The arid land of the world has been a muse for photographer Alfredo de Stefano, one of Mexico’s foremost contemporary conceptual photographers, for years now. His love for sand dunes, valleys and hills has taken him to the farthest deserts of the world, including the Sahara, the famed Atacama in Chile, Nazca desert in Peru and the highlands of Iceland. The artist, who calls himself “a photographer and visual artist who shoots landscapes of the desert in a particular language”, was in the Capital last week. The 52-year-old, based in the city of Saltillo, talked about his latest photographic documentary project Storm of Light- All the Deserts are My Desert, which was shot in Thar desert. Excerpts from an email interview:
Why have you always chosen deserts as your subjects? Why not photograph anything else?
A desert is part of human history, and what I do is listen to the stories they tell me and try to do my interpretation through a photograph. The desert inflicts an incomprehensible influence on me, the reason to return to it again and again with the tenacity of someone peeling an onion, layer after layer, in the midst of tearful and joyous astonishment. I see its wandering dunes, travelling mounds, fragile valleys and hills, and I wonder why it still haunts me, why when I know it so well, when I understand its entrails, when I read it as a sailor reads the starry sky.
How was your experience shooting in Thar desert in India last month?
It, perhaps, has been my most challenging experience in any desert I have worked before.The reason is the lack of real open spaces without nothing. There is always something in the horizon — cows, houses, people and electrical wires, and what I think now is the new species that inhabits and dominates the horizon of the Thar desert, the turbines. You find hundreds scattered in the desert.
Your latest project comprises photographs such as theTuareg Carpet-Sahara Desert Morocco, where a large carpet is seen spread across a sand hill in Sahara desert, and a human figure wrapped in red cloth standing in the middle of a desert in another series called “The Red Mummy in the White Desert, Sahara desert / Egypt”. What is the idea?
My work in the deserts is always related to the culture of each country. “The Red Mummy…” refers to the the mummies in Egypt and the carpet to the Tuareg nomads in Sahara.
What is your aim with this project?
I propose to analyse the various manifestations of life and death in the desert; what is the cosmogony that sustains its mysteries, what are the similarities and differences that generate their diverse cultures, right from the Gob in Mongolia, the Sahara in Africa or the Western deserts in Australia, all the way to the Thar in India or the Atacama in Chile. It is essential to listen to first hand stories of their inhabitants, collect the tone of their voices, the emotions that move them, the fears they live with, the rage or disenchantment that frequently produces in them, the knowing of being the last inheritors of their traditions, their costumes and beliefs.