Exploring location and cultural heritage through photography

As an author who lives far from the place where I was born, and write stories with particular locations in mind, I must imagine the landscape or use photographs to get my creative juices flowing. Photos are story telling devises that can help me expand the fictional world and offer a slice of life and a sense of the cultural and political climate I want to create.

Chile: above left – Two Mo’ais -human figures carved in stone by Rapa Nui people who populated Easter Island 1500 years ago. Above right – the capital city, Santiago, Chile. Below left – Torres del Paine National Park located in Tierra del Fuego, the southern most part of the country. Right- commonly seen sight farming with oxen.

One photograph was all it took to change the destiny of the protagonists in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novel “The Painter of Battles”. For this Spanish author, the photograph becomes the means to explore the theme, plot and the main characters of his book. When we meet the protagonist, he is working on a large mural, copying images of numerous battleground paintings created by well known painters from Bruegel to Picasso.

One day the painter is unexpectedly confronted by a stranger; a disgruntled Croatian soldier who was imprisoned and tortured, his wife and child murdered, during the Yugoslavian civil war. The soldier tells the painter he is there to kill him, but the painter is at a loss, struggling to understand the reason for his intention.

It so happened that the painter, who used to be a world-renowned war photographer, has become famous and rich after one of his photos appeared on the cover of magazines. But the fate of the soldier, the subject of the iconic photograph, has been very different. He has not benefited at all, on the contrary, he has been left in a traumatized state.

Perez-Reverte attributes the photograph to the butterfly effect – a notion from chaos theory – whereby a small innocent act has lead to a vastly different outcome. When the painter finds out the reason for the soldier’s anger, they start a dialogue. Knowing the cause helps the painter understand the soldier’s response. Their conversation contributes to the painter’s moral awareness and will determine the decisions he makes going forth.

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