Spanning the southernmost reaches of South America, locked between towering massifs and bare coastlines, the wildness of Patagonia has long captured the imagination of photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz. He set off on a road trip across the lower continent, creating a visual diary of his 4,800–kilometre voyage from Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego, at the ends of the Earth.
Torres del Paine National Park is an emblem of Patagonian beauty, and also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve encompassing 2,273 square kilometres of lakes, glaciers, mountains and forests in Chile. It was ranked fifth most beautiful place on earth by National Geographic in 2013.
enRoute What inspired you to take on this assignment?
Mustafah Abdulaziz Being in the documentary world, I’m often working on social and environmental issues. I wanted to photograph something different, to have an experience outside of Berlin, where I live. I was thinking of doing a road trip because I find it’s such a profound way to see the world. I love travelling with people and sharing parts of my life with them, so I asked my mate Darren McDonald – an accomplished fashion photographer in New York – to join me. It was such an incredible experience.
ER What was your approach throughout this assignment?
MA To capture moments as they unfolded. It was about going on a journey to collect and appreciate the things I am given and translate them into a visual language. It was so liberating, being able to go to places and take photographs with no motive other than to enjoy and experience. I wanted to share the magic of being there. I was looking for symbols and evocative tones in everything, photographing the little pieces, the fragments. These moments were the most remarkable and touching to me.
Along route 43, just south of Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, are vast plains of arid steppe. “Part of the allure of Patagonia is that the landscape is always transitioning, from the massive plains with clouds blotting the landscape to hills of different colours. By using a telephoto lens that compressed the image, I was able to get all the motifs of these coloured rock outcrops in one shot.”
ER What advice would you give someone travelling to Patagonia?
MA Allow yourself to feel the journey. You are childlike with wonder, every time you go to a new place, or every time you see a new thing. Sometimes it’s just a tree, sometimes it’s the land, sometimes it’s a person riding a horse. Allow yourself to see it and appreciate it. You will be intimidated by it, but you will also feel empowered by it. Also, try going with a slightly open timeline. There is a great appreciation for the present moment in Patagonia, so allow yourself to experience that.
ER What makes Patagonia so unique?
MA Driving through Patagonia, you’re continually confronted with profound ideas of your scale in the universe, the unimportance of your concerns and daily stresses. Everything in Patagonia is so remote and stretched out, and millions of years are etched into a land that is constantly transitioning. You realize just how small you are compared to something that’s been around for so long.
“I wanted to photograph something that had that feeling of the wind pushing against it and I was particularly drawn to this tree, with its clean, balanced lines.”