During his travels through Peru, Italian photographer Alessandro Cinque lived with a self-sustaining community in the Valle Sagrado. The resulting photo series tells the story of a tight-knit family living in close relation to their natural environment. The following interview reveals how Cinque gained such intimate access and what he learned from his time within the village.
Let’s start with your route into photography. Why did you choose to become a photographer and what were your early influences and inspirations?
I always knew I would become a photographer. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the red light of the darkroom, where I used to watch my father working. Like a magician, he was able to transform negatives into amazing pictures that spoke of life itself. I started to imitate him in my free time by taking photos of my grandmother’s friends and selling the prints to them. I did not study photography at school or college but I love to talk with other photographers, to watch and study their work. I have learnt the most from traveling and learning things first hand. In fact, my primary inspiration comes from places around the world that I have visited, conversations with local people and by paying attention to their movements and habits.
Why did you travel to Peru? Did you have a certain story or aim in mind before you arrived?
I was in Peru last May. I was there for a photo workshop run by Ernesto Bazan. I also used to organize workshops and I believe strongly in the importance of sharing knowledge and exchanging opinions among professionals. This trip was very important for me as it led me to discover new ways of thinking and shooting. I read a lot about Peru and I was very curious to get as close as possible to the people, the culture and lifestyle. My plan was to explore the link that ties humans to nature and animals and to show how vital it is in an everyday setting.
These photos aim to offer insight into life in the villages of the Valle Sagrado and the importance of ties between the villagers and the surrounding nature. I wanted to catch this connection in different moments, to present its essence.
Your series is very intimate. It looks as if you really lived within the community and had full access to everyday life. How did you gain this kind of access and what did you learn?
This kind of approach is really what characterizes my style and the Leica M10 helps me a lot because it allows me to be in the scene without disturbing it. My aim is to be in touch with the souls of the people I photograph and that is what I did during my trip in Peru.
I discovered the role of nature and its primary elements – water, fire and wind – in providing life and the essence of the villagers’ ancient ties with the soil itself, as well as the animals, which live on it. I understood the deeper meaning of work, it being essential for the sustenance of the spirit.
How did life within this community differ from what one might call “Western society”?
What struck me the most was the great distance that separates each village from the others. The vast open spaces of the Valle Sagrado are mind-blowing. The villages are composed of a few families and families are big there: from the oldest grandparents to the smallest children, they live together and work together to sustain the household. Everyone has their own well-defined role. That is what really fascinated me; a lifestyle completely different from our modern Western culture yet one, which is deeply structured and works seemingly so smoothly; the people are happy and satisfied.
How long did you stay with the community and how did your relationship to them develop?
I spent about 15 days there. I was always amongst people, not sleeping much and walking a lot! I took every chance I could to talk with people. I could feel my relation to them growing stronger every day and their trust in me increased step by step. I told them of my experiences as an Italian photographer, who travels a lot. I enjoyed telling them my stories and at the same time they started to open up with me, happy to show me their way of life.
What inspires you the most about travel photography?
I love travel photography and photojournalism because it is a direct way to bring certain stories to the attention of the public. These stories often deal with minorities and people, whose voice is not usually heard. For me it is also an amazing way to discover different parts of the world and come into contact with people from completely different cultural backgrounds.
One of my favorite photographers is Alex Webb. I deeply appreciate his aesthetics, harmonious compositions and his expert use of colors.
How do you choose the projects/stories to cover? What do you have planned for the future?
I read a lot and I like to be as informed as possible. Usually something that I read or something that I notice while I’m traveling catches my attention and then I start to develop an idea for a story. However, it’s only from taking photos and seeing how the story evolves, that I can be sure if it works or not.
I also work a lot with non-profit organizations, they often send me as a reporter to visit different countries. I leave for Senegal in a few days and I’ll be there for one month. I’ll work for Cospe Onlus and I’ll develop some interesting stories I have in mind about Senegal and its main cities.
What camera did you shoot with in Peru? Why did you shoot monochrome?
I shot with the Leica M10 with a 21 mm Elmarit and with a Leica M 9 with a 35 mm Summilux. I chose to shoot in black and white because I think it is the best way to catch the essence of the story and to focus the attention on it.
When did you start shooting with Leica and how has your relationship to Leica developed over the years?
In 2014 I decided to focus more on travel and story-telling and as a symbol of this new-born desire I decided to buy a Leica M-System. I was soon fascinated by it and felt very comfortable with the telemeter system, which allows me to realize a more contemplative type of photography.
By not using an auto-focus system, I noticed my photos became the result of a slow kind of photography, which in turn led me to think more about what I shoot. I started to avoid the common desire for speed, which tends to dominate the world of photography nowadays. Through this extended process, my photos became much more the result of the scene I had imagined in my mind beforehand.