Miguel Hechenleitner studied art and photography at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and has been a professional photographer since the 1980s. After graduating, he won first prize in a photo contest organized by the Franco-Chilean Chamber for Trade and Industry, which led him to Paris and Barcelona, and was the impetus for his beginnings as a professional photographer.
Miguel has worked in the photography department of magazines and completed personal projects in Spain and Morocco. Below, Miguel shares his experiences using the Leica X2 to document his home country of Chile.
Q: Would you define your work as falling into a particular genre? If so, what one?
A: I have done almost all kinds of photography professionally — photojournalism, advertising, catalogs, etc. Today I dedicate myself only to those that are of interest to me. Nature, portraits, travel and people, mainly. I would describe my photography as experiential.
Q: The images in the portfolio you submitted show some unique and spectacularly beautiful scenery. Where did you shoot these pictures, and were they all taken in a single geographic area? Why are you drawn to capture such scenes?
A: These photos are from two areas in Chile. The landscapes are from the north, in the Salar de Atacama and El Tatio Geysers. The photos of water and rocks are from the central mountain range, near Santiago.
I love nature and enjoy outdoor walks and want to remember the experiences from them. Taking photographs on walks has become a recreational activity for me.
Q: Did you use the Leica X2 to capture all these images? What about the Leica X2 do you most enjoy? What makes it a good camera for your type of work? How long have you been using it?
A: Yes, I used the Leica X2 for all these photos.
One, the quality of the image is very important to me. Two, I do not want to lug a heavy camera around when I am photographing on long walks. The Leica X2 gives me both those things, with very low noise and an excellent record of colors, lights and shadows. I have had my X2 a little over eight months and love it.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: Leica has always been known for making excellent cameras. The compact size is also very important because they are not invasive. Instead they are much more discreet than most cameras. This is important when photographing people in their environment. The size and the impeccable image quality turned me on to using Leica equipment.
Q: In your portfolio, there are a number of expressive and masterfully composed images of moving water and rocks that were obviously shot at slow shutter speeds to record the water in a dynamic way and convey the impression of being there. Can you say something about the techniques you used to create these fascinating images?
A: Those pictures were made in the last hours of the afternoon, when there was not much light. I used a tripod and a second exposure, aperture used was f/11, f/16 and ISO 100.
I had to wait a little to get the right light and then work fast to take multiple shots before the light was insufficient.
Q: The image above has an almost otherworldly abstract quality and the color and detail are amazing. It’s certainly an awesome natural phenomenon of some kind and succeeds as an image without any explanation, but can you tell us what it is and what’s going on here?
A: This image corresponds to one of the geysers. You can see clearly in the foreground the hole where the hot water is ejected. At the time of the photo it was not active. There is one geyser further back that has some activity. The colors you see around the hole are different deposits of minerals and chemicals, but I do not know exactly which minerals or chemicals. This is an interesting image, as well as the shapes and colors, because it has no known reference point to know what size the geysers are. I think that makes it even more mysterious.
Q: There are a number of landscape images in your portfolio that include no people at all, but these two very compelling images do include solitary people. Including a solitary figure in such a sweeping vista makes a powerful visual statement, but what do these pictures mean to you and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?
A: Sometimes I walk and photograph what I find on the road or city streets. The views, I am impressed by or impacted by for other reasons. Many times it is almost a reflex, without much thought. In the case of the landscapes of the Salar de Atacama, it is very interesting what happens when you’re there in front of all that solitude, surrounded by salt without inhabitants. Probably no life for miles, alone, besides my partner, the landscape and me. It’s shocking that I want at the time to record and retain it in my memory. Photography is an extension of my memory.
This is just my reading of it, but you can make another formal reading and refer to the use of elements, the foreground, the rocks of salt in this case to achieve depth effects. Darker and contrasted elements in the foreground and clear successive shots and more into the background.
Q: These two gorgeous sunset images create a serene and happy mood. Do you agree and what feelings and memories do they evoke for you?
A: If I had to describe it in two words: turning point.
It is the right time between day and night, the right time to jump on to another rock before it becomes night. This photograph freezes that step from rock to rock. The step only lasts a few seconds, but the photograph records it to be observed as an eternal image.
Q: There is one enigmatically abstract, almost monochromatic image that looks like backlit ice illuminated by a beam of light from an unseen source (presumably the sun) that really makes this image stand out. It’s as though nothing is going on but everything is going on. What were you intending to preserve or communicate by taking this picture?
A: In this case, the sunlight on the ground and the surface of the salt makes it appear like ice. So that enhancement of the surface texture and the figures that are formed in a first plane and repeating the horizon increasingly smaller gives the feeling of a large area. The interpretation of these elements that each person can make will have to do with their own experiences and to me they are all valid. For me, the image in my memory triggers a recollection of a place in space and time with very good memories.
Q: Have you ever thought about collecting some of your nature, portrait, travel, and people pictures and having them published as a book, or having a gallery exhibition of your work?
A: Yes, it is my dream to publish a book of my work. I’ve done some solo shows. The last one was in 2003 on the indigenous Kawésqar people, who live in the southern Chilean channels and whose population is diminishing. I’m hoping to have interesting material to expose again.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years?
A: I think my photography will evolve more and more into the topic of natural elements and the direct relationship with humans. I will keep doing nature photography. I’m always open to new techniques and approaches but, so far in the short and medium term, I do not see myself focusing on other genres.
Thank you for your time, Miguel!
– Leica Internet Team