Local photographer Amie Vanderford has survived a month in the Peruvian jungle, climbed 17,000 feet to the summit of Mount Vallunaraju, and trekked the Inca Trail.
From late July through November, Vanderford was in Peru taking photographs for four volunteer organizations to be featured in her soon-to-be-released coffee-table book on Peruvian culture and philanthropy.
After raising $2,810 on Indie Go Go, brushing up on her Spanish, and taking jiu jitsu self-defense classes, Vanderford embarked on her journey in the hopes of fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming an international photographer. Vanderford is best known for "Project 365," for which she photographed 365 notable Memphians in 2009.
Some of Vanderford's stories and 10,000-plus photos from Peru are posted at memphisphotog.blogspot.com.
— Bianca Phillips
Why did you decide to leave your life here behind for four months in Peru?
Amie Vanderford: I got a grant last year to go Nepal, and I went to India as well. And my church sponsored a trip to Zimbabwe, and after that, I was, like, I can't stop now. What can I do next? International photography has been my dream and goal since I was 11.
What organizations did you volunteer with?
The first, Esperanza Verde, was in the jungle working with animals rescued from the black market or that were being sold as pets. We were trying to get these animals integrated back into their natural environment in the jungle.
The other two groups, Aldea Yanapay and Seeds of Hope, were working with children through after-school programs, where the volunteers would help them with their homework. I was a math and English tutor, and I taught photo composition.
I encountered another organization called the Mountain Institute. I took pictures of the mountain vistas and heard about how glacial melting is causing river poisoning.
My main goal was to take pictures of the work they did in those organizations so they could use them for publicity and fund-raising. I will also talk about the organizations in my book and generate some publicity for them on my end.
What's the premise of the book?
I have a lot of stories to tell, so I'm going to try and balance photography and text. But the photos will be the main thing because it's a coffee-table book. I'm aiming to release it in February, because I'm already trying to figure out where I can go next.
What was it like living in the jungle for a month?
I did so many things for the first time there: showering in a waterfall, doing my laundry in a stream, taking care of wild animals, swimming across the river, cooking spaghetti and beans and rice over an open fire. We had no refrigeration because there was no electricity, so it was amazing to see what kinds of food that we, in the U.S., think have to be refrigerated.
In the U.S., we're so protected and shielded from our output and where our food comes from and where it goes. Living in the jungle and having a compost pile and just being so close to everything, it was an educational experience.
Didn't you also spend time in the mountains?
I did two treks and climbed a mountain to 17,700 feet in snow and ice with ice picks and ropes. I was shocked that I could do it, because I don't think of myself as an athletic person. I got strep throat the week before I trekked the Inca Trail and that was hard.
But every time I accomplished something, like the jungle with no technology and the Inca Trail with strep throat, it constantly proved that your only limitations are self-imposed. If you have enough capacity to keep going through the hard times, you can accomplish so much more than you think you can.