Silverthorne resident photographs Patagonia for new book
‘Portrait of Patagonia: Futaleufú, Chile’ captures river valley in full color
The water is in another hemisphere, yet Chile’s Futaleufú River is a destination that has captured the heart of Silverthorne resident Alex Nicks. The kayaker and photographer has been visiting the region since 1997. Now, he wants to highlight the valley in the middle of Patagonia for all to see in the new book, “Portrait of Patagonia: Futaleufú, Chile.”
“The Futaleufú, for kayakers, is kind of like Hawaii for surfers,” Nicks said. “It is one of the most spectacular, feisty, Class 5 runs on the planet.”
Nicks is one to know his expert-rated, Class 5 whitewater. Growing up in England, he was on the British freestyle kayaking team and named a European champion. He started the sport in high school and has since traveled around the world to kayak in places like Iran, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even the White Nile.
“For me, I like the fact that I don’t have to wait for somebody to throw me a ball to be involved in the sport,” Nicks said. “I love that it takes you inadvertently to all of these crazy places.”
Nicks entered the realm of film and photography via kayaking. In the late ’90s, he got a job working on the Zambezi River in Africa to shoot rafting trips and get paid for what was only previously a hobby. Nicks was a Class 5 kayaker at that stage, and he said it was easier to train someone how to use a camera than to train a photographer how to paddle the rapids.
His big break was a National Geographic job for a sea-kayaking series called “Oceans 8” — not to be confused with the fictional heist films — that took Nicks around Polynesia, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, the coast of Croatia and Tasmania. Recently, he shot a pilot for a Netflix TV show in Tanzania and filmed people diving in the Marinas Trench.
“Portrait of Patagonia: Futaleufú, Chile” by Liz McGregor and Alex Nicks
BoonDocs, October 2021
194 pages, $70, hardcover
Available from PortraitOfPatagonia.com
The love of kayaking, as well as skiing and mountain biking, is what later brought him to Colorado. When not traveling for work, Nicks will generally spend his summers in Colorado and winters in Chile to be able to kayak year-round.
One of his favorite places to go in Colorado is the Gore Canyon by Kremmling, particularly because the dam makes it a steady stream.
“It’s probably the most reliable Class 5 piece in the state,” Nicks said.
Of all the places he’s shot, the book focuses on Chile because of seasons of working with Bio Bio Expeditions on the Futaleufú. The 65-mile river starts at Los Alerces National Park in Argentina, connecting the two countries as it flows out to the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way, there’s the eponymous agricultural town that was founded in 1912. Over 3,300 people live in Futaleufú today, and Nicks tries to document the farmers, ranchers and empanada makers, as well as the mighty river. He wanted to balance the clear, turquoise water with what he calls a modest and resourceful group of people living rustically, using oxen to get wood from the hills to build houses.
“It’s partially a love story to them, because they’re quite awesome people,” Nicks said. “You could combine that with the natural aspect, and it’s a recipe for success in terms of visual presentation. I think it looks beautiful.”
Since 2000, river tourism is the main economic activity for the area. Nicks said anywhere south of Santiago has the snowmelt and precipitation needed for the whitewater. The routes vary from very low-volume creeks all the way to massive, multiday self-support trips as adventurers head farther south into Patagonia.
“It’s quite a lifeline actually,” Nicks said. “The rafting industry has brought in a lot of work and money. … There’s some wild country there, and we try to portray that in the book. It’s exquisitely beautiful.”
Another Bio Bio guide, Liz McGregor, approached Nicks with the idea of “Portrait of Patagonia.” Based in Newcastle, Maine, McGregor also lives seasonally in Chile. Nicks had inadvertently started building a library of photos since 2011, and the book started to take shape roughly five years ago to document the area they adore.
“Sometimes with artists and photographers, you need somebody else to be a catalyst just to push you over the edge; otherwise, you just hang on to it and never do anything with it,” Nicks said.
Nicks said pulling out the photos for the book was almost like choosing a favorite child. It took time to gather and organize the shots — and some were left on the cutting room floor — but he said it was better to have too much than not enough.
“It’s time consuming, but it’s a labor of love. This project is not a very sensible financial enterprise,” Nicks said, laughing.
The book is mainly Nicks’ photos, but McGregor contributed her own, as well, such as a set focusing on a local rodeo. While Nicks naturally grew his landscape and whitewater photos over time, they also had to hunt to cover additional cultural and personal aspects of the community. Other photos in the book, namely historical ones, came from Casa de Cultura in Futaleufú.
Writing the brief introductions to the chapters based on sections of the river was a team effort, and McGregor’s Costa Rican husband did the Spanish translations that appear next to each English paragraph. The book is set to release in Chile, too.
Pages are mostly collages of photos aside from the intermittent text as readers won’t see captions next to the images. Rather, the captions are grouped and placed at the end of the book. Nicks and McGregor wanted people to absorb the photos by themselves and then read the captions if they need more information.
“I think that’s one of the appeals of photography,” Nicks said in comparison to film. “It’s a little more mercurial. It’s a sort of an unspoken story. People can sort of ascribe what they like to it.”
The coronavirus pandemic meant Nicks hasn’t been back to Chile since he left in February 2020. However, the pair luckily had wrapped up the photographic component at that time. Some subjects have since died, and “Portrait of Patagonia” released in October to show life in Futaleufú before it changes too much due to climate or industrialization.
“As we go forward, there are less and less sections of wilderness in world, so this stuff is quite precious,” Nicks said.
Though a long ways away, Nicks’ next project is a book based on his time in Africa to tell the story of the wildlife and conservation efforts he witnessed there.
Jefferson Geiger is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Explore Summit. Email him at email@example.com.
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