Yulia Gorbachenko

Bolivian Salt Flats and Australian beauty: a set made in heaven

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, left behind by lakes that evaporated millions of years ago. Today, it’s one of the most breathtaking sights on Earth and, notably, a remarkable shooting location. That’s where Phase One Ambassador Yulia Gorbachenko travelled this summer to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar a project she developed together with creative director JP Micallef and fashion director Sandy Armeni.

The editorial, titled “Heaven on Earth”, features model Alexandra Agoston immersed in the iconic panorama of the Salt Flats, her elegant figure blending with the mesmerizing landscape. The compositions are marked by lavish shades of blue and reflective textures. In the images, Yulia plays with deceiving angles and spatial perspectives to make the model look like she’s floating between watery desert and infinitely cerulean sky.

I’ll always remember the moment we entered the salt flats. What I saw seemed out of this world. The clouds, the shape of the sky, the colors – I’ve never experienced anything like it before. It just made me feel genuine happiness. I was living passionately.

For this shoot, we wanted to go to the most surreal place in the world and create a story about escaping the ordinary. At first, shooting in the Bolivian salt flats seemed an impossible feat, but sometimes you just need to have the guts to go for it and make it work. So that’s what we did! And we were lucky to have Alexandra Agoston from IMG Models to center the story around, who is a living proof that beauty is an attitude. When casting, we always have to think not only about who the best model would be, but about who the best fit for the story is, and I can’t imagine a better protagonist for our story than Alexandra.

Blending in

When you work in such an open, expansive landscape you get a lot of creative freedom, with so much left up to your imagination. The minimal landforms, the wide horizon, the reflective textures, the unique structure of the salt flat ground became our playground and our inspiration for two days of creative high. That doesn’t mean it was all left to chance. We came very prepared, with a very specific shot list and a tight schedule. The Harper’s Bazaar Spain cover was pre-planned, and so was the composite shot for the Harper’s Bazaar Greece cover, which was shot on a tripod and composed from two profile shots and one full body in perspective.

Sandy Armeni styled Alexandra in luscious earth colors, shimmery blues and silver tones. We wanted to keep the makeup very natural, to emphasize Alexandra’s natural beauty and harmonize with the beauty of the landscape. For a few shots we added some metallics, which blended well with the reflective surfaces of Salar de Uyuni.

Sometimes the craziest ideas can become reality when you have the right support, the best team and the guts to go for it.

For a lot of the shots I used the 35mm wide angle lens, which helped me achieve this surreal feeling of the landscape and the model. To play with the perspective, I shot a lot on my knees with soaking wet cold feet – the water would get into my rain boots all the time. I also shot from the top of our car to amplify the feeling of open space and infinity.

Heaven on earth, hell of a shoot

On the second day of the shooting I woke up with swollen eyes and burning skin. I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. The day before I had been shooting on my knees, and applying sunscreen apparently didn’t help. I could barely keep my eyes open and keeping them closed felt even worse. But it became unbearable when we drove back to the Salt Flats and the reflective surfaces hit my eyes again. This time I wore glasses and a hat, holding an umbrella when I wasn’t shooting. I literally had no idea how I would physically survive the day. The only time I felt some relief was while I was shooting and the camera softened the view for my eyes.

Here the water was ice cold, we had to get the dress wet for the look, the texture under her feet and hands was so sharp that five people had to smooth it out with the soles of our rain boots. Alexandra seemed to have this amazing ability to hide the pain she was going through while in front of the camera.

In high gear

I couldn’t be happier with the camera I used, and with the colors and textures we were able to achieve with it. I shot with the Phase One XF IQ250, mostly with the 35mm and 55mm lenses. During the day we used natural light with some reflectors and during the night – flash lights and lots of experimentation. Every day and every sunset were very different. The first twilight, the colors were rich and saturated. Then, on the second day, we experienced the complete opposite: soft, milky skies, like a watercolor painting. It’s incredible how the scenery is changing every minute there.

No guts, no glory

The core message of this series, to myself and everyone out there, is that nothing is impossible. Don’t just dream, go wild – for a while. Be afraid but do it anyway, because life is to be lived!

Sometimes the craziest ideas can become reality when you have the right support, the best team and the guts to go for it. My team is everything to me: model, creative director, stylist, makeup and hair artists, producer, retoucher, my dearest assistants, digital tech, and in this case the local support we received in Bolivia.