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f-stop Ambassador Gustavo Cherro recently returned from documentary shooting in one of the most isolated regions of Argentina. The Ibera wetlands are home to people until recently isolated from modern life by the geography of the reigion. This is changing, and Gustavo explains why this caught his attention as a photographic project. Following Gustavo's Packing Jigsaw about what he packed for this trip, he gives us his deeply personal insight on why this project was important to him, and the challenges and highlights of shooting in such a challenging location.
This was a very special personal project for you. What attracted you to shooting in the remote Iberá wetlands?
My photographic mind is in permanent search of images and stories, I see them everywhere, I imagine them, but unfortunately, I can not stop in every corner or town and dedicate the necessary time to each of them, but sometimes there is one that it prevents me from moving forward, it prevents me from thinking about others, it traps my photographic thought and forces me to pay more attention to it. This project in Iberá was one of these cases.
A couple of years ago, working for the Ministry of Tourism of the Nation here in Argentina, I arrived at a small, beautiful and extremely friendly town called Concepción del Yaguareté Corá, one of the entrance gateways to the Esteros del Iberá and almost immediately I was intruiged by it.
Its people, its nature, its culture and its history make it something special, but during my stay in it, visiting its surroundings searching pictures, I saw in the distance as if coming from nowhere, a small child transporting an old man, who imagine as his grandfather in a little canoe propelled with a long cane and I asked amazed to my guide "Oh my god !!! Where do these people come from?"
My interest was immediate, it was very special. I began to research about them and over time I understood that their way of life was being "threatened" in a certain way by progress, that the way of life had done during many year, isolated, without using money, making barter, without electricity, Without gas, without doctors, It was very close to disappearing. I said to myself, it can not be that there is not a photographic record of this culture, and I started to work with everything that involves this type of projects. Money, logistics, time, equipment, assistance, permits.
Many people may not have heard of the Iberá region. Can you tell us more about what makes this are special?
The Esteros del Iberá are one of the most important natural protected areas in South America, covering some 13,000 km2, a large part of them covered by water forming lagoons, streams and estuaries; It also has highlands where forests and savannas thrive.
This wonderful place would not have reached us if the Paraná River did not decide to change its course towards the north thousands of years ago leaving the center of the province of Corrientes. The depression then became lagoons, channels, estuaries and reservoirs, which absorb rainfall, functioning as well as an enormous and efficient natural dam. Only a small percentage of the water flows to the Paraná in the southwest, through the Corrientes River.
A unique feature of the Iberá are its "embalsados", organic soils islands that due to their weight float. The aquatic vegetation simply accumulates with the passage of time, forming mattresses 1 to 3 meters thick; being able to support some trees and animals such as Yacarés, Capybaras and Deer from the swamps; Occasionally pieces of the floating coasts that surround the lagoons are released, releasing islands that travel adrift, taking with them their fauna; until they manage to touch the coast and affirm themselves again. Possibly there is no better place in northern Argentina for the observation of wildlife.
Is there a stand out image that you were especially pleased to capture?
It is very difficult to choose a favorite image of the trip ... I would not know which one, but maybe either getting the "halfscreen" of the water crossing of the cows, or capturing the everyday scenes with the beautiful sunset light and smoke from the stove without them noticing my presence could be it.... as well as some of the images of them cooking and chatting at night illuminated by torches in their typical kitchens. I can't choose one!
What were the logistics for this trip?
Working in an isolated and wild environment like this requires adequate logistics, where to sleep, what to eat, how to hydrate, how to charge batteries, how to download images from cameras, becomes a challenge. The use of boats of different types to reach the islands, some driven by a motor, others by horses and their rider and others by ourselves through long rods, are very important. The solar chargers to recover the energy used by the cameras day by day, drones and other equipment, are essential. The safe transport of all that equipment in an "aquatic" environment by 90% is also paramount.
Even with the planning, it looks like a difficult shooting environment. What was the most challenging moment?
The most challenging moment? Some families in the area have cows, and they must be moved from one island to another for various reasons, food, weather conditions, or to be slaughtered, etc. And this movement is done by swimming. The cows are moving swimming through the water and the gauchos are guiding them with small boats.
During this transfer, the animals are very stressed and nervous, there is no way to photograph the situation in a controlled manner and the single presence of a photographer is very disturbing for the group. Approaching the group of frightened animals through the water in search of my image was complicated. I had to intercept the first ones of the row, since once they passed, the water got dirty and I could not achieve the transparency I was looking for in it and every time I tried, the group tried to get away from me with the risk of them escaping to the other side, generating a greater problem to the "Gauchos" (Cowboys) that were guiding them. The lack of mobility being in the water and my camera inside a big case did not help. After many attempts, I managed only a couple of images that left me happy. It was a unique opportunity with many things and people involved and impossible to repeat, so it was a moment of considerable tension for me and the rest of the team.
Living in such a remote area, the people from Ibera don’t get many visitors. Some of them don’t even speak Spanish. Tell us a bit more about the first connection you made with the families on the islands. What was their reaction and how did you communicate with them?
The people who live within the Iberá communicate in the Guaraní language, a native language of the Guaraníes, denomination of original towns of the zone. They understand the Spanish language, but few express themselves in that language.
The access to the area where these people live is not allowed to the common people, since they live outside the areas destined to the tourist exploitation in the Iberá, for which, they are not very accustomed to strangers walking on their islands .
They have little contact between them and are visited from time to time by park rangers, who are almost the only link with the towns that are outside the area.
When arriving in the area, the language barrier is felt very much, it was very important the assistance I had from the guides who accompanied me, provided by the community of Concepción. They made my communication possible, greatly facilitating my stay in the islands.
Connecting with them took time, they were very aware of me. I was a novelty and being part of the landscape and becoming "invisible" was not simple.
There’s a dozen families left living in the Ibera region. Do they communicate with each other? Are they all living in the same way or do they differ in their way of life?
Their lives are based on subsistence. They live from what their environment provides, they must hunt, cultivate, build their homes and boats. They wake up very early, even without daylight, light a fire, heat water to drink "Mate" ( local infusion ), and they knead a kind of bread made with flour and animal fat called Chipá Cuerito, sometimes also accompanied by a dish made from white corn flour called Mbaipy.
Women are dedicated mainly to work the land and cook and men to other tasks such as construction of boats, hunting, or work with some animals, these functions are only suspended to eat and rest. Their lives are governed by the schedules imposed by nature, since they do not have electricity and they take advantage of daylight to do their homework.
Not all families have the same tasks, since not all of them have the same resources. Some only have chickens and others have cattle, sheep or pigs. Depending on what their resources are, their customs vary, but in all cases, they live in isolation, from what nature offers them, without essential services and as they did for hundreds of years their ancestors.
Who are you and what kind of work are you passionate about?
During my teenage years until today, I devoted myself to mountain climbing and living in contact with nature. When I returned from those trips and saw my photos, I realized they did not do justice to my personal experience. So I started to buy magazines, read books, enhance my equipment until one day I took it seriously and started to study. Immediately after, I got a job as a photo studio assistant and, little by little, I managed to buy my professional equipment
In those years, I started with mechanical cameras and black and white film, I had my development laboratory at home and little by little over time I had to learn and adapt to new technologies. The color, the scanners, digital processes, sensors, the internet, networks, etc. I have worked in newspapers, national and international magazines and news agencies and now I do it independently. I have been the editor in several newspapers and from time to time I give talks to students of photography or journalism.
When my clients allow me, I always have in mind some project to carry out, to which I dedicate my free time to. These projects are the ones that keep my "photographic spirit" alive and alert, and tend to be the ones that give me the greatest satisfaction. in the professional field as in the personnel.
With the passage of time, I realize looking at myself, that the jobs that most attract me are those that involve people, societies and even more if this happens in natural or little visited places. I believe that the purity that can be found in those environments, far from the contamination of progress, is very interesting to record ...or at least to try!
Any advice to young photographers on pursuing a career in photography?
Advising a young person about what to do with their professional life is an enormous responsibility. But if any young person sees his future in photography, or is seriously interested in it, I could only say that photography is not "using a camera well" - photography is "everything that comes after that". We must learn about everything, be informed, be educated, be kind and respectful. We photograph "What we are". But above all, we must assume without fear the risk of showing our way of "looking at and feeling" the world.