what were you hoping to portray in these photographs?
As a tourist, you are often only shown certain things. As a result, I end up feeling as if I’m being led around on a lead most of the time. I don’t like the idea of tours only passing by the attractions which people assume you’d be most interested to see. By avoiding all the tours and tourist traps, I was able to encounter landscapes less manipulated by mankind, which was much more appealing to me. My surroundings seemed to possess a purer beauty.

Tulum, Mexico 2009

Were there any challenges you faced whilst shooting abroad?
The first few days in Havana were incredibly hard work where everyone just seemed to be after your money. I guess it comes with being a tourist but I experienced this more in Havana than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I know that people just need the money so they can work towards a better life than what the Communist government will hand to them but it felt abusive at times. I just knew we had to get away from there and go further afield to avoid the tourism.

Other obvious challenges were language barriers and differences in culture. I have a basic grasp of Spanish so I could get by some of the time. Luckily I have a few fluent Spanish speaking friends who were able to help me along the way, although mostly they were useful for teaching me offensive Spanish phrases and swear words!

Was there a country in South America which really stood out during your travels? If so – why?
Most of the countries I shot during this project were so different. For example, Tulum in Mexico was initially like a paradise until you walked a mile around the coast to find, what seemed like, an invisible gate to a much more deprived and semi-built landscape. There were dirty beaches with truck tyres and rubbish washed up on the sand and shelters abandoned half-way through being built.

Overall, my favourite country was Chile. It was my inspiration for the whole project and I saw some wonderful places and met some amazing people. It gave me access to some of the most impressive landscapes I’ve ever captured due to the sheer diversity and scale. Another reason for it holding a special place in my heart is the fact that I was able to see and document Chile before the earthquake in February and it saddens me to think of the landscape being so different now. I feel incredibly strongly about trying to give something back to the people and the landscape that allowed me to capture those images in the first place, which is why some of the stills will be available for auction.

Santiago, Chile 2008

What’s next for you?
I would love to explore other South American countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, Peru and the Falkland Islands. The next chapter of ‘Excursions’ will happen at some point.

The next place on my list though that I am keen to visit has got to be Hong Kong. I love the landscape, the tall buildings, the light, the thick air and the density. Running alongside this, I would also like to visit the Svalbard Islands deep in the Arctic Circle, miles off the Norwegian coast. It’s the most northern town in the world and one of the least populated places in the world. I think I can draw on some pretty interesting contrasts between Hong Kong and Svalbard…

‘Excursions’ by Andrew Meredith is running until 10th July at The Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, London W6 9RL.

A very limited edition, signed and framed Santiago, Chile 2008 portrait will be autioned with all proceeds going to Global Givings Relief Fund for the Earthquake in Chile. For more information, see here.

All photographs courtesy of Andrew Meredith.

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