A Photographer’s Trip to the Edge of the World


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.

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.

March 25, 2020

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.

A tree near the coast of Ushuaia, Argentina
Many expeditions to Antarctica set off from Ushuaia, Argentina. At 55 degrees south, it is the southernmost city in the world, roughly 800 kilometres away from the coast of Antarctica.
Vast plains of arid steppe along route 43 in Argentina

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.”

A young girl riding a horse in Puerto Natales, Chile
Abdulaziz encountered this pair on a dirt road south of Puerto Natales, Chile. “It was a beautiful scene: just a girl and her horse, galloping at full tilt.”
A guanaco by the shoreline in Patagonia
Herds of guanacos – wild cousin of the llama – are a frequent sight across Patagonia, often popping out of nowhere.
Blueish/white glacier against a dark background
Viewing platforms overlooking the Perito Moreno Glacier allow visitors a close look at its blinding whites and blues. “Behind the glacier is a mountain, but as the sun went down and light began hitting only the top of the glacier, the background blacked out, and it felt like I was staring at a glacier on a theatre set.”
Yellow/orange flower bunches and feathery plants
Estancias – Spanish for working farms – allow guests like Abdulaziz a chance to experience Patagonia’s rural culture. This dried bouquet that adorned a cabin fireplace was shot as a souvenir of his stay.
A herd of sheep wander across a road in Chile
A herd of sheep wander across a road in Chile. Sheep have been on the Patagonian grasslands for just over a century, but overgrazing has altered the landscape and changed the steppe ecosystem.

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.

A tree in Patagonia leaning in one direction due to strong winds
With nothing to obstruct the wind, Patagonia’s wild westerlies – noted for their strength – shape the landscape.
A gaucho riding on his horse with his dog following
Gauchos, the skilled horsemen of Patagonia, are a familiar sight on the steppe.

“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.”

Punta Tombo’s Magellanic penguin colony by the beach
With a population of more than one million, Punta Tombo’s Magellanic penguin colony is the largest in Patagonia. “They are everywhere and have no fear of humans. They walk right up to you.”
A Patagonian plant with the root attached
“A person I met along the way gave me this plant. She had been twirling it as we talked and then tucked it in my lapel. I thought it was quite pretty and carried it for a little while, as a memory of my journey and the people I met along the way.”
A large glacier in Patagonia
Covering 250 square kilometers, Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few that is still advancing. “I spent hours photographing the massive wall of pure ice. Now and then, huge chunks would fall off, and it felt like the Earth was alive. It is a reminder of just how small we are.”
A cowboy on his horse
“There is so much natural beauty in Patagonia that I wanted to add a bit of the surreal by closing in on the cowboy’s weathered hands and the texture of his clothes. The backdrop seems almost make–believe.”
A tree growing out of the water with mountains in the background
“I liked combining the elements – water, land and sky – in this shot and contrasting them with a smaller detail that was part of the experience for me, like this tree.”