Exploring Patagonia, Bolivia and the surreal landscapes of the Atacama Desert, Chile

Todd Clare is an Australian photographer based in Byron Bay who recently set off to explore Patagonia, Bolivia and the surreal landscapes of the Atacama Desert, Chile. 

 


Q: Todd, you’ve recently been travelling through South America - can you tell us about where you travelled and how this trip came about?

Every year I try and squeeze in a mission where I can go off and explore the landscape and take photos, it's become a bit of a ritual for me. The purpose of this trip was to do just that, as well as create a new body of work that I will be exhibiting at the end of the year and early next year. I also captured a bunch of video content that I’ll be projecting which I’m pretty excited about. 

I travelled to the north of Chile – The Atacama Desert – and the south of Chile, which is Patagonia. I also snuck in four days of four-wheel driving in Bolivia. 

 

Q: A lot of these places are barren, vast and remote - this seems to be a common theme with your photography work - what draws you to these landscapes?

It’s funny, I was asking myself the same thing when I was travelling. It seems the more remote and vast the landscape, the more space I find internally and the photos I shoot tend to reflect that.

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, cars 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. When your mind is still and empty, it’s a pretty sweet place to be. 

For me, sitting and observing the landscape is a meditative practice. When you look close enough, barren places like The Atacama Desert tend to be full of peculiar shapes and extravagant colour. These are some of the moments I try and capture.  

 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about some of the highlights of the trip, did you stumble across any really memorable spots?

Trekking Torres Del Paine in Patagonia was definitely a highlight, and the first day was something that will stay with me.

When I arrived at the campsite I set up my tent and grabbed my camera bag. There was a suspension bridge about 40 minutes ahead that had views of Glacier Grey, a 6km-wide glacier on the western side of the park. The sun had been hiding most of the day but as I went on it started to creep through the trees and you could see backlit glaciers glowing bright blue and green.

The bridge was the most impressive thing I’d ever walked on, it suspended about 60 metres across a very high canyon. From there, I walked out onto a ledge and set up my camera. They call Patagonia the edge of the world, and it felt like I was sitting on that edge. 

So I’m sitting up there taking photos with no one around. After an hour or so I start to pack up my gear then I hear this massive explosion. It sounded like thunder. The ground rumbled followed by the sound of intense waves rippling across the lake. A glacier had broken apart right in front of me.  

 

Q: South America is a huge continent, rich in culture, what were some of the cultural differences or highlights that stood out uniquely in Patagonia, Bolivia and Chile?

The people in Chile and Bolivia seem very comfortable in their own skin, they don’t seem to care too much what people think. They’ll dance on the street in the middle of the day without being self conscious. If they want to sing, they’ll sing. I feel in Australian we’re a lot more self conscious and worried about what people think. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist over there, it’s just different. I guess it doesn’t seem high on the list of things to worry about and that's pretty refreshing. 

 

Q: As a member of 1% for the planet, what are some of the conservation initiatives that you noticed when hiking through Patagonia? (1% for the Planet is a global movement inspiring businesses and individuals to support environmental solutions through memberships and everyday actions).

When I travelled to Torres Del Paine it became pretty clear to me that tourism was a big threat to the park and managing the amount of growth had become a challenge. The result is things like erosion, waste and fires burning out of control. Over the past 30 years there’s been three big fires lit by tourists that have ravaged almost one quarter of the park. 

All that said, I was blown away by how clean it was. There was no rubbish on the tracks, you can drink fresh water from the streams and there were plenty of wild animals. 

Tompkins Conservation was the biggest initiative I heard of in Patagonia, and I think the biggest I’ve ever heard of. Douglas Thompkins – who founded The North Face and Esprit Clothing – spent most of his fortune buying large areas of Patagonia. Before he died a few years back, he proposed to the Chilean Government that he would donate over one-million acres of restored land if the government also contributed. In return, the country ended up donating around 9-million acres. All together they formed the Patagonia National Park System – 10-million acres spread across eight different parks  – more than 3 times the size of Yellowstone and Yosemite combined.  

 

Q: What were you listening to or reading while on the road?

I gave Tool’s new album a good go, they’re still writing incredible music. I read Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. He wrote the quote, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few."

 

Q: For anyone inspired by this trip, what 3 tips can you recommend before setting out on a similar adventure?

  1. Do some research 
  2. Pack minimal gear
  3. Be flexible

You can follow Todd's work on Instagram here

If you're in the Northern Rivers Todd has an exhibition in Yamba at Blanc Space

MINDSCAPES EXHIBITION
21 December - 6-9pm
Blanc Space ~ Yamba

Todd's Pick - The Utility Bag in Bush colour. Use the code "AtacamaDesert" to get 20% off your order (expires Dec 15)