Ambushed on a Dusty Plain

Angélica Araya has come up with an approach to photography that does more than just propose an artistic action. She demonstrates clear rigour in her work, without denying the contextual dilemmas. We attain to dwelling, so it seems, only by means of building. The latter, building, has the former, dwelling, as its goal.[1]

One way of further understanding the photographer Angélica Araya’s recent project, Communal Habitat: (Re-)Encounters with Everyday Life on the Plain, becomes clear when we take a moment to look at the resulting images – she has managed to capture the day-to-day pulse of the people in María Elena, as well as the arid climate that envelops the village of Quillagua, in the Antofagasta region. In both places, these images of the locals reveal their daily struggles and how they face up to them in seemingly peculiar ways. Nevertheless, their collective spaces have to deal with the same Calichera plain, the scarcity of water, and the dust-infused winds that splatter their houses’ façades.

The emptiness of the desert is perpetual. This phrase has become a slogan, as well as a contradiction that invites us to re-examine the prevailing characteristics of such settlements, i.e. those which have stood the test of time, and, indeed, survived the bone-dryness that evaporates everything away, even sweat. Being completely embedded in this setting, the photographer and her camera are in constant dialogue, creating images that essentially interpret the habitats and lifestyles she observes in these people, but ever wary not to use them to create unnecessary fictions. According to Susan Sontag, regarding what photography itself does: … although, in a way, the camera does capture reality, not only interpreting it, photographs are an interpretation of the world… However, this photographer’s introspective work has captured, on the one hand, the current situation in the commune and, on the other, how these people live their everyday life together. Additionally, if we take into account Sontag’s quote, Angélica Araya’s photographic project on these plains could be seen as a knowing, planned act, given that the route she put together took on several issues which in fact question her work in that territory. The photographic act that she produced, or rather, at this moment in time, that she post-produced[2], is eloquent, and it breaks the mould of those artist-photographers who search, in the desert, for that ‘simple postcard’, a postcard that deliberately presents it as a static space – in reality, it hardly ever seems quite so frigid.

Angélica Araya has come up with an approach to photography that does more than just propose an artistic action. Simply, she has demonstrated clear rigour in her work, without denying the contextual dilemmas that draw eyes to and offer contrasting visions of such adverse landscapes as those which dominate a large part of northern Chile. That’s why she revisits these settlements, as they have been witness to various different complexities. To try and emphasise the importance of this project, particularly for the implicated peoples, insomuch they have been able to share their gestures, ceremonies and daily rituals, a heightened visibility has been afforded to their objective reality. We thus bear witness to the trials of a contemporary life which has become less and less collective.



[1] HEIDEGGER, Martin. Building, Dwelling, Thinking. This text was first presented in Darmstadt in 1951.

[2] A good example for linking the concept of post-production and the approach to photography in the Atacama desert could be that of the Desierto No Cierto (“Uncertain Desert”) project by the film-maker and photographer Nathaly Cano, a project which was carried out on the Atacama coast. For more information, see []