Gaucho Culture (B&W)

Santiago at the Hitching Post (16x21)

The Exploration of Chilean Patagonia

In April 2023, I went to Chilean Patagonia with a fellow photographer. We chose April because it is when the fall colors are at their peak. I’m still working on those color pictures and will post a different gallery of the beautiful landscapes as that work is completed. This portfolio is not about the fall color, its about the lifestyle and culture of the Patagonia gauchos. While we were in Patagonia, our fixer was able to get us into working estancias (farms) where we were able to interact with and photograph the gauchos. We were even invited into the home of one where we shared a drink with him and a friend. We regularly found ourselves out on the Paine (flat farm lands) and would occasionally come across a gaucho patrolling the boundary fence, looking for lost livestock, or taking livestock to market. After a brief conversation, most allowed us to take their picture. This portfolio (gallery) presents my story of the gaucho culture, as I experienced it, on my first trip to Chilean Patagonia.

Black and White Photography

I chose to present this portfolio in black and white because it conveys the solitude of living on the Paine. The flat farmlands of Patagonia are vast and surround the Torre del Paine national park. The park is characterized by dramatic granite towers (“Torre”) which protrude up from the plains, giving unmistakable character to the landscape. In addition to being iconic fixtures in the landscape, the Torre serve to make the Patagonia weather unpredictable. The weather can change unexpectedly from calm and sunny to blizzard conditions when Antarctic winds blow across the glaciers and are funneled between narrow mountain passages. In winter, the weather can become unlivable as temperatures drop so low that the ozone layer opens up making unprotected UV exposure dangerous for even an hour. Still, life goes on with the gauchos.

The Gaucho Life

My impression of life on the Paine is somber. The day is long and begins early. The nights are dark and cold. To me, the solitary gaucho life on the Paine feels lonely. The gaucho has a deep attachment to the land and farming. He may live alone where his best friends are his horse and dogs. They work together as a unit. The gaucho cares for his horse who he depends upon to perform the various jobs on the Estancia. The dogs are truly working animals. They work as a pack, driving livestock with the gaucho. While herding sheep, the dogs act quite viscous; but later, they are friendly, loyal, and worthy companions at the farm house. Occasionally, other humans come to visit, but not to stay.

The Metaphysical Connection

One thing about Patagonia which surprised me was the metaphysical experience of being there. It is hard to explain, but I felt that I had walked into a space-time warp. There was a sense of déjà vu. I felt like this land was a purgatory for lost souls. There was a sense of peacefulness playing in the shadow of loneliness and shivering cold. On several occasions, I was lovingly greeted by stray dogs who seemed like angels welcoming my arrival to this ethereal place.

The Ship of Lost Souls One late day as the sun was setting, I stood in a shipyard looking onto the beach of the Straights of Magellan. The winds were blowing icy rain into my eyes. I noticed a lone dog on the beach. When he saw me he ran straight to me, jumping up and hugging me like he knew me and we had just been reunited after a long separation. I stooped down to pet him and I looked into his eyes. There, I saw the soul of Cabo, one of my passed dogs. After a couple minutes while time stood still, he ran back to the beach and joined two other dogs in play. The other dogs similarly struck me as reincarnations of beloved pets from my past. All of a sudden they stopped playing, looking back at me, wondering if I would follow them. Their gaze said it all, “welcome, stay as long as you wish, we’ll meet again.” Then they ran down the beach together leaving me alone to return to my journey. The sun set below the the horizon, The sky lit up with a golden glow. I felt a little disoriented. I wondered, had I just walked through a time warp? Was this Rainbow Bridge? I was in the zone; the metaphysical universe where great photographs are made.

Visit the Gaucho Culture gallery and see all the pictures