Guatemala is a country known for its diverse terrains, buildings, and architectural works of antiquity that hold secrets and wonders of history -- all tucked in thickets. Lomographer Stephen Hutchison a.k.a. stephenhutchison shares his surreal travels in Guatemala’s jungles and ancient cities in learning more about its indigenous cultures through the LomoChrome Purple and LomoChrome Metropolis, in both 35 mm and medium format.
There is so much to experience in this place, but I focused and planned the trip around three unique locations. First, we visited Tikal, the ruins of an ancient Mayan city in the north. In this place, the sounds of howler monkeys dominated overhead, and the spiraling extensive roots of trees below demanded our attention with every step. I photographed as often as possible, at the top of the ruins with miles of visibility and while using a headlamp in the jungle at night between moments of rain.
Next, we visited the beautiful city of Antigua in the central highlands of Guatemala. Here, walks down cobblestone streets were accompanied by the smells of chocolate and coffee, and I photographed the ruins of colonial buildings and several of the more than thirty volcanos that rise above the horizon in Guatemala.
Last, we visited Lake Atitlán, a place that served as my entire motivation for visiting Guatemala. Here, we ferried across and visited the several villages that surrounded the lake. I photographed the various volcanos and walked deep into the jungle with LomoChrome Purple loaded, knowing that the deep green of the forest would be turned into velvety purple and violet.
Unless you have visited, you won't get a sense of the true scale of Guatemala until you research. Most of the significant attractions are spread out across the country, often requiring long drives or a propeller plane flight. No visit would be complete, without visiting Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlán.
In my experience, the local life in Guatemala is certainly cautious, and very proactive in observing health and safety protocols. It was a unique experience to leave the ruins of a 3000-year-old ancient Mayan city in the north, only to hear someone speaking a dialect of Mayan on their smartphone in Lake Atitlán. Each town has its own identity, and in some cases language, but everywhere I photographed, I found people to be vibrant and welcoming.
I would recommend photographing at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos for the best views of the Lake. Visit Reserva Natural Atitlán for the suspension bridges and waterfalls. Eat at any rooftop restaurant or bar for views of Antigua and the surrounding volcanos, and find yourself atop any of the ruins of Tikal to see where the towering trees meet the sky.
I am a vegetarian, so I couldn't experience Pepian, one of the national dishes. However, there were many amazing vegetarian restaurants, including one in Antigua were, oddly, I had the best vegetarian burger that I have ever had. While in Guatemala, we drank the best coffee and ate the best chocolate daily, I would recommend taking a chocolate workshop and learning about the significance of cacao from its birthplace.
There is an image that I will always carry with me, standing on the shore of Lake Atitlán, photographing across at a volcano breathing smoke from its peak that collected in the clouds above. I will never forget the excitement and energy I felt, doing everything I could to capture the significance of that moment.
During these times of uncertainty, closure, and ambiguity, I have focused on the work that I have created in the past. This extended moment of reflection has provided the opportunity to look more critically at my older work, and lead to the conclusion that I can often be too intentional, and lacking in expressiveness. I spent the last several months, planned a trip to Guatemala, and focused on being mindful of the enjoyment and excitement I find in the process of photography, especially the unpredictability. With just a backpack, five film cameras, and ten different film stocks I photographed three unique and unforgettable locations.
I am working on a book project that will include photographs and short stories and planning another trip. In the past, I have been drawn to places with caves, volcanos, and ruins. I enjoy the process of researching and obsessing over a place almost as much as visiting, but I am looking forward to photographing in places like Bolivia, and Morocco in the future.
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