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Reviewers Choice Award

Awake in the Desert Land

Sofia Aldinio | Mexico

A kid swims in the water next to his house.The family relays on this source of water for drinking and feeding the animals. The rain has been little to nothing in the past three years in Baja California, Mexico. December 2020.

With the weather patterns shifting in Baja California, Mexico, the intangible repercussions of climate change have become harsher each year. These include the loss of traditional practices and ways of living. Awake in the Desert Land is an ongoing photography project documenting how tradition is being threatened by climate change in various communities and rural areas in Baja California, Mexico that depend directly on natural resources to survive. Working in a collaborative way, collecting interviews and stories, Awake in a Desert Land aims to visually document the population whose cultural heritage is at risk, creating-not only-a poetic archive of their traditions and cultures, but also a reflective document on the consequences of the possible loss of collective memory, identity, and their connection to what once was their way of life. 

When I was in high-school I always dreamt beyond what I could see. I was curious about different cultures and languages. I left Argentina when I was 23 and I have yet not returned to live in my home country. I traveled the world, alone and accompanied, with a small bag and a film camera. I found myself usually traveling in the lowest class and spending time in rural areas. It wasn’t until later in life, that I found my passion for storytelling and documentary photography, and I was finally able to put words into something that I couldn't find in all my searching. I found a career that I’m passionate about and it became my life, albeit later than what I would have wanted. However I am convinced that all my traveling and immersions into different worlds was only a lesson for what was to unfold for me on my documentary photography path.

After moving to the United States and completing my documentary studies intensive in photography at the Salt Institute in Maine in 2014, I found a medium that, to date, helps me elevate the voice of the projects I’m passionate about. While living in Portland, Maine, my work was locally focused by way of working with non-profits, immigration entities, Indigenous organizations and the city's Economic Department. While I am at the start of my career some of my projects have been featured in the Social Documentary Network, Edge of Humanity Magazine, Portland Press Herald, B&H Optic 2019, Empower Immigrant Woman and others.

Thus far, I’ve found the projects that draw me in are always a work in progress, where I have the chance to research and immerse myself in a story among stories. With a growing skillset, I found myself engaged as a regular photographer for a couple creative agencies with clients mostly in the outdoor industry. While this continued to evolve my creative process and elevate deliverables, my personal projects slowly came into frame as the core of my work. Now, more than ever, I find myself pursuing experiences and funding connected to my long term projects

Since 2018 I began considering the idea of elevating the work beyond just photographs. Carried From Home, my first personal project after school, was granted by the Maine Art Commission to create a mobile exhibit that gave immigrants a space to share their stories within the community delivering a better understanding of and respect for their passages. The exhibit is still traveling across the state of Maine and has inspired me to continue developing social practice work. As an extension to this project and in tandem with the city of Portland, I am currently developing a photo storytelling program to help immigrants uncover their unresolved trauma that they carry with them from their home country.

In 2019 I left Maine with my family and have been living full time on the road ever since. Here I’ve cultivated the space to research, step into the editorial world while also elevating my personal project regarding the loss of connection with the outdoors by way of a bilingual podcast - Rewilding Parenthood, giving talks and creating a platform for families to aspire to reconnect with the outdoors.

While all of my experiences have shaped my career, I specifically remember the genesis of my photography journey - back in 2010, I wanted to learn about the train system in India and how people traveled. I found myself alone in the lowest class train cabin possible wondering what I was doing there. This memory remains vivid in my mind and it wasn’t until later that I realized how much this experience highlights how I approach my stories today. In order to learn about a subject or place I need to immerse myself within the place alongside the people that I am representing in order to best portrait and represent them.


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