Belgian photographer Jan De Roos travelled to the southernmost tip of South America in search of the end of the world. What he found, in the rugged landscapes of Patagonia, didn’t disappoint. We asked him about the year he spent traveling and working there, and got a few photography tips from him too.
What do you do for a crust?
I'm from Gent, in Belgium. I love living there, though I miss having any untouched nature close by. At the moment I do some freelance photography stuff, and work as a decoration assistant in movies. I’ve also started baking artisanal bread for friends and family; maybe that's the future.
What took you to Patagonia?
I saw a documentary called 180° South, which follows photographer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia. I’d never seen any footage of Patagonia before and the wild nature left my breathless.
There were environmental issues in that area that interested me, too, so me and a friend decided to fly to Chile to travel trough Patagonia. We bought a small van in Santiago and one night with a lot of beers had the idea: let's drive to Ushuaia – a town on the southernmost tip of South America. It’s nicknamed “The End of the World”. We didn't even have a map of the road, we just took off. We ended up staying for four months.
Three years passed by and almost every day I dreamt of going back. The landscapes and people had left a deep impression on me. So in September 2014 I travelled back to Patagonia to stay for a longer time and make a photography project about it. The photos that became La Memoria Del Viento show those breathtaking landscapes, as well as a glimpse into the local culture of Patagonia. It also represents a personal quest: for isolation.
Did you meet anyone there who stuck with you?
One day on a rafting trip we hit some terrible weather and found shelter with a German woman who lived alone in a wooden cabin that she had built by herself. Many years ago when almost no foreigners visited Patagonia, she had travelled trough the area on motorbike, fell in love with it and decided to stay. Now she herds cattle. I was really impressed with how she has been able to become part of this man-only world and gain respect from the local habitants.
What kinds of things do you like to photograph?
When I’m traveling I focus on landscape and documentary style photography. Back home I love to shoot food or what comes on my way. It's fun to shoot a techno party and a newborn baby on the same day.
If you look at my work there are no portraits or staged events: it's just not in my strength to walk straight towards a stranger and ask them if I can take a picture. I love to keep it natural, take time to get to know people. The best pictures were taken when the people forgot I was holding a camera.
When did you become a photographer?
I started taking pictures in 2008 when I went studying abroad in Helsinki, Finland. Before that I never had a camera, nor was I interested in taking pictures. But before I left, I asked my mom to lend me her small camera – a really basic one. While in Finland I started taking a lot of pictures and began to share them with friends. That year I travelled to Australia, and my passion for photography started growing. It was never my goal to make my job out of photography; it just happened naturally. My main focus was always the love of traveling.
What equipment do you use?
I have a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70MM 2.8 Lens. It performs really well for me in different circumstances.
Do you have any advice for photographers just starting out today?
When I look back at my own evolution as a photographer over the past few years, I can see the main things that I learned were patience and courage. Photography can feel like a love-hate relationship. There were times I didn't take any photos for months and thought of selling all my stuff because I didn't find any pleasure in it any more. But I had to keep the dream alive that one day I would be able to work on a project like this.
You can check out the rest of Jan’s photos over on JanDeRoos.tumblr.com