August 2014

Putting Things into Perspective
The Popular Photos of the Bolivian Salt Flats

The Salar de Uyuni is one of Bolivia’s most popular tourist destinations, and understandably so. It boasts incredible landscapes, charming salt hotels, and breathtaking scenery… and most importantly for some, the opportunity to create those oh so impressive perspective photos.

By: Elisabeth Scourfield
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Cambridge - United Kingdom

A Devil or Angel on my shoulder? No, just my tiny friend!
Photo: Elisabeth Scourfield

As the jeeps roll in, the tourists roll out, and the photo shoots begin. People running away from a giant dinosaur, a friend holding up their tiny companion on the palm of their hand, a miniature human picking up a giant bottle… the possibilities are endless. The Salar becomes your playground, and any small objects you can get your hands on become precious perspective photo opportunities.

Click on any tourist’s “Bolivia” Facebook photo album and you will almost certainly find more than a few photos from the Salar de Uyuni.

My boot as a carriage
Photo: Lucy Witter

Originating from the Medieval Latin “perspectiva,” the word “perspective” can be defined as “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed.” In other words, the way the brain lines up objects with each other and views their size and distance. It is in a sense a kind of optical illusion - an optical illusion being something that can be seen differently from its reality. You may recognize famous optical illusions such as a group of dots that seem to be appearing between squares, or a picture that changes between two heads and a vase, without actually changing at all. The salt flats do something similar – the flat, unbroken landscape means you have no point of reference to put objects into perspective, therefore allowing your eyes to be tricked into seeing something as much smaller, or larger, than it actually is.

The Salar becomes your playground, and any small objects you can get your hands on become precious perspective photo opportunities.

Photo: Lucy Witter

Formed as a result of climatic 7 transformations between several prehistoric lakes, the salt flat stretches over 10,000 square kilometers of land which are covered by a few meters of salt crust. The name isn’t lying either, as flatness varies by less than 16 inches, aiding the ability to create deception in photographs. As well as the classic “big and small” effect of photos, the salty surface means that when it rains the floor even becomes reflective, creating the possibility for mirror style images. When this happens, in certain conditions such as a cloudy one, it can even become difficult to separate the sky from the floor.

Let your imagination running and do a lot of photos!
Photo: Lukas Heuberger

When visiting the flats, it almost feels as though your photo taking becomes a competition. You are surrounded by clusters of tourists, all trying to take the most creative, most outrageous, most impressive, and funniest photos of all. One couple we witnessed looked as though they had come prepared with a long list of poses they were determined to work through to get some highly entertaining photos. After all, everyone wants a good photo of their travels to send their friends and family, and where better to “wow” them than at the salt flats. Click on any tourist’s “Bolivia” Facebook photo album and you will almost certainly find more than a few photos from the Salar de Uyuni. However, when you find yourself in the middle of a land area over 10,000 square kilometers wide with few props and a time limit, it can be difficult to be original!

The final result, no matter how accurate or original, is always guaranteed to be a lot of fun.
Photo: Lukas Heuberger

On my visit to the Salar de Uyuni, we had come unprepared. After a search through our bags, we managed to find one emergency prop, consisting of a lion finger puppet. Luckily our tour guide, who was clearly no stranger to this tourist need, was at hand to help. He produced out from the back of his jeep none other than a toy Godzilla, a toy monkey, and various bottles and cans, all for our photographic benefit. The tour guides are used to this photo taking ritual and many are more than happy to help, armed with many trips worth of experience on getting the perfect photo angle. Whatever the outcome, be it a complete failure or perspective success, it makes for a very fun and entertaining day attempting to line yourself running away in fear from a tiny Godzilla. Taking the best photos usually relies on one person lying on the floor with the camera, whilst the other person moves left, right, backwards and forwards until they find the perfect position. We eventually discovered that to create the best photos, it is easier to try and make an image where the person is on top of something, rather than standing next to it. This way you are unable to see that their feet are far away from the near object, making the illusion even better!

Civil Strife and Success
The Inca Empire, or Tawantinsuyu in Quechua, arrived in Cochabamba at around 1550 A.D. They declared a war in the region against the local population, soon claiming victory. Henceforth, the occupation of Cochabamba started, which lasted for almost 100 years.
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