Some destinations are meant to be visited more than once, and a handful of journeys are often repeated to an intrepid traveler’s liking — either for reliving an adventure or outdoing a previous experience. For Phineas Ramsay, a Scotland-based design engineer who enjoys the creative possibilities of film photography, his trip to Peru in October – November last year had to include a climb that topped a previous one.
Phineas scaled the majestic peaks of the Ancash Region’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range, making an ascent of as high up as 5,000 meters. “Having only been to 2,500 meters before, it was quite an experience; nothing quite prepared me for my first stroll at such an altitude,” he shared with us. “Huascaran (the snow-capped mountain in the gallery above) is the highest peak there at 6,768 meters, but I only ventured up to 5,000 meters. This was well enough to be going on with though, the views were stunning!”
Looking at the pleasantly surreal photos above, which he took using his Olympus Pen FT loaded with Lomochrome Purple, we can certainly imagine how the breath-taking views made the painstaking ascent worth it for Phineas, so we asked him to tell us more about it in a quick chat!
Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
I live in Scotland, and work as a design engineer on a freelance basis. I grew up working with and tuning engines, and I think moving into design has been a logical progression, I’ve always had an appreciation for good aesthetics and a lot of creativity, so it’s a nice meeting point for my talents and interests. I think that’s why film photography appeals to me, it fits right in that creative/aesthetic slot, but seems to offer a nice contrast to the clinical precision required in engineering. I don’t really take it seriously. I think if I did I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I just like capturing my own little haphazard view of the world, and the mysterious anticipation that comes from how my shots will develop is great.
Please tell us something about this adventure in Peru. When did you visit Peru? How did you prepare for the trip, knowing you’ll climb up the mountains? Any special reasons why you did the climb, or was it just a side trip?
I was in Peru during October and part of November last year. Visiting this particular area was always one of my main goals while there, partly to do some mountain biking and trekking, but mainly because the scenery looked so awesome. Peru, in general, has such a beautiful and varied landscape; I’d heartily recommend it to anyone.
As far as preparation goes, I made a conscious effort to think about doing some real hardcore hiking and building up my fitness, then sat about drinking cups of tea while googling all the places I wanted to go to. I suppose that’s a little irresponsible, but I’m not totally unfit, it’s pretty mountainous around where I stay just now, so I do a bit of biking and walking anyhow. I didn’t really feel held back by my lack of fitness — challenged, perhaps, but that just made reaching each little destination more rewarding.
You ventured as high up as 5,000 m on the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. What challenges or issues did you have to deal with, heading up and shooting with film at such an altitude?
I think the only real issue I had with the altitude was how tiring it was just walking about, it was surprising almost to the point of novelty. I always used to wonder at the snail-like pace of mountaineers in films, but now I get it — you actually physically can’t just bolt about the place at 5,000 meters. I did see a couple of people have some real issues with the altitude, but I was fine, thankfully. The city of Huaraz sits at over 3,000 meters, and was a great stop-over to help me acclimatize, so this, along with a sort of Sunday saunter approach to trekking, seemed to work well for me.
Was/were there any particular reason/s for choosing to shoot with the Olympus Pen FT and Lomochrome Purple in this destination? Can you say that you achieved the look or the results you had in mind while you were out there shooting? What do you wish you could have done to get better shots?
I took my Olympus Pen FT because I really love it; both the body and lenses are tiny for an SLR, and although shooting half frames may be a bit grainy, you get 72 shots a roll. It’s pretty much perfect for carrying with you while travelling anywhere.
I had shot just one roll of Lomochrome Purple before and got some pretty varied results, but I liked the shots I’d taken in bright sunlight, so I thought the landscape and weather in Peru would be perfect to try it again. I love how otherworldly it makes everything look; it’s like my consolation for probably never getting to use any Aerochrome.
I’m really happy with the results I got, though I could certainly do with improving my exposure skills. I’d maybe consider taking a proper meter with me in future, but it would be something else to carry, and I’d have to accept full responsibility for the results instead of blaming the camera’s dodgy built-in light meter. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your ascent to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range?
I found the whole trip so interesting, from the characters and lifestyle of the people, to the physical experience of being at such an altitude. The real highlight had to be the scenery, though. I think that actually seeing glaciers for the first time, and the amazing color of the meltwater lakes are really the most memorable things, but the huge peaks, high plateaus and deep valleys in this region did leave me awestruck in general.
Can you give an important piece of travel advice for film photographers like yourself?
Travel light, and I think everyone knows this but give consideration to the film speed you carry if flying, especially on multi-stop journeys where your hand luggage may be x-rayed at each stop.
Lastly, if you could take just one camera and one roll of film to a dream destination, where would it be, which camera and film would you bring, and what will you make sure to take photos of?
I’d love to go to Iceland, the landscape there looks so epic! Stumbling across an erupting volcano to photograph would make my year.
I really want to say I’d take something medium format with me, and I think if I was doing it professionally I would, but that Pen FT has to win for the amount of shots it would give me on my one roll of film.
I don’t really have a favorite film. I usually just use whatever I can get cheap, but if I had to pick I’d probably go for some Ilford XP2. The grain seems so fine, and I love the results I have had with it so far. I think shooting black and white is encouraging me to look at light and contrast where I didn’t before, so I’d like to use it more.
Interview by Joy Celine Asto / Photography by Phineas Ramsay
For more of Phineas’ work, please head to his Instagram!