Patagonia is a transformed landscape. It is a land of immense beauty – a strikingly wild and untamed wildness; a mecca of exploration – but from some angles it has changed beyond recognition. The vast glacier-scape invaluably captured by Father de Agostini in the mid-1900s is not the Patagonia of today. The land has been metamorphosed from a relic of the ice age to a visual representation of change in the modern world. The On the Trail of the Glaciers expedition is documenting this spectacle.
Off the back of three expeditions to some of the world’s most important glacial regions – the Karakoram, Caucasus and Alaska – in 2016 the On the Trail of the Glaciers project is undertaking its fourth expedition, to the Andes. The currently ongoing 2-month project began in early February and is nearing its completion, led by talented Italian photographer and documentary maker Fabiano Ventura whose vision it has been to create the world’s first documented archive of global glacial retreat.
Covering thousands of kilometres of Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, Ventura is following the route taken by Italian priest and photographer Alberto Maria de Agostini, who photographed the region’s glaciers in the mid-1900s. Ventura and his team are practicing the art of comparative photography, returning to exact locations of de Agostini’s expedition to visually explain glacial change over a sixty-year period through high-impact comparative photography.
The Torres Del Paine National Park was the expedition’s base in early March, travelling on horseback and on foot into remote regions to begin comparative photography. Following the trail of de Agostini has led Ventura’s team to wild and remote places, including to mountain summits in stormy Patagonian weather where rocks, shadows and natural features are used to determine the exact location and time of de Agostini’s original photographs. Ventura is subsequently producing identically positioned repeats.
More recently the expedition has moved onto the Los Glaciares National Park – the ‘glacier capital’ in the words of Ventura – and with their expedition’s objectives pleasing the authorities of the National Park, vehicles and local rangers have been provided to grant access to the most remote and protected areas of the region.
Researchers within the expedition team are producing ground-breaking 3D modelling of glacial change using a combination of on-the-ground photography and drone and satellite images. This allows for the monitoring of glacial condition and for the forecasting of expected change into the future. Like in past expeditions for the On the Trail of the Glaciers Project, a documentary is also being shot throughout the expedition to document Ventura’s journey and to raise public awareness through high-impact visual recordings of the expedition.
“Once again I noticed considerable ice shrinkage, and where there was once a winding white tongue of ice there was a rock-strewn valley ending four kilometres downstream in a lake four kilometres in length that reaches the present glacial front” – Fabiano Ventura
The On the Trail of the Glaciers expedition has visually affirmed the startlingly change occurring in the glacial regions of the world as a result of climate change and the extent of glacial retreat – captured in Ventura’s repeat/comparative photography – is truly remarkable. The appearance of lakes and forests in areas previously glaciated has transformed the land beyond recognition. Besides the photographic evidence of change, Ventura has also witnessed it first-hand by capturing the rare spectacle of a bursting glacier, with an ice wall of the Perito Moreno glacier collapsing into a lake.
The archive that the expedition is aiming to build will be a world first and Ventura’s high-impact photography has the capacity to transform public awareness of the wide-reaching impact of climate change. However Ventura’s expedition is equally a remarkable journey in itself, exploring and documenting one of the world’s last great wildness areas and the stories and photographs being shared from the expedition prove that Patagonia remains a mecca for adventure and exploration.
The On the Trail of the Glaciers expedition continues next year in the Himalayas, before concluding in 2019 in the Alps. You can follow the progress of the expedition here:
Main Photo Credit: Miguel Vieira