Lost and Found

(© Ian Plant) Just over a week ago, in the backcountry wilds of Patagonia, I made a sunrise image that I had been dreaming of for years. It was taken at one of my favorite locations beneath iconic Mount Fitz Roy, a place I had photographed many times, but only at sunset. As the peaks don’t get light at sunset, I had always wanted to shoot this location at sunrise, mainly because a sunrise shot would likely be more saleable (light on Fitz Roy is a sure winner). My first try there failed to get interesting light, but the second sunrise was the charm. With golden light on the stone face of Fitz Roy and a dramatic sweeping storm cloud above, my three year wait was finally over.

The next morning, while shooting along the Rio Fitz Roy many miles away, I discovered to my dismay that my media card wallet, where I kept all of my CF cards, had disappeared—and two weeks of shooting along with it. Luckily, most images from my trip had already been backed up on my laptop, but the previous morning’s shoot was lost. Gone was my epic sunrise. Gone was the dream.

I scoured the location of my morning shoot, but to no avail. Not certain when or where I had lost the wallet, I decided to retrace my steps to the last place where I had changed cards, a location seven miles away. As I neared the place, my heart began to thump with anticipation, but deep down I knew that this story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Sure enough, my wallet was nowhere to be seen. It dawned on me that I must have lost the wallet during my morning shoot on the Rio Fitz Roy. I suspect that the infamous wind of Patagonia was the culprit, snatching the wallet from my camera bag (carelessly left open in my rush to photograph sunrise), spun by the wind into the swollen river, never to be seen by human eyes again.

I had no choice but to return to my dream spot and hope against all hope of getting another epic sunrise. Conditions conspired against me, and I never got a repeat of the sunrise I had captured and lost. I had one anemic sunrise with much of Fitz Roy cloaked in fog, and then three days straight of rain and cloudy skies. One evening, however, I did get a pretty good sunset. I really didn’t want another sunset from this location, but I had found a composition that was much better than the compositions I had made in years before. I guess I should be satisfied with that, but I suspect I will return next year to give sunrise another try.

No moment lasts beyond its fleeting nanoseconds of existence, one moment passing to the next in the endless parade of the seamless passage of time. Not even our memories can capture a moment—they can only hazily record a caricature of the moment, one that recedes with time into the ever increasing fog of forgetfulness. This is what makes photography so special, so unique, among art forms—with a photograph, we can freeze a moment, a slice of reality, and preserve it against the ravages of time. This is our great opportunity as photographers, and our great responsibility: to faithfully capture the moment, to reveal and preserve its true essence. If we fail, either through technical mistakes, lack of artistic vision, or even carelessly leaving a media card wallet exposed to the mercurial Patagonian wind, then the moment is lost forever.

Sometimes I imagine that my blue media card wallet, after washing down the Rio Fitz Roy, eventually makes its way to sea, at which point, bourn by the wind and tides, is free to travel anywhere in the world. If it washes up on a shore near you, let me know—there’s a certain sunrise image that I’m hoping to find again.

Sunset, Mount Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina

Sunset, Mount Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina

You can see some more of my recent Patagonia images on my photoblog in two recent posts: Square Pegs and Round Holes and A Dark and Stormy Night.

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