El Alto in British Journal of Photography

15 December, 2015

For the British Journal of Photography’s latest “Cool and Noteworthy” issue, Gemma Padley wrote a very nice article about Nick’s El Alto project and how he came to work around those colourful Bolivian buildings. Here is the full article for you:

Nick Ballon explores the neo-Andean architecture of El Alto
By Gemma Padley

With a father from Bolivia, Nick Ballon is no stranger to the South American country. While his past work in the region has seen him document wrestling, outlaws and the first ski resort to be built in Latin America, his latest project takes a decidedly different track. El Alto features a series of diptychs depicting the Bolivian city’s colourful mansions alongside still life photographs of these buildings in miniature.

The buildings have sprung up in what is one of Bolivia’s fastest growing cities. El Alto has a population of more than a million and is home to the Aymara bourgeoisie, an indigenous people that migrated from the countryside. This flourishing new class and the elaborate buildings in which they live are signs of a shift towards prosperity - a theme Ballon was keen to capture.
„The new series represents a positivity and future for Bolivia, themes that my previous Bolivian work lacked - those stories were resigned to look back at the glory and grandeur of the past, and to a future which never seemed to arrive,“ he says.  „I wanted to show all the recent positive change in Bolivia in the work I created there.“

There is no consensus as to how this style of architecture came about, he says, but it’s a growing trend, with more than 120 structures already in existence and many more planned or under way. In a city that is undergoing rapid urbanisation, it’s little surprise that the architecture reflects the people’s cultural roots (for example, some of these buildings are inspired by indigenous Andean iconography) and the incessant modernisation.

The idea for the series evolved in his mind over a long period, says the photographer, but it was only in the last year or so that he began to work on it seriously. On trips to El Alto, Ballon began to notice how the sprawling city was physically changing. His eye was drawn in particular to these „peculiar buildings slowly rising up one by one on my taxi ride down into La Paz“. Once the buildings were etched in his mind, he started to make correlations between these and model buildings he’d come across years before at Alasitas, a month-long festival of miniatures that takes place in La Paz each January.

Ballon set about making studies of several of the buildings and had the idea of creating miniature versions of them, which would sit alongside his large format photographs. He approached a model maker who created miniatures from glass for the Alasitas festival and successfully pitched the project to creative agency YouCanNow, which part funded the series. Each model took a week to make and was then shipped back to the UK to be photographed in a studio by Jonathan Minster. To date, Ballon has created five pairings, which he says is just the beginning. „The model buildings based on the real-life buildings I photographed are meant to explore the relationship between the hopes and dreams of this upwardly mobile part of Bolivian society, with its new-found wealth proudly affirming its identity through architecture,“ he says. „I hope to continue with this project as new buildings are constructed, to make this into a collection.“

See the entire project here: El Alto by Nick Ballon

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