My Best Shot for The Gaurdian

13 March, 2014

A few weeks ago Nick was asked to write about one of his best photographs. The experience of taking it and what it means to him.
Here is what he wrote.

In 1908, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the world’s most famous outlaws, made their final journey through Bolivia, on the run from the Pinkerton detective agency, robbing stagecoaches as they went. In 2011, I set out to make a photographic portrayal of their flight, seeking to explore its route and many mysteries.

They are believed to have died in a shootout in the town of San Vicente. Bolivia loves to play this up for tourists. But it’s actually quite likely the pair managed to avoid the detectives, as well as the Bolivian army, and faked their deaths, living to old age in the US. In 1991, bodies thought to have been theirs were exhumed in Bolivia. DNA tests proved it wasn’t them, and the whole story was blown apart.

I travelled round southern Bolivia, visiting places where they’d been, trying to be as factual as possible. I followed countless leads, from townspeople and my tour guide, but it was hard to find anything certain, and my pictures reflect that. Many are of open spaces, of dead cactuses and dust. At the San Vicente Museum, the curator showed me bowler hats, rifles and handguns, supposedly belonging to them. When I got back to the UK and asked experts about the guns, they said there was absolutely no chance they could have been theirs, since they were from a completely different period.

This shot was taken at the foot of Huaca Huañusca, meaning Dead Cow Hill. This is where Butch and Sundance are known to have held up their last stagecoach, which carried the payroll of the Aramayo silver mining company. The terrain is harsh and high, around 4000m up. It was like being in a spaghetti western, with the sun blistering down and tumbleweed blowing by.

I was travelling with my father, whose family was Bolivian. He would translate for me and cajole people into having their picture taken. Our guide dropped us at the top of a mountain and said he would pick us up at the end of the track. I suggested my father stay in the car, because his health was bad and he struggled with walking, but he was stubborn and wanted to come. Everything was fine until we hit a couple of ravines: it was tough going, and he ended up sliding down on his backside. Eventually, we were in rather a bad way and the guide had to come looking for us.

It’s a picture of nothing really, just an old dried riverbed with a path now running through it. So why do I find it so poignant? Because my father died last year. I now feel we were a bit like Butch and Sundance on that trip – having our last adventure together, going around Bolivia in a partnership that would soon end.

To see the piece on the Guardian website click here


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