Shooting Landscapes and Finding Stillness in the Heart of Patagonia

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The ground rumbled and the deep sound of what I thought was thunder echoed across the fjord. I had that feeling you get in your stomach when you hear lightning strike close by. Then the sound of intense waves moved through the water.

Words and Photography by Todd Clare

I was sitting up on the side of the cliff looking over the six-kilometre wide Grey Glacier on my first day of trekking Torres Del Paine, Patagonia. I’d been there for a little over an hour taking photos. I was halfway through packing my gear when a glacier the size of a house broke apart right in front of me. They say Patagonia is the edge of the world and it felt like I was sitting on it.

“Everything felt so raw and real.”

Shot with a Canon 5DS and a Canon 100-400mm L IS II lens.

Patagonia was my last destination after travelling through the Atacama Desert and Bolivia. The purpose of the trip was to create a body of work and although I hadn’t quite got my head around it, it was starting to take shape. I had been meditating quite a lot while I was travelling, and the ideas of mindfulness and observing the landscape were beginning to mould together. Taking photos was giving me a very similar experience to mediating and observing the mind. It’s such a simple concept yet I was finding it so hard to articulate.

I travelled to the quiet town of Puerto Natales where I would base myself before hiking Torres Del Paine. When I finally set off trekking, I was overwhelmed with energy. I had about 90km ahead of me with no reception or Wi-Fi and it felt great. You have to take a bus, then a ferry to get to the start of the trail. The ferry ride took me along a huge glacial lake surrounded by mountains covered in snow. Everything felt so raw and real. Condor vultures with three-metre wingspans soar majestically above the peaks and as you walk along the trails, backlit glaciers emerge from behind the Cyprus trees.

“Cold, crystal-clear water flows from streams and you can fill your drink bottle up whenever you’re empty.”

Cold, crystal-clear water flows from streams and you can fill your drink bottle up whenever you’re empty. Every so often you hear the echo of a small avalanche or glacier breaking apart, and when the wind dies off, the glaciers sound like they’re alive in the water. It’s funny, there were a few times I felt a bit lonely while travelling through South America, but not when I was walking the trails of Torres Del Paine.

Travelling alone has its challenges and forces you do go deep – you don’t really have a choice. So many questions popped up. Why am I travelling alone? Why do I shoot landscapes? What the hell am I doing with my life? Should I delete Instagram? In one breath, inspiration floods through your veins. In another, all your fears float to the surface. I think spending time alone is one of the best things you can do for the soul.

Having time off your phone is equally as good. It made me realise how addicted I’d been to Instagram. My finger had been subconsciously tapping it without me even being aware of it. So, I tried to think of Instagram as a tool for work rather than me being Instagram’s tool. It’s hard though. I was recently listening to Gabor Maté speak about it and he said that the less social media meets your real needs, the more addictive it is. It just doesn’t cut it if you’re after real human connection.

“Without the distraction of crowds of people, you experience nature on a much more intimate level.”

Shot with a Canon 5DS and a Canon 100-400mm L IS II lens.

I kept thinking back to the book I was reading, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. He said, “It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.” That is something I feel I have struggled with, as I’m sure many others have. When I’m travelling, I feel like I can cultivate that calmness in activity, but when I get back to my everyday life it becomes much harder.

Kayaking provided the perfect opportunity to practice this, it’s like meditation in motion. I’d met a few people who had told me about these ancient marble caves that surrounded a nearby lake, slowly calved out by the Patagonian winds and waves. I ended up taking a boat and kayaking there so I could get the full experience. Surreal shapes warped in and out of the caves like someone had deliberately painted them. It’s hard to understand how they had formed this way. The clear glacial water made it look tropical but there wasn’t a soul to be seen swimming nearby. Without the distraction of crowds of people, you experience nature on a much more intimate level.

“Sitting and observing the landscape is a meditative practice.”

Shot with a Canon 5DS and a Canon 100-400mm L IS II lens.

What I got from this trip was a deeper understanding of why I shoot landscapes. A few years back I was living in the city and I don’t think I ever adjusted to the lifestyle. I struggled with anxiety, stress, and often shit sleep. I couldn’t handle the amount of people and buildings, so I’d seek out semi-remote places on the weekends to escape. I guess that’s where it started. What helps when we’re stressed and anxious is stillness in the mind, and the best place to find that is a quiet place in nature.

For me, sitting and observing the landscape is a meditative practice and what I found was that the mind is very much like the landscape. The act of observing, either thoughts or terrain, always brings me back to stillness.

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Todd Clare

I’m an Australian photographer from the north coast of NSW. Shooting landscapes is a way for me to switch off and still the mind. I usually shoot tight compositions that capture the transitional areas between environments, abstracting the marks and gestures that Mother Nature creates.