Life-long friends, Daniel and Virginia Serio, took me to the foot of Aconcagua mountain yesterday. It was a dramatic view on a spectacular day with sharp gusts of pure mountain air rippling across ponds of glacial water. On the way to the park from Mendoza we came across a puesto of La Difunta Correa, who could be best described as a folkloric Argentine saint who is called upon to assist travelers. The legend goes that around 1854 a woman tried to catch up with her husband, who had been forcibly recruited by the montoneros, carrying her infant with her through the San Juan desert. She eventually laid down in the shade of a tree and died of thirst while breast-feeding her baby who was found alive the following day. The tradition now is to leave bottles of water along roads in special alcoves in order to quench La Difunta Correa’s thirst and guarantee a safe journey.
I don’t know which site was more spectacular…and for the same reasons! Thousands and thousands of stacked plastic bottles of water sparkling in the afternoon sun, completely surrounding and overtaking the small religious stand….or South America’s highest mountain topped by a 300 meter deep glacier framed by emerald green grass and crystal clear water.
What photographer could resist either site? Both spaces are spectacles that have a hypnotic pull. So, Daniel (an exceptional mendocino photographer who I worked with in graduate school at the University of Iowa) and I go crazy, shooting every angle, composing, exposing, framing…and essentially applying the same aesthetic to both sites. A good photographer can take anything and make it interesting – that’s the challenge. I’m not really a mountain photographer and I don’t really know what I am going to use the images of La Difunta Correa for or what I want to communicate, but they will both go into my digital image library, cataloged with keywords and easily accessible. This is one aspect of the experience I wanted to address. There is a compulsion that photographers have to pursue the spectacle and define it their way. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as yesterday’s events, but it is about isolating what is different – what is extraordinary – taking ownership by recording it. The camera can frame up the majestic chaos of geology and it can dramatize the random offerings of passionate devotees.
When I began to edit the photographs in Lightroom from the trip and saw them next to each other, then I made the connection between the power of the two spaces. One space is a collaborative art installation that is a mythical tribute to human persistence and the struggle to survive against the elements, while it simultaneously represents mass consumption, branding of the essential element of water, and the absurdly beautiful repetition of transparent plastic globes. The prolonged degradation of the plastic means the bottles will continue to pile up higher and higher. The geology of the mountain spans millions of years – it’s grandeur reminds me how fleeting my presence here is….as does the mountain of bottles.