Claudia Luthi interview
This project, started in 2008, is about a little girl's shoe that is traveling around the world going from photographer to photographer.
In the past 5 years the shoe has been to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and North America and it has been photographed by 46 photographers. Slowly but surely the shoe will find it's way back to the riverbed where it was found.
Blue Mitchell: When did you start photography?
Claudia Luthi: In 2001, if I remember well. Not so long ago, in fact, but photography became my passion the moment I got a camera — a gift from my mother.
BM: Can you give us some background to where you found the Shoe and why did you pick it up?
CL: I frequently visit a close friend who owns an organic farm at the ‘foot of the desert’ in the lower Ica valley on the southern coast of Peru. The Peruvian coast is a hyper arid stripe that stretches from north to south along the Pacific Ocean, crossed by a number of rivers that run down to the sea from the steep slopes of the Andes in the East, creating productive riparian oasis in midst of the desert. Most of the year the rivers appear completely dry. But in summertime when it rains in the mountains the rivers rush down to the valleys, charged with their earth brown waters, rich in clay and minerals. And all along the river valleys, the farmers get ready to capture the water through an extensive canal system and irrigate their fields. But every 10 or 15 years, a phenomenon happens, known as El Niño. Much feared in other regions for the dry forests of the Peruvian coast, El Niño floods are a blessing. Due to human induced change in the landscape, the floods can also bring great destruction. The Super El Niño of 1998 flooded and destroyed the whole city of Ica with an unprecedented fury.
Meanwhile, in the lower valley, where my friend has his farm, the river had grown to such a dimension, that one could think that it was the Amazons flowing through — the most voluminous river on Earth. Afterwards one could find all kinds of stuff and people’s belongings scattered all over the place. I found the shoe months later, while walking through the dry sand of the river bed, near my friends farm. It was a little girl's shoe of black patent leather, like the ones that girls use for their first communion. Although the shoe was obviously used and half buried by the hot sand, it was in almost perfect conditions and shining in the hard sunlight. What was the story written in the shoe’s sole and wrinkles? What happened to the girl, that had owned it? Where was it’s pair? I took a photograph and deeply touched by the lonely shoe lying there in the dry river bed, I picked it up and brought it to my home in the hellish city of Lima. There it has been, on the top of a shelf, gathering dust during years.
BM: What prompted the Shoe to begin it's travels?
CL: In 2009, a number of photographers from JPG Magazine and flickr were invited by Struan Oglanby to join a photographic group called 15x100. We discussed our projects in a forum. And there it was, pretty much at the beginning of the adventure, that co-member Polly Cole, from LA, came up with the idea to send an object from photographer to photographer around the world. Instantly I remembered the shoe and proposed it to be that object, which was unanimously accepted.
BM: How do you feel about the Shoe, and this project, now that it has traveled all over the world and been many of photographers 'model'?
CL: I am astonished on one hand and very pleased on the other. I must say, I would have never thought that the shoe would travel for so long and far as it did and still travels on. There were a couple of times that I thought, this is the end, there goes this wonderful project to oblivion. But somehow, the shoe survived all the twists and setbacks that have happened along its journey around the world. And it survived, because this little girl's shoe has touched the heart of almost every photographer that has photographed it, and even all those who have only heard of it. So it is this love for the shoe that has removed every obstacle and carried it safely across continents and over oceans, from photographer to photographer, each one finding a unique interpretation and setting to portray it. This is the magic and power of the Shoe from Peru. It is anything else but a dead object. It is alive, it moves, it touches, it unites. What else could we want in our times full of confusion, conflict and madness?
BM: When I photographed the shoe, a journal and some other souvenirs were also added to the Shoes travels. Are you curious for the Shoe to come back to you eventually with all of it's travel documents?
CL: Though I have let go of the shoe, and left its travel coordination in other, most competent hands — I am not anxious anymore about its fate — it would be a great joy if the shoe would find back to where it came from. I don’t know what it would all evoke, once I hold the shoe again in my hands, but I imagine it will be freaking awesome. Sheng Wen Lo has sent me the scan of the diary back in the days of 15x100. It is a most precious object, and an inseparable part of the shoe. Besides, I am absolutely sure that an exhibit of the shoe photographs, together with the shoe itself and the diaries would be a big success here in Peru.
Visit (and 'like') the Shoe from Peru facebook page and see our featured photographs, the shoe's travels, and the announcement of the website that is in the works. To see more of Claudia's work visit her site at http://paseosfotograficos.wordpress.com