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An End to Artifice

Kuoni seeks to put the credibility back into travel photography

With a photo shoot at a magical location in the Egyptian desert, Kuoni has adopted a brand new approach to the pictorial language it employs. The superficial gloss of conventional advertising imagery is being replaced by narrative content. The watchwords of the new aesthetic are authenticity rather than artificiality, depth rather than superficiality.

It is still very early, just after five o’clock in the morning, and the cold burrows its way through your clothes, making it difficult to imagine the searing desert heat that will bear down on this remote part of Egypt later in the day. A gaggle of photographers, cameramen, models and people in charge of make-up, costume and set design drowsily head to work. Their mission is to create a new visual idiom for the travel industry. They want to distance themselves from the superficial allure of conventional modern advertising photography, which increasingly prompts a sceptical reaction from consumers. Pictures of perfect bodies perfectly posed and juxtaposed in perfect settings, far removed from normal life, are no longer fit for the purpose of encouraging potential customers to identify with the actual subject of the images. Photography has to change its character and take account of the way people see it today. Kuoni has, therefore, reviewed its aesthetic policy and embarked upon a new approach designed to produce a pictorial language which emphasises honesty and real life, rather than idealised illustrations of fairytale experiences.

Above all, Kuoni’s new approach to photography involves new motifs, themes and narrative techniques. This particular photo session was taking place in the oasis of Siwa, situated several hours’ drive from the coast, deep within the Egyptian Desert. In this place, far from civilisation and yet suffused with history, Kuoni found a highly suitable setting for a modern tale of freedom and a pace of life devoid of the usual time pressures.

Lanterns light the way through the desert sands

In the telling of this tale, the eco-lodge Adrère Amellal served not merely as the backdrop but as a principal character whose very nature exerts a strong influence on the story. A merchant from Cairo created this place, which has little in common with the classic luxury hotel. Built from traditional stone and clay like the local villages, it hugs the foot of one of the impressive mountains whose flattened summits overlook the vastness of the desert in this part of the world. Open and enclosed areas, interior and exterior spaces join and merge to give the building a unique sculptural feel, a sense of being protected from the inhospitable, dangerous environment from which it was wrested. You look in vain for a plug socket for your shaver: the founders of the eco-lodge decided to do without electricity. So, after nightfall, lanterns light the way through the desert sands, while the warm, flickering light of candles in the rooms creates an irresistible old-world ambience of contentment that touches on primeval folk memories. Meals are taken in the company of other guests, at large or small communal tables, on terraces, in courtyards or by the side of the oasis spring – and now and again the host, who is also the hotel’s owner, invites the guests to his private residence for aperitifs or dinner. Traditional food is served, made from ingredients grown either on the eco-lodge’s own land or in the immediate vicinity.

Adrère Amellal is a magical place where visitors have to adjust to a different pace of life: there is no other option. Guests are transformed, taking life more slowly and seeing existence in a different light. And so two travellers, a man and a woman, come here to shed, for a while, the ballast of civilisation that shapes their lives.