Anglo-Bolivian photographer Nick Ballon describes his heritage as the “backbone to [his] photographic practice as an artist”. One ongoing project, for example, explores the possible implications of a country’s relationship to the coast, and the effects it can have on its population; Bolivia is a landlocked country whereas life in the UK means being within a 70-mile radius of the sea at all times. In Nick’s latest series Ciudad Rebelde, however, the photographer turns his lens on life in the Bolivian city of El Alto.
Nick’s fascination with photography has an unusual backstory. His initial source of inspiration was a former boyfriend of his mother’s who worked as a market trader but spent his free time painting abstract artworks. “He used to travel around the world for work and come back with these incredible abstract photographs of things he saw which were later compiled into albums and archived in his ‘out of bounds’ study. As a teenager, I would have the occasional peek at these photo albums when he wasn’t in. It taught me to think about the photograph as something other than a snapshot and really helped mould my eventual decision to study photography,” Nick tells It’s Nice That.
Ciudad Rebelde is a sensitive portrait of Bolivia’s second largest city and its people. Since his father’s childhood years, Nick explains, El Alto has seen a remarkable population growth with over 60% of its inhabitants being under the age of 28 and who have moved to the city in search for a better life. “It’s a real hotpot for indigenous-led capitalism and has one the largest black markets in the world, making the city a very exciting place visually,” the photographer says. Nick’s images illustrate El Alto’s vibrancy and dynamism, whether it’s a photograph of young men playing football in the midday sun or a shot of a man trying to shift nine male mannequin torsos.
“Once upon a time, El Alto used to be a place where people passed through en route to the airport. I spent many years doing so and slowly, over the years, started to notice changes on my visits as I sped through at 6am in a taxi heading downtown to La Paz. At some point I decided to stop and listen,” Nick says. Ciudad Rebelde’s central focus is on how El Alto’s rapid urbanisation has changed the city’s social fabric as some people acquire large amounts of disposable income, while others are left struggling to make ends meet.
Nick’s characteristic style is dictated by clean, unembellished shots that centre around individual people. Capturing the bustling South American city, therefore, meant that Nick had to carefully plan his compositions and rethink his photographic arrangements. “I wanted to give the photo essay an uncluttered and refreshing tone, keeping the frames simple,” he says. “It’s a story about a young city and I really wanted Ciudad Rebelde to focus on the city’s population as they are the ones shaping it.”