It took Nick Ballon over a year to gain access to Bolivia’s naval base for his photographic series, The Navy Without a Sea. Just a small part of a wider project – a book called The Bitter Sea about the country’s “longing to reclaim its ocean” – this series for Avaunt focuses on the ironically landlocked navy, its soldiers and environs.
After he finally gained the country’s official trust, Nick wanted to make the most of his time, so lived on the base for almost a week. “We were assigned to the Elite Scuba Unit to look after us,” Nick explains. “We joined them for morning drills, PT, ate their food and were assigned basic sleeping quarters until the commander of the base found out where we were staying and very graciously offered his house to us, perched up on a hill overlooking the base.”
“As a photographer, you always want to keep a certain distance from the subject. You’re there but you’re not there. It can be quite lonely being surrounded by so many people. So in terms of intensity, I could feel the pain of the young recruits as they struggled through their training but I am there to convey that in my own particular way. The intensity for me was working out how to tell this story.”
Due to its landlocked state, the Bolivian navy is “primarily ceremonial” Nick says. “There is a very little chance Bolivia will go to war, so combat-hardened troops are not something they prepare much for. As a result the whole naval base had a very friendly, welcoming atmosphere about it.
“Bolivia in general is a very modest country and its navy is no different,” he continues. “Its boats are outdated and the technology bygone but this has a certain ‘back to basics’ charm to it. Its this sense of modesty that is so often prevalent in the country, that I wanted to bring across in the series.”
His book, The Bitter Sea, is due out in the next couple of years.
Nick worked with his assistant/translator, Jahel Guerra Roa, and Avaunt’s picture editor Madeleine Penny and creative director designer Matt Willey, alongside Blink Art. Nick also credits the Bolivian Navy “especially to the commander Capitán de Navío Marco Sangueza Characayo”.
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