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Out of the woods

PHILIP LEE HARVEY

Chile has one of the world’s longest coastlines, from the balmy beaches of the tropical north to the shores of the south where the gales blow straight from Antarctica. Somewhere between the two is the Chiloé archipelago – a smattering of islands with rolling hills and hidden coves, which, in certain lights could be a chunk of England or Wales transported to South America.

Though only one mile of South Pacifc seawater separates Chiloé from the mainland, locals will tell you this is a world apart from the rest of Chile. A distinct culture has evolved on these mysterious islands: one which is defned by pre-Colombian legends, proud seafaring traditions and, most obviously, the region’s unqiue architecture. I’d always wanted to photograph the churches of Chiloé, which are some of the most signifcant holy structures in the Americas. Admittedly, they’re not especially big – most are about the size of a parish church in the UK – nor are they particularly ancient, the oldest dating back to the 18th century. These 60-odd buildings are, however, unusual in being constructed almost entirely from wood. What look like marble columns and stone walls all turn out, with the tap of a knuckle, to be made from timber. Entering these structures feels quite unlike stepping into any other church. The timbers shift and groan in the wind, and wherever you go you’re followed by a symphony of creaks from the floorboards beneath your feet.

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