‘Too Strange to Ignore’

Photographer Flemming Bo Jensen tells Brandon Hoops the story behind a picture from Argentina

By / March 2013

In San Antonio de Los Cobres, tucked high in the Andes Mountains, the landscape is suitable for a John Wayne western, all rough earth and big sky. The midday sun illuminates the set like a spotlight. The wind blows like a hair dryer in my face. There is no question that I stand out, a tall, blond Scandinavian alien, wandering the dusty, desolate streets, snapping photos.

It’s no surprise then that everyone is turning aside my requests for pictures. Some people even escape the streets as soon as they spot my camera. No amount of small talk can convince someone to be in a frame. Getting any portraits in these small mountain towns of northwestern Argentina is proving difficult. Maybe I am just having really bad luck. Every day. But I keep walking, keep looking.

When I greet an older woman and ask if I can take her portrait, she continues the trend, telling me no, moving on. I’m probably the strangest creature she has seen in a long time. El gringo. El gringo fotógrafo.

Expecting this, I shrug, smile, and decide to rest in the shadow of a nearby building. You have to sit in the shade here. The sun in the desert at more than 12,000 feet likes to boil your skin. As I settle into my spot and fill my mouth with some water, I notice the woman who had passed me by, shuffling back toward me. This tall, weird alien (I am about twice her height) is too strange to ignore, and she sits down next to me.

We talk. Basic sentences in Spanish form sloppily on my lips as I attempt to explain who I am, where I am from, and what I do. But mostly she does the talking, telling me she has lived here all her life and a lot of other stuff that proves difficult to decipher because of her Argentinian flavor of Spanish. I like the way she laughs almost the same way I do. I like how her face tells the story of living in these extreme conditions. I like her kind and warm eyes.

Soon when we run out of words and she looks at me and says, “Take my picture.” I am surprised. But I grab my camera and lean back, so the blinding sun blows out the background and forms a halo around her head. Her expression is perfect, just the right image to protect my memory of her.

This experience is exactly why I quit my IT job in Copenhagen, sold my flat and all my stuff and have spent the past 3 1/2 years living a nomadic life with photography as my closest, most steady companion. Traveling the world, meeting people, and documenting their lives and stories means my own story and life often changes often. I’m no longer confined to the straight lines and predictable patterns of corporate life. I’m open to new opportunities, new challenges, new places, new friends.

No, it’s not the healthiest of lifestyles, and often my life makes no sense, but it’s like a drug. The road goes on. It goes all around the world. There is so much left to see and learn. Actually the more I see, the less I know, and the more I must learn. I’m forever searching, forever taking in everything, forever letting this wondrous world reach into my soul.

 

Flemming Bo Jensen, 40, is a freelance documentary photographer and filmmaker who has spent the past almost four years living on the road as a nomad. He is currently in New Mexico. To see more of his photography, click here.

 

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