El Chalten, December 2010
Residing in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, the small town of El Chalten was initially made in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile. With that issue now very much rooted in its past, it is the town’s proximity to Mt. Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre that has turned it into an alluring destination for both mountaineers and tourists alike.
The series of landscapes, taken over the course of a five-day stay in the town are an observation of an area in the midst of a notable transition. Shot in December 2010, the series depicts the place as it stood at this specific moment in time. As with anything in its infancy, changes are extensive and notable. Walking around the town, one can simultaneously be aware of it’s past, present and impending future. With the beauty of the natural surroundings as a backdrop, one cannot help but think of the relationship between the naturally occurring landscape and its man made counterpart.
At the near end of town lies a grid of prefabricated houses, reminiscent of those photographed by Robert Adams in his series The New West. Beyond this, the solidity of the concrete road deteriorates into tracks of mud and rubble, where new networks of streets are born out of the surface of the earth.
Views of these uninhabited streets, preemptively lined with streetlights, lead onto the vast wilderness of the snow-capped peaks of the Patagonian Andes. New houses appear sporadically. Unlike the familiar architectural style of the prefab houses, each construction is of a differing, thrown together style, placed at an unsympathetic angle to the next. The often-brutal weather conditions of the area mean that building progress is slow and infrequent. Finishing touches are often half completed or neglected all together, leaving buildings looking unfinished, despite their occupancy, and dilapidated, despite their relative newness.
At the far end of town, one realises that El Chalten's isolated location is fundamental to the development of this aesthetic. Far from the picture-postcard villages of the Swiss Alps, it is a town that has been left to its own devices, a community of early settlers where a harmonious architectural style has yet to be established.
Does mans presence in the area diminish it’s natural beauty? Inevitably, yes, but what this place makes us realise, is that beauty beyond the archetypal, open and unpopulated landscape also exists. It is clear that what we are witnessing is not the banal, but indeed, the sublime.