The Malaysian photographer travelled to Peru, in December 2023. This was her first trip to South America. The pictures shown here were taken during a six day journey through the country, in Cusco, Rio Sagrado and deep in the Andes. In our interview, the photographer spoke to us about her approach to her work. She talks about the genius loci concept that inspires her, the focus that propelled her through the country, and the climatic challenges she had to rise to.

How do you find your topics, in general?
My inspiration primarily stems from the concept of genius loci, an ancient Roman idea initially linked to protective spirits, which now symbolises a place’s unique atmosphere. I’m fascinated by how various elements – physical spaces, material artefacts, and human expressions – come together to form the intangible essence of a place, its genius loci.

What is the focus of your style?
While my subjects are rooted in tradition, my techniques are decidedly modern. I work almost exclusively with digital cameras and advanced post-processing methods. This approach allows me an unprecedented level of precision in everything from composition and colour grading to general editing, which is a significant departure from traditional analogue methods. This fusion of ancient themes and modern technology is what defines my unique field and style.

To what extent is Peru different from your previous projects? What was special in this case?
Peru was a whole new world for me, being my first trip to South America. I’ve been intrigued by Peru for the longest time, so this journey was really special. Usually, my focus is on architecture and landscapes, but in Peru, I found myself venturing more into portraits and street photography. What really drew me in were the vibrant colours of the traditional clothing worn by the locals. It’s a refreshing contrast to Europe, where the fashion leans towards modern and muted tones. This shift in my focus made the Peru project stand out from my previous work.

How did you come up with the idea for this trip and this topic?
The idea for my trip to Peru actually started with a travel assignment from a client. I’d always wanted to visit Peru, but the pandemic put my travel plans on hold for the longest time. So, when this opportunity came knocking, it was like a dream come true. This wasn’t just about ticking off a destination on my wish list; it was a chance to dive deep into the country’s culture and capture its essence through my lens.

What has impressed you most whilst documenting everyday life in Peru?
Documenting life in Peru, I was most impressed by how deeply the people are connected to nature. As someone from a city, their respect for and understanding of the natural world really stood out to me. It was inspiring and a breath of fresh air, honestly. It’s easy to lose that connection in urban life, but in Peru, nature is a part of everything they do.

Did you explore the topic of nature more after this experience?
Spending time with the people in Peru has really sparked my interest in exploring this harmony with nature further. I want to learn more about it and try to bring some of those principles into my own life. This whole experience has been a big reminder of how important it is to stay connected to the environment around us. It’s something I’m definitely going to keep exploring, both personally and in my photography work.

How did you engage with the people in Peru? Was it hard for you to connect?
The people in Peru were incredibly welcoming and warm-hearted, which made connecting with them quite easy. Through my client, I had the privilege of visiting the Rawanqui community in the Cusco countryside. That visit was one of the most moving experiences I had in Peru. They greeted us with beautiful flower posies, showers of petals, and live folk music. We even joined in some harvesting, and afterwards we enjoyed dishes made from their organic produce. The generosity and warmth of this community really touched my heart. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for a long time.

You used the Leica Q2 and Leica SL2 with Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 f/2.8-4 Asph. What did you like about the cameras?
I absolutely loved using the Leica Q2 for intimate portraits. Its less intimidating size and the combination of shallow depth of field with a wider frame really make you feel like you’re right there with the subjects. On the other hand, I really enjoy the zoom capability of the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 f/2.8-4 Asph. It lets me capture subjects from a distance in larger spaces, without disturbing the candidness of the moment. Plus, I’m a big fan of how the images compress at 75mm and 90mm. The versatility in looks that I can achieve with this zoom range really helps in creating a body of work that’s visually diverse and engaging.

Please tells us about Peru’s weather conditions, which can be quite challenging. How did the cameras do?
In Peru, the weather varied as dramatically as the landscapes. During my stay, I moved from the humid tropical rainforests to the mist-enshrouded highlands, and then to the arid deserts, all within just a few days. My cameras, the Q2 and SL2, handled these diverse conditions exceptionally well. Whether it was humidity, mist, or dry desert air, the cameras performed consistently well, as evident in the quality of the photos. This reliability across different climates not only boosted my confidence but also allowed me to concentrate fully on capturing the scenes around me, regardless of the weather.

Born in 1993 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, a town directly on the border with Singapore, Alixe Lay is an autodidact. Before turning to photography, she earned a Doctorate in Psychology. This deep interest in human behaviour and psychology continues to play a great role in her photography. In 2022, she had an exhibition at Photoville, titled Liminal Spaces. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram channel.

Leica SL2

It's your choice.