Working as a Motion Designer in London, Chiara Zonca uses Travel Photography as a chance to escape the frenzy of the city. She seeks refuge in landscapes that others would usually find isolating or frightening, their emptiness allowing her to clear her head and expand her creative potential.
Chiara photographs those moments of beauty that nature allows us. Whether it is a vivid splash of light or a calming combination of colours, her images create art in desolation. Like the Romantic, her work places the viewer in front of the Sublime:
‘That impalpable feeling that [you are] in front of true, complex, otherworldly beauty.’
Travelling alone into hostile conditions, Chiara has faced biting cold, frosted fingers and interesting strangers. Although she captures nature’s serene beauty in times of stillness, her images hold an unsettling undercurrent- the understanding that conditions can change and you could be met by the environment's brute and terrible force.
Chroma talks to Chiara Zonca about Escapism, Hostile Conditions and The Sublime
Firstly, can you please introduce yourself in a few sentences?
I am Chiara, a photographer and motion designer from London, United Kingdom. I am eternally curious and intrigued by remoteness and isolation; places that seem or feel unfriendly actually inspire me.
Why the Instagram name, @shadowontherun?
‘Shadow on the run’ comes from the title of a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song, one of my favourite bands.
I listened to it during my road trip across California- a journey that I still remember vividly as the beginning of my travel bug. I needed a username for my Instagram page, and it felt fitting for a ‘wannabe nomad’ like myself, so I stuck with it.
What do you think draws you to places that others could find isolating or lonely?
I am usually attracted to unfamiliar places- that unsettling, gut feeling that you are somewhere you don’t recognise. It is when I am surrounded by nothingness that I feel my most creative and where I can truly be myself.
Do you look for a particular mood within your landscapes?
I try not to overthink it. I aim to capture the essence of the place by connecting to it first, this way I don’t project my expectations or visions too much and I let the landscape speak for itself. When I reach the location, I usually know what works straight away, and it could be down to light, weather conditions, an intricate shape in a rock or mountain, stunning colour combinations or all of the above.
Do you have any favourite colour tones? Does a certain colour in a landscape prompt a particular emotional response in you, e.g. the colour red?
I don’t have favourite colours; I have favourite colour combinations. I like to keep a graphical approach to my photographs, and I love it when tones work well together; that is when I am the most excited. For example in Arizona and Utah, I kept stumbling upon one of my favourite colours: peach and blueish green. It was everywhere- in plants, rocks, lakes- always working together seamlessly. I found myself chasing those hues throughout the trip, as if I were completing a puzzle; these tones were telling a story.
Having said all of this, If I had to pick one favourite colour, it would be Red. I am always trying to capture the first and last light of day, that magical moment when the sun is red and vivid, and everything feels suspended.
Do you use Travel Photography as a form of escapism? What do you find in nature that you could not find in the city?
For as long as I can remember I have lived in the city, with no distant views and constantly surrounded by people. As an introvert, this is hardly an ideal scenario, and it started to feel 'unhealthy'. I discovered that escaping to remote, solitary places cleared my head. It became a bit of a ritual: working 9-to-5 in London as a motion designer (to pay the bills) and then escaping somewhere that feels completely different in my spare time. After a while, I realised that my creative process was healing me- escapism as a sort of therapy.
Are there any particular photographic challenges you face when photographing hostile landscapes? Have there ever been times where you’ve felt unequipped to deal with a certain landscape?
When I started, I particularly enjoyed documenting places with really bad or cold weather. In Europe, it is more difficult to find isolation in comparison to, say, the United States or Canada. The only way I found myself completely alone was to either travel a very long way or to go to places with really bad weather. And I didn’t exactly dress for the occasion at first. I have very fond memories of frosty hands and bitingly cold nights. Now I know it’s all down to preparation, assessing the risks of travelling to a place and making sure I contain them as much as possible. This rule of thumb pretty much works for most places I have visited so far.
Although people rarely feature in your photography, have you come across any inspiring communities on your journeys?
I did! It’s when you travel to non-touristy places that you find the most interesting characters! Whether it’s people living off-grid, travelling the world in a custom van or buying a hut out in the middle of nowhere in Greenland, they all seem to have something in common. They are all curious, adventurous souls carving a place for themselves in this increasingly hostile world.
What inspired you to chose Travel Photography over, say, Portrait Photography, and do you feel you'll ever try anything different?
I have always been more inclined to document landscapes, as I believe that to make portraits you have to feel a certain empathy with your subject. I have been struggling to connect with people on that level for quite some time; it takes me longer to adjust, to understand and to see their beauty. Having said that, portraits in the context of photo journalism and storytelling is something that I would like to pursue in the future, but I believe it needs to come naturally, as a progression, rather than me forcing it.
Have you ever thought about the Romantic notion of the Sublime when regarding your work? Describe a time when you saw nature at its most frighteningly beautiful?
Absolutely. That is exactly what I am trying to document with each shot. That impalpable feeling that I am in front of true, complex, otherworldly beauty.
This happened in Lanzarote when shooting 'Magma'- my latest series. One-third of the island was created as a result of a gigantic volcano eruption. To visit this massive lava field, now cooled down, was an out-of-body experience. It looked deadly, sinister, dangerous and overwhelming. But incredibly and painfully beautiful at the same time. I live to document places like that.
Finally, what country do you want to photograph next and why?
In September I will be travelling to Chile and Bolivia to work on a personal series about desert moonscapes.
To say I am excited is a massive understatement and I cannot wait to find myself in a foreign land, sharing the horizon with no one.
words: Emma Phillips