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Spotlight: Discovering a New Life and Vision in Valparaiso, Chile

By David Schonauer   Monday October 7, 2019


Eléonore Simon moved to Valparaíso, Chile, in 2016.

“I needed a fresh start and decided to spend time with my family who had settled in Chile the same year. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and I was only planning on spending a few weeks there before returning to New York,” she says.

She ended up staying. “Valparaíso’s charm and grittiness instantly captured my imagination and whenever I thought I might be ready to leave, it pulled me back in,” she says. Inspired by others who have photographed “The Jewel of the Pacific” — Sergio Larrain, Anders Petersen and Alberto Garcia-Alix — she set about capturing the city in black-and-white images. The result was a project she calls simply “Valparaíso.”

The work was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 7 competition.

“The Chilean seaport has lost some of the splendor and hardships that defined it in the early 20th century, but it has maintained the vitality and poetry that has drawn artists and writers in search of inspiration,” Simon writes in the artist statement for the series. “Traces of the decline of its industry and port activity are still palpable, but Valparaíso responds to the challenges of its economy with unwavering energy and adaptability, in a culture where improvisation has become an art form tangible throughout the city. Beyond the historical tourist neighborhoods is a mosaic of shapes and colors, a succession of houses made from recycled materials.”

A French American, Simon studied art history at the University of Lyon in France and at the University of Pennsylvania before moving to New York City. There, she began taking a camera on strolls throughout the city, while working as a studio manager and later as a teaching assistant at the International Center of Photography School. After moving to Valparaíso, she refocused her interest in street photography.

“In a city that seems made of a succession of endearing characters, unlikely collages and picturesque scenes, I look for geometric constructions, abstraction and compositions that impose a structure and order in the clutter and chaos of the seaport,” she writes.

“Even in a city as stunningly colorful as Valparaíso, I knew I wanted to make black and white imagery,” Simon adds. “Working in black and white has always come naturally to me and, for this body of work, it helped channel the poetry and mystery of the city.” She shot the project with both a Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera and a Fujifilm X100F compact, which, she notes, allowed her “to become a fly on the wall and observe the movements of the city and its inhabitants at ease.”

But in discovering a new city, she discovered something more.

“When I began this photography project two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the draw that the city would continue to have on me, that I would build a new life to continue exploring its endless mystery.” she notes.

“What is left once you have removed your anchors: the places and routines that ground you and give you a direction?” she writes. Her work, she says, “explores the idea of disorientation and the potential that photography has to create meaning out of confusion.”

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Dispatches from Latin America