Alison M. Jones Photography:
Alone and Nowhere – While Photographing in Patagonia

(Editors: Please to see a fuller version of this essay.)
(Travelers: if I can help you plan a trip to Argentina!)


Spring became fall for two weeks this March and my shampoo suds spun down the drain backwards. Flipping my world upside down, I‘d flown south to photographically investigate “The Waters of Argentina.” In the emptiness of Patagonia, my digital Nikon banged a soulful tango against my wind-jacketed ribs. I clutched the sheepskin on my saddle instead of NYC subway straps. I slid down steep, sandy cliffs of the Peninsula Valdes and scrambled up scree of the glacial aquamarine Lake Viedma – not city staircases. NYC has energy; but Patagonia has rush of water, force of wind and calving of glaciers.


As a photographer and conservationist, I was alone and nowhere in Patagonia. Certainly I was not with friends at another Monday-night lecture at The Explorers Club. Although on the same time zone, I was on very different latitudes. Horizons, always low and relentless in the “roaring forties,” span a neck-wringing 360°. The skies of the “howling fifties” swirl as if in a kaleidoscope of clouds and colors.


Here in empty vastness the miniscule became my focus: a caracara perched atop the pines, a leaf turning red in the face of autumn. The sheer power of nothingness and Patagonia’s wild wind stripped intellectual order from my consciousness. That was fine – for I had come only with questions. I let myself just be. Elephant seals barked on rocky beaches as the wind ripped through my winter-crusted mind. Guanacos stared from ancient beech forests as glacial waters ran through my clogged veins.

elephant seals red foliage

My previous trip here was in November 2003 during Argentina’s spring. It was a month of short stays at 18 friendly estancias strung along the country’s 3500-mile length. I sampled Argentina as a tourist destination, its fresh trout from sparkling streams, white Torrontes wine, sure-footed criollo ponies, dulce de leche crepes and the passion of the pampas.


Last year I learned that our greatest supply of fresh water is in Patagonia’s glaciers. I also read that over-fishing in the Malvinas Current’s Ecosystem has endangered Patagonian marine mammals. So in March I returned to photograph Patagonia’s water-based environments. This investigative interest stems from my many years of documenting Africa’s dwindling and polluted supply of fresh water, its silted lakes and deforested watersheds, the thirst of its exploding populations and corporate and national commodification of water.


In Patagonia I found that between the Atlantic and the Andes, there is only desert. My whole itinerary was desert – despite the fact that on the edge of my destinations there was “water, water, everywhere.” Even the glaciers rest on desert. Yet Patagonia is the world’s water faucet. The wind currents carry clouds around the bottom of the globe gathering oceans’ moisture. They howl along uninterrupted until they hit the Andes where the accumulation of water is dumped on fast-melting Patagonian ice fields.

I went to Argentina determined to depict the environmental issues and contrasts of desert and water. For fifteen days of image making I was suspended in the quandary of how to convey eco-messages within single frames.


My rucksack heavy with cameras, lenses, windbreaker and journal, I rode and walked many kilometers each day. I went with the winds, a bit lonely; but savoring the brillance of lenga leaves turning red. The gaucho’s smoked beef, lamb roasted on an asador and local Malbecs nourished me. The coastal surf was filled with orcas, and glaciers were melting drop by drop, both carrying messages I needed to hear. In evenings at the estancias while listening to wild surf or winds whipping across the lake, I journaled in front of blazing fires, and read books recommended by my hosts.

Back in the humidity of NYC’s summer, I see that the raw glory of Patagonia in my images is in itself enough to evoke environmental concern. Photography ignites by connecting us, even if only for a moment, to our planet. Its beauty makes its own statement. I instinctively knew that, but with the increased volume of environmental alarms, I was searching for a way to do more. I didn’t need to.


The graphic design, grandeur and mystery of nature’s details that I want to resonate in my fine-art photographs are also the best iconic heralds to convey the significance of messages from scientists and conservationists speaking out on importance of biodiversity, dwindling resources and global warming. Even an armadillo couldn’t be impervious to such messages. Argentina revitalized and restored my creative self. Patagonia truly is a corner of the world in which to think – un rincon para pensar.

Editors: There is a fuller version of this essay in my files if interested. For more images please visit my website gallery page of Photos of Patagonia!