Black Patagonia

Unearthing the dark and brooding landscape of a raw and wild Patagonia.
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Feb 2, 2014 | By HB HQ & Neels Castillon

Patagonia, in our minds, always had a chirpy, technicolor feel. But, through the lens of Neels Castillon, a Paris-based photographer and film maker, the black hills of Chile and Argentina are much darker. In fact, they're borderline menacing. It made us reassess: how much do we actually know about Patagonia—beyond the Yvon Chouinard legends and the ethos of a Ventura-based company? We feel familiar with area, but in reality, we're disconnected from it, in any raw sense.

So, we reached out to Neels, who recently returned from a trip through the heart of Patagonia. He's captured some incredible photographs of his time down there, encapsulating a mood of the region that's a stark contrast from our colorful fleeces. It's a Patagonia that's brooding, mysterious, and unmistakably wild. His thoughts, below.

What was the inspiration for this trip? When did you go, and for what purpose?

I went there, with my girlfriend, in order to discover the exceptionally wild nature of this region. We went from Ushuaia up to El Calafate. A few months later, we came back with friends for a couple of days in Puerto Madryn, to observe Southern right whales.

The photos create a mood of Patagonia as an intimidating landscape. Was that your experience in person, or did the mood come out of putting the photography together?

When I take pictures, I usually trust my instincts, I did not go to Patagonia for a specific purpose, like a a documentary, but rather to change my mind, to find inspiration, to discover wild nature. I do not want to be exhaustive in describing a specific place, I have a very personal and poetic approach.

If I am amazed by a landscape, astonished by a special light, surprised by a face or simply interested in a particular detail or a color, I just grab my camera. The intellectual part comes later, when I look at the pictures on my screen and I try to build up a story. My goal is to create a good series of photos, which work as an author’s vision, which stimulates your imagination like a movie or a novel. Then, the series may materialize into an exhibition, a book, or simply a series on the internet…

There's only one person in the series (the driver). Did the landscape overwhelm the people? Is Patagonia surprisingly unpopulated? Or was your focus just primarily on the land, not the people?

It does seem strange because, usually, I am more interested in human beings. I love photographing people—it gives the opportunity for unlikely encounters, and, along with a good picture, you typically get a good story to tell. But in Patagonia, I really focused on the mountains, the landscapes; it is such a fascinating, wild place. 

Obviously, it is one of the less populated regions of the world, and the area is so vast that you can cover 200km without encountering anybody, which is unthinkable in France. I think this series goes well because I totally fell under the spell of this wild and desolated region of Patagonia.

If I'm headed down to Patagonia, what are some places/sights/things I shouldn't miss?

If you go to Patagonia, I advise you to try the “W” trek, in Torres del Paine, it’s an extraordinary adventure, and you should also have a walk in the Tierra del Fuego National Park where you feel you are at the end of the world.

Sounds just about perfect. Thanks for the recommendation, and your time.

All Images ©Neels Castillon.