Guidance, photo essay by Simon Coffinieres
In hostile surroundings, in a place plagued by desolation, you look for a sign, for a guide, for a watchman.
You dig deep into the sky, move the earth under you feet, climb each rock, each hill. Scrutinize this hellish paradise : a corral made of centenarians stones, a cactus strain, a collapsed wall, a tree made of salt, sand and mud.
Everything is traces, traces of past lives, traces of survival, traces of abandonment. All gone with a noise of relief. Replaced by the wind. Leaving you with nowhere to hide from this constant whistle that shut yourself off.
You look for protection. Protection from what ? From loneliness, from yourself, from the whispers of your tired body.
The tortuous wind penetrates your veins, the sand absorbs what’s left of you. You slow down, you lose hope, drying up, fading away, taking the shape of what surrounds you, becoming shrub, becoming cactus, becoming rock, becoming dust.
And then, it’s there, the sign you were hoping for, the tap on your shoulder, the guidance.
Indians from the Puna and the Quebrada, from the high desert plateaus and the deep ravines call it Coquena. The son of Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, keeper of the animals of the countryside and the dry hills, clouds shepherd, weaver of the fog and snow, sower of storms, keeper of the glades and the woods, father of mountains, musician of rivers and streams. It protects the vicunas from the hunters firearms. A meeting with Coquena on the road may be baneful but is not necessarily synonymous with death.
If you see, in the far distance, moving, alone, Andean herds, it’s because, invisible, it is there.
There. Standing. Wise, serene, it made the wind its ally, the sand its pittance.
And there you go again, carefree, just like those wild animals, with a stealthy direction, guided by a spirit, an airstream.
Q&A with Simon Coffinieres
An open window to what we have never seen before and will never see again.
A medium with one single purpose : seize and understand time in its thickness.
A medium with one single reward : the process of doing it.
Photography, with its meaningful strangeness, adds a little more magic and poetry to everyone’s reality.
Most importantly : taking photographs is to care.
Photography and writing…
Are the two sides of the same story. They reinforce each other even though they don’t need each other. A good photography can speak for itself while any good writing should fill your head with images.
Who left the biggest impression on you?
I have a fascination for fascination. Hence, I admire people leading significant lives with a tireless curiosity. People that are living a thousand lives in one life always leave a strong impression on me. I am inspired by Sebastião Salgado’s highly empathic work, by the raw beauty of a Caillebotte, or by St Exupéry’s truthfulness, as much as I am inspired by magical details that I encounter along my way: the smell of freshly cut grass, the taste of passion fruit or the sound of the snow falling on my hat.
Tell us a little about yourself
I always loved to tinker with my parents old cameras. As the time flew by, I put this passion aside. But, when I was in law school, I figured out that I was more interested in people than in the laws governing them.
So, I kept looking for a way to tell the world as I see it. And photography came back to me.
Since then, it’s a pleasure to work everyday with the best coworkers there is : marvelous earthlings, beautiful light, honest lenses and the delicious sound of the camera shutter.