Inside Photographer Chiara Zonca’s Immersive Desert Portraits


Photographer Chiara Zonca on exploring her inner self through the arid landscapes of the Atacama Desert of Chile and the Bolivian Altiplano.

enRoute Why did you settle on shooting your series Moon Kingdom in Chile and Bolivia?

Chiara Zonca I am always looking for surreal and unusual places. When I came across this region, it looked like something that belonged in my imagination. I just knew I had to photograph it and create a natural playground for me to project my feelings onto.

December 4, 2018
Vicuñas wandering in the distance in the middle of a big desert landscape

ER Tell us about the camel in your photo.

CZ It’s actually a vicuña, a local mammal that’s part of the camel family.

Rocky red hills of the Chilean Altiplano
Chilean Altiplano, road to Argentina.
A pale blue stream of water runs through the pink landscape of the Bolivian Altiplano region
Bolivian Altiplano region – Laguna Honda.

ER This is your first book. What inspired you to put this project in print?

CZ While I was there, I quickly realized the series was getting quite extensive. So when my editor approached me to work on a book, I knew Moon Kingdom was the perfect series for it. The images were created with print in mind, and it felt natural to shape them into some sort of journey.

The pink sands of Géiser de Sol de Mañana, Bolivia

Géiser de Sol de Mañana, Bolivia.

ER Portrait is a term usually associated with humans – why did you decide to call your desert photos portraits?

CZ That’s how I view my landscape work. It’s not only about documenting topography or light – it’s about reaching for a deeper connection. I am painfully introverted and I struggle to connect with people, but it’s different with landscapes. They give me a sense of freedom, which allows me to better get in touch with my inner self.

A beautiful and surreal scene in the desert, with lots of red and orange rocks
Cañón de Guatín, San Pedro de Atacama.

ER What did you take with you on this shoot?

CZ My husband and some basic camping equipment. Camping enables me to be right where I want to be when the light is good. Plus, it allows me to spend several hours in the field before I start shooting.

Long grasses growing in front of a lake in the desert with red hills in the distance.
Bolivian Altiplano region.

ER What are a few of your favourite accounts on Instagram?

CZ I am constantly in awe of Reuben Wu’s work and his curation account @imaginarymagnitude. For a touch of Americana, I always look forward to checking out Ry Shorosky, and for analogue lovers, @ihoworth’s work is outstanding. I also really like Elsa Bleda for her melancholic nightscapes, and Neil Krug is an absolute genius.

Tire tracks in the desert
Chilean Altiplano, road to Argentina.

ER Where are you travelling next?

CZ I am currently working on a new North American series. It’s a big change for me in terms of style, subject and medium. I am also itching to visit Iceland, Chile, Australia and China. Nothing is set in stone yet, but that’s how I like it.

ER How do we get a copy of your book?

CZ The book was released in December and is available now. It is also available on Amazon.

Red cliffs in the desert with late-day sun shining on them.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Cacti growing amongst the red rocks of San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama, near Moon Valley.