Arts and Culture

Desert Solitude: Portrait of Hasselblad Heroine Chiara Zonca

According to many futurists and global trends prognosticators, today’s users of elite products seek to express who they are, rather than what they have. They wish to be known as ethical, creative, connected, philanthropic, and conscientious. Those who buy and use products reflect these values, and have opportunities to deliver meaningful experiences that move from merely excellent to deeply sublime.

Hasselblad –one of the most revered and exclusive camera brands in the world – has defined these values for years. These cameras used by great adventurers, astronauts and others tell stories through their dazzling photographic imagery. Recently, however, Hasselblad has become well-known in yet another dimension – through its appreciation of exceptonal female photographers.

Hasselblad Heroines was initiated on March 8th, 2019, on International Women’s Day. In an industry usually directed by men, these few select female photographers are spotlighted on the Hasselblad website and on Instagram, where each woman shares experiences and inspiration.

Chiara Zonca

Chiara Zonca is one of the Hasselblad Heroines. She is a fine arts photographer, whose work has been published in her monograph, Desert Portraits. Her work has been exhibited in Sydney, New York, Los Angeles and London, where she had her first solo show at the Print Space Gallery in Shoreditch, based on her series “Moon Kingdom.”

Her recent photographic travels include the Atacama Desert in Chile, as well as Death Valley, California, Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, and the Bisti, New Mexico Badlands. Chiara’s wish to document landscapes and textural dimensions led her to explore, in her words, “barren, mystical, untinged territories.” We discussed these ideas in a recent interview.

Badlands Before Dusk, New Mexico – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

EatLoveSavor: When you first started in photography, were natural landscapes your first passion?  When did you come to truly appreciate the solitude of landscapes, especially deserts? 

Chiara: I’ve always used photography as a therapeutic tool to correct what was wrong in my life. For a very long time I was living in a city, feeling trapped in a lifestyle I didn’t enjoy anymore. Photography and, in particular, landscape photography of nature was incredibly healing to me.

The appreciation for deserts arrived later on. Being born and bred in Europe, the abstract open spaces of the American West or of the Chilean Altiplano were so different from anything I had ever experienced. I was in awe with the surreal traits of these majestic landscapes and they woke an electric sense of belonging and desire for extreme solitude. All I wanted was to be part of those landscapes and project my feelings onto them.

Blue Hour, New Mexico – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

EatLoveSavor: Please discuss some of the physical and spiritual differences you have found with different desert landscapes: Death Valley, Oman, and the Altiplano of Chile.  Each desert seems to have a different personality, and your images show this. Please explain how they affect your sense of color and sense of solitude.

Chiara: The Chilean Altiplano is a very eerie experience. One that changed me very deeply. I didn’t know there were places on Earth where silence is so absolute for the lack of flora, fauna and human presence that you can hear your own thoughts so clearly. It’s a huge meditation chamber basically. Everything that goes through your head gets enhanced by what you experience visually, a very powerful, spiritual place that I cannot wait to visit again.

Oman has an ancient, exciting landscape made for adventure. I didn’t get much of an experience in Death Valley…yet. I must admit, I only managed to visit, Zabriskie Point, Artist Palette and so on. I still need to find my own way to connect to it, perhaps by exploring the less beaten routes next time.  

Sunset in the Salt Plains – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

EatLoveSavor: Explain, if you can, the relation between your personal, spiritual solitude and the solitude of the desert.  How do they interact and how, if you can answer this, does this interaction show in your images?  

Chiara: It is very instinctive: when I am alone in nature something clicks, I feel different. Particularly with deserts, I suspect it’s because deserts are barren, my vision can just extend to infinity.

Death Valley, California -Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

EatLoveSavor: Also, regarding the deserts that you have photographed, what are your thoughts about how the past and present often live together in such places?

Chiara: That’s the thing. The beauty of these places is defined by the fact that there is no past and present. There is just one desert: continuing, frozen in time, ancient yet futuristic neverlands. 

Salt Plains, Rainbow Valley – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca


Salt Formations in the Atacama Desert, Chile – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

EatLoveSavor: Tell us about your shooting process. What camera and other equipment do you use while out in the field?

Chiara: My process starts with research. I don’t like to create single image wonders, I prefer to create bodies of work. I start with a concept, an idea. Once I know what type of images I’ll be creating, I look for suitable locations. Only after everything falls into place concept-wise, I travel and shoot.

Gear-wise, I am currently using the new Hasselblad X1D II 50C for my digital photography. That, combined with the new XCD 4/45P lens makes my favourite combo. The lens is light and versatile. Images coming out of that camera are extremely well suited for colour grading, and the RAW quality is amazing. I also particularly enjoy the Hasselblad XCD 2,8/65 lens as I am always looking for ways to crop a wide-open landscape and find interesting details within the land.

Yellowstone Park, Grand Prismatic Spring – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca


Cloudy day, Yellowstone – Image copyright and courtesy of Chiara Zonca

I am also very much into shooting film, my go-to-kit is the Hasselblad 500C with a Planar 2,8/80mm lens and a tripod of course. Favourite film stocks are Kodak Portra 160 and 400 but recently I am experimenting with different stocks including black and white film.

EatLoveSavor: In terms of your landscape subjects, what do you want people most to experience and remember viewing your images, whether on film or digitally? 

Chiara: I would love to welcome people into my world by creating a connection between my feelings and inner thoughts and the landscape. My ultimate goal is to get the viewer to see and experience my world instead of the real one and perhaps ask themselves questions about their own relationship with nature as a result.


Instagram @shadowontherun


Susan Kime’s career combines travel/adventure writing, blogging, and editing, both print and virtual. She was the Destination Club/Fractional Update for Elite Traveler, and senior club news correspondent for Robb Report’s Vacation Homes. She has published in Stratos, Luxury Living, European CEO, The London Telegraph, and ARDA Developments. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Travel Connoisseur, and the senior Luxury journalist for Luxist/ She also wrote 95% of architecture/design articles for Urban Arches, a high-end arch/design website. She has written for, Pursuitist, JamesEdition, Joe’s Daily,, Caviar Affair, and DestinationLuxury. She has a B.A. in English/Humanities and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology with two additional psychology certifications. She has taught Program Evaluation and Research Design at Chapman University, and has written extensively on affluence research. When not traveling, she resides with her Canadian husband and peaceful Beagle in northern Utah.