Beyond Santiago's Surface with Foto Ruta

As a photographer and traveler who actively avoids all things touristy, I tend to steer clear of anything remotely resembling a tour. But alas, a couple weeks ago I found myself at the Santiago launch event of a photography tour/workshop in Barrio Lastarria. To say the least, Foto Ruta, a company based out of Buenos Aires, opened my eyes to what a city tour could be.

 Foto Ruta Santiago
Foto Ruta Santiago

Foto Ruta encourages its guests to use a camera, no matter how big or small, as a tool to discover a new city in greater depth. It offers a fresh way to explore Santiago with just enough guidance and more than enough freedom. There is no chugging along to all the most generic locations in the city as a guide regurgitates Wikipedia. There are no long-winded explanations about history with a group of people you generally wouldn't be caught dead with outside of forced interactions. The whole basis behind Foto Ruta is to get your creative juices flowing and force you to slow down and take notice of all the little things you generally would walk right past.

The four hour tour started in Casa Lastarria with a brief introduction about the company, the ideals and the neighborhood we would be exploring that day (to keep things interesting the neighborhoods often change). For non-photographers, founder Joss Mandryk and new addition to the team, Cat Allen, went over some helpful tips to get everybody thinking in visual terms. Fortunately the tips and accompanying photos were interesting enough that it wasn't boring for those who already had them in mind.

 Interpretation of the clue "Designer Skies"
Interpretation of the clue "Designer Skies"

After the introduction we set out into Barrio Lastarria in small groups with a map, guide and a checklist of clues to get us thinking creatively. The clues, such as "designer skies," or "I want that on my skin" could be interpreted literally or in more abstract ways. The clues were what made the tour really interesting, especially seeing what everybody came up with. Interacting with locals, staring up at the sky or down at the ground and capturing anything of intrigue was all highly encouraged.

After two hours of slowly meandering through the streets, looking more intently at my surroundings than I can recently remember, we returned to the restaurant. With a glass of wine in hand, everybody then shared selected photos that applied to the clues.

 Cat Allen and Joss Mandryk
Cat Allen and Joss Mandryk

The people involved and the environment created was fun, quirky and supportive. It wasn't about technical perfection or the quality of the camera. It was about the vision the person tried to get across in relation to the theme. And more often than not, there was a twist of humor that kept the mood very lighthearted, especially with some wine involved. Whether a photographer or just somebody looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon and flex some creative muscles, Foto Ruta is an exciting new way to explore Santiago.

Visit www.foto-ruta.com for more details. Locations and themes change frequently.

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