Port Magazine - A Thousand Words

21 June, 2013

Drawing on his Bolivian heritage, the photographer explains how a dead bird on an aeroplane seat is a fitting metaphor for failing airline LAB, the subject of his new photobook.

This photograph of a small, dead bird was taken moments after my own near death experience involving the rear airstairs on a Boeing 727, so the theme was relevant for several reasons. I was determined to get on board the plane, having just learned how it had been hijacked in the mid 80s (unsuccessfully, the only loss of life was the hijacker.) They’d detonated a hand-grenade in the toilet, killing themselves, but luckily no one else onboard.

Without giving much thought to my safety, I climbed a ladder to release an emergency switch above my head. The button – unbeknown to me – sent the stairway crashing to the floor. I jumped to avoid being crushed by the heavy aircraft door.

As the dust settled, my host – an employee at Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB), based at Cochabamba Airport in Bolivia – brushed herself down, and carried on with the guided tour. This marked the start of my fascination with this failing Bolivian company leading to three visits over a period of six months to document the present day story of LAB.

LAB is undeniably suffocated by serious debt, primarily owed to the tax authorities, but also pension funds and a number of existing and former employees whom it owes unpaid salaries and redundancy payments. Its downed fleet of aging aircrafts are slowly crumbling away, but somehow the airline – one of the world’s oldest – keeps going, through a combination of loyalty and faith from its remaining 200 staff.

This image illustrates the situation of the airline’s fall from grace beautifully. In many ways, the story of LAB is the story of Bolivia and its people, resigned to look back at past glory and grandeur, which is at once half-imagined, half-remembered. It is the story of a people perpetually looking towards a promised future that never seems to arrive.

Bolivia has been a fascination of mine every since my first visit at the age of four when I made the choice to stay with my grandmother and great-grandmother in La Paz whilst the rest of my family travelled back to Chile. Who knows what made me stay, but something keeps making me go back. That’s in part down to my Bolivian family ties, but also the idea of exploring the idea of “foreignness” within my work.

Click for more details Ezekiel 36:36 (LAB Project) , the book for which is out 1 August

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