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French photographer Tristan Pereira captures Pyrenees magic

The mountains are in his blood

When I came across French photographer Tristan Pereira’s series, “Refuges” —photographs of mountain cabins in the Pyrenees—I was astounded to find that a modern-day artist had captured the world I had created in The Girl from Oto.

Photo by Tristan Pereira

In his images, ancient stone dwellings were tucked into wildflower-strewn hillsides or nestled under blankets of snow. Icy streams rushed through meadows and night skies shimmered with stars. A mysterious luminosity pervaded the images, even those taken at night under inky skies.

In other shots, a grizzled shepherd and his flocks make their rounds through fields and barns, trailed by a herding dog. The man’s deeply grooved face betrays a lifetime spent outdoors tending to his animals.

Photo by Tristan Pereira

This was the landscape where my characters lived and died, eking out a living in the high meadows and deep valleys of the mountain range that forms a natural border between France and Spain.

I reached out to Tristan and, wanting to support his craft, bought the rights to use a few of his images on my website. Intrigued by his methods, I started asking questions. Below is the result of the interview that eventually came about (translation from the French is mine, so apologies for any awkward language.)

AM: Your photographs show high-altitude wilderness areas that are difficult to access. You even venture into them in winter. How do you get to them?

TP: By foot with good hiking boots, and with snowshoes in winter. I’d like to try cross-country skiing to get into even more remote areas.

AM: How do you take photos at night in the wilderness with such great lighting?

TP: For my photos of cabins in my series “Refuges” I used light painting. [For this technique] I use a long exposure and then move around the subject with an LED light source to illuminate it.

AM: How do you transport the equipment into the backcountry?

TP: With a backpack. I try to have equipment that doesn’t take much space—even so, the backpack fills up quickly.

AM: Have you taken courses in wilderness camping or flyfishing?

TP: I grew up in the Pyrenees, and my family shared their love of the mountains and nature with me, whether they were camping or fishing. I just kept cultivating that love of the outdoors.

AM: Where were you born and raised exactly?

TP: I was born in Lourdes and grew up in a small village called Perrefitte-Nestalas, which has an amazing location in the high Pyrenees, a few kilometers from Gavarnie and Cauterets [a UNESCO World Heritage site and a historic spa town/ski resort, respectively].

AM: Who were your ancestors? Mountain people? Artists like you?

TP: All of my family comes from the Pyrenees. My grandparents worked in the area and the mountain was their playground. My grandfather was in his element with fishing, hunting, and his love of hiking. There was no end to his knowledge of the mountains.

AM: What did you love to do as a child? What were your hobbies?

TP: Ever since I was small, I would explore the mountains on hikes with my family or fishing trips with my grandfather. I loved sports, both playing them and watching them. The work I do allows me to blend my two passions, the mountains and the art of photography.

AM: When did you discover photography? Did you have mentors?

TP: I’ve always loved photography. It was in high school when I got my first camera. Here in France, at least in the Pyrenees, at 14 you can drive a scooter and explore. I had a camera too, and before going to photography school in Toulouse, I learned [the craft] from the Internet and from books.

Photo by Tristan Pereira

I follow a lot of photographers on Instagram who travel in countries I dream of visiting. My favorite photographers aren’t generally landscape photographers. I appreciate artists such as William Eggleston and Garry Winogrand.

AM: You’ve traveled to the U.S. to take photos of urban life in New York. Why New York?

TP: I’ve had the luck of going to New York three times, twice with my photography school and once for fun. New York could be the most photogenic city in the world. The city has an incredible energy!

AM: What do you like about traveling?

TP: Discovering new things, people and landscapes.

AM: You just wrapped up a trip to the Faroe Islands. Where do you want to go next?

TP: New Zealand, Peru, and North America.

AM: What do you hope your photos of the Pyrenees teach or show people?

TP: Above all, I want to enjoy myself while doing work that I love. I don’t try to teach anything through my work, I don’t have enough celebrity to do that. My career is just taking off.

AM: Anything new planned coming up?

TP: In this business you have to keep coming up with fresh ideas. But for the moment I’m continuing my series on mountain cabins, and I think that will occupy me for several years, because I’m planning to make a book on the subject.

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