On the southern border of France, a mountain range remains untouched by the chrome of the 21st century. The French Pyrenees stand as they did centuries ago, with local shepherds who graze their animals on pastures beneath the snow-topped mounts. While some tour the area in winter for the popular ski resorts, Donostia, Spain-based photographer Markel Redondo visited during the summer months for a feature in National Geographic Traveller. In his week spent among medieval mountain villages, Markel lived harmoniously with the animals and residents whose way of life preserves the timeless pastoral traditions.
The Pyrenees is a mountain range that separates Spain and France, and is a wonderful place surrounded by mountains, tiny villages, wild nature, and fresh air.
The publication had already completed the written component of the feature and provided Markel with a draft so he could source the necessary subjects and locations from the story. While he wouldn’t be able to match each moment to a photograph, Markel needed to convey a familiar tone as he walked the same paths as writer Adrian Phillips.
I received a detailed brief from the picture editor of the magazine and we discussed the approach and style of the photos that they were looking for.
Markel has traveled to the Pyrenees several times before, however, this assignment introduced him to an array of unfamiliar faces who typically keep to themselves on the isolated mountainsides. He met with shepherds and guides, some of who have ancient roots in the land while others have moved here to assimilate to this slower lifestyle.
I love the Pyrenees and I’ve been there many times before, but I’d never been to the places I photographed for this assignment!
Because he visited at an unpopular time of year, Markel had the luxury of being one of the only people treading the trails, aside from herds of cows and ewes. He stayed at a small hotel nestled into the mountains and was their only guest, receiving an intimate and cozy welcome from the couple who owned the inn.
I spent a few nights in a small hotel, a kind of refuge in the mountains, and it felt almost like a family house with warm dinners surrounded by the “darker” presence of the mountains.
To follow in Adrian’s footsteps, Markel spent time at the Base Nordique Sherpa, a husky training center that offers walking tours while tethered to the dogs through the valley’s pastures. He ventured to Peyragudes to photograph the furry friends, who consider this time of year their vacation compared to pulling heavy sleds in the snowy months.
I spent one of the days on a hike with husky dogs in the mountains. It was really fun but challenging to photograph, especially with a drone in tow.
Markel balanced the many subjects of the shoot through his limited time in their world, using his documentary approach to find the authenticity of this region away from tourism. Blessed with good weather, he spent the rest of his time in the Central Pyrenees visiting medieval villages, where handmade goods and local produce are still sold in market stalls along the old stone bridges.
The assignment was all documentary style and I enjoyed following different people and activities in the mountains to show this region in a different season than winter.
This trip was Markel’s first travel photography assignment since restrictions were lifted throughout Europe. The isolated environment of the mountains, its spacious land, and fresh air, helped to keep himself and the subjects safe and socially distant during shooting. And in his solitary walks through forests and along alpine lakes he captured an area that is unchanged, hopefully for another hundred years.
My photographic style includes traveling, mountains, landscape and portraiture, and luckily this project included all of that.
Photographer: Markel Redondo