While shooting an event in Salt Lake City, photographer Louis Arevalo bumped into Nikki McGee, the founder of Elevated Mountain Guides. EMG is a young non-profit organization dedicated to expanding outdoor access to under-served communities through education and training.
Nikki shared that she and a small group were heading down to Huaráz, Peru to teach wilderness medicine to climbers and guides. Louis offered his photography services and left his card with her. Several emails, calls, and meetings later, Louis signed on for the trip.
I learned that Elevated Mountain Guides was a young non-profit with a great mission, that we got on nicely together, and I would be a great addition to their teaching trip.
Louis was initially there to shoot still images for the EMG website, print materials, marketing, social media, and fundraising. After the team touched down in Lima, they took a bus the rest of the way to Huaráz. Along the way, they propositioned Louis about the possibility of him shooting motion as well. They wanted to put together a short film to share with volunteers, donors and the world.
What exactly they wanted to share was a up in the air. There was more to EMG than the medicine course, the gear donations, and climbing instruction and that was easy to see on the bus that day. I told Nikki that we could work on a clear message to share over time.
Initially, Louis was hesitant, owing to the fact that he hadn’t brought along audio equipment, fluid heads, or steady cams. But the opportunity was there, and he decided to give it a shot. The Elevation team understood the limitations, and together they developed a revised plan to capture video in Huaráz, the surrounding areas, the classroom, and the students, which echoed the shot list for stills.
I approached this more like an editorial assignment. We had an idea of how things would be, but the story will eventually reveal itself if you give it room to breathe – not the other way around where we would make the story.
As Elevated Mountain Guides got their training underway, Loius began documenting everything. He mentally prioritized the motion footage, knowing that “there’s no such thing as too much b-roll.” He snapped stills in between motion shots and setups. Each night he would review the shots and evaluate what was left to shoot and what needed to be re-shot.
The team spent 10 days in Peru, seven of which were shooting days. Most mornings, Louis focused on the education at the school and conducted interviews. After lunch, Louis would venture out to shoot at various locations including the streets of Huaráz, the surrounding hills, local hangouts and even their very own bed and breakfast.
While hiking outside of the city, he took advantage of the buddy system and traveled with Nikki’s husband Erkki, heeding the warning of the local police regarding bandits in the hills above town.
I would bury my head behind the camera and Erkki would stay aware. We never saw anything suspicious, but having the police constantly warning us kept us on our toes.
They eventually learned that the middle of the day saw the least bandit activity and would be the safest time. Each day Louis would hike up as far as he could get before being turned back and shoot what he could. It took Louis and Erkki several journeys up to finally get the shots they were looking for.
Louis enjoyed the slower pace of this assignment. He often finds himself sprinting through his own travels and through many assignments. This was different, and he was grateful for the time to breathe, to get to know the area and culture, and build relationships with the people he was filming.
For me, this project was a departure from the norm. Instead of focusing on an objective like a summit, climb, trail, etc., and creating shiny picture-perfect images, I had the opportunity to slow down and absorb things as they came. Fear and self-doubt were ever present as I opened up to others and developed relationships, but as you probably already know, this world is filled with amazing people.
Elevated Mountain Guides has been quite pleased with Louis’s images, and they even rebuilt their website using them as the foundation. The images shared on social media have developed positive engagement as well. They are planning a return trip to Peru in 2018 and they hope to launch a similar course soon in Ecuador.
Louis was very taken by the beautiful sights and sounds in Peru, and they left a lasting impression on him. He plans to make a journey back to Huaráz this summer and take along his entire family.
By the end of our short time there I’d gotten to know the vibrant outdoor community of Huaraz, made several new friends, and realized how lucky we all are to live in this stunning world we call home.