With his research into the natural world, British scientist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) set down the cornerstone for the theory of evolution. Contrary to popular belief, he did not begin his explorations on the Galapagos Islands, but a few years earlier on the northern coast of Argentina, and then in Patagonia. Darwin wrote down his observations of the Patagonian people and landscapes in his diary, which could be considered an early socio-anthropological study. In the run up to his work, Brazilian photographer Marcio Pimenta tried to reconstruct and follow Darwin’s routes. Equipped with a Leica M10 and a Leica SL2-S, he examined the traces left behind by the biologist. He spoke with us about the preparations and approach for this complex project, and about his views for the future.
Can you explain the title of your Finding Darwin project, which was shot between October, 2022 and April, 2023?
Coming across Charles Darwin’s travel diaries, I became captivated by his narratives around the culture, history, and nature of Patagonia. Finding Darwin originated from the question: could one discover the traces Darwin left behind in Patagonia? This project constitutes an in-depth exploration of the spectres of Charles Darwin that still resonate to this day.
What did you want to show about Darwin’s explorations?
The proposed goal was to travel by land and sea, tracing the paths Darwin once trod, documenting his socio-anthropological observations, the landscapes, and the enduring legacy in Patagonia. However, I discovered much more than anticipated.
What are the outcomes of your examination?
The initial outcomes of the expedition that I can share here are: 1) Nearly everything described by Darwin in his journals is still observable; 2) I encountered scientists who continued Darwin’s legacy, discovering even older fossils, including the largest dinosaur ever found (Patagonian); 3) I uncovered things unseen by Darwin, such as the footprints of Mylodon darwinii; 4) I concluded that Charles Darwin’s global journey not only resulted in a theory that revolutionized our world view, but also provided Darwin with the opportunity for profound self-discovery.
What is your focus there?
The focus of this project extends beyond Charles Darwin’s scientific legacy, delving into his personal growth and self-discovery throughout this journey. The project aligns with the mission of the National Geographic Society, aiming to educate about the interconnection between exploration, science, nature, evolution, and the importance of environmental preservation and diversity, to illuminate and safeguard the wonders of our world.
What aspects did you want to highlight?
Almost everything has been said about Charles Darwin. There are hundreds of biographical books or discussions on the theory of the origin and evolution of species. But there is little about his time in Patagonia, and even fewer visual references, as they didn’t have on-board cameras at that time. I wanted to highlight the young Darwin, open to the possibilities that unfolded before him, his insatiable curiosity, and his flaws as well. The grand adventure that led him to become a man.
It seems that you did a lot of research before hand. How did you prepare yourself for the project?
Two years of intensive research preceded the expedition, covering bibliography, geography and visualizations. Discovering authors who had explored Darwin’s locales was crucial. Collaborating with scientists served as a vital guiding light for the expedition’s success. Beyond bibliographic preparation, substantial logistical planning was imperative.
Did you talk to scientists a lot?
I met scientists everywhere I photographed. Talking with scientists is a light that illuminates our paths. Their collaboration was fundamental to the success of this expedition.
You live in Patagonia. Please explain how you are influenced by the environment and daily life scenarios in the region.
Patagonia is, to me, one of the Earth’s finest places. The end of the world. Our ultimate frontier. A place where modern civilization was slow to reach. Its inhospitable climate and low population density strongly captivated me. The landscapes, geology, and wildlife of Patagonia serve as a reminder that the Earth is a living entity, with a history far longer than our presence on the planet.
What do you think will happen to Patagonia in the future, let’s say 20-30 years from now?
Everything flows. Nothing stays the same. Reality is in motion. Everything is in constant change. I just hope that Patagonia transforms at its own pace and not under the accelerated demands of humanity.
You work as a photographer, film maker and speaker. What does photography mean to you?
For me, photography is more than an art; it is the language through which I connect with the world. As a child, my lack of skill in soccer, a serious matter in Brazil, kept me on the sidelines. It was then that my father gifted me a simple camera, opening a channel of communication by capturing my classmates’ games. This simple gesture not only bound me to photography but also rescued me from loneliness during my academic years.
How do you think photography can make people more aware about certain topics?
Photography, more than an art, is a powerful tool for education. By showcasing landscapes described in Darwin’s journals, I hope to awaken the understanding that preservation ensures that future generations know and value the heritage we share. Each image is a narrative, and through this journey, I aim to share not only Darwin’s legacy, but also the beauty and fragility of our planet, prompting reflections on our role as guardians of the Earth.
Born in 1975, Marcio Pimenta holds a Bachelor in Economics from the University of Salvador, a Master in World Politics from the University Santiago de Chile, and a Doctorate in International Relations, with a specialization in American Studies. In his photographic work he focuses on human and sociocultural issues, identity and climate change. His work has featured in multiple print and online publications worldwide, including National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and El País. He has received numerous awards for his environmental reporting. In 2016 and 2017, Pimento was in Iraq to cover the war against the Islamic State and the rebirth of the Yazidis women. This worked resulted in his first photo book, Yazidis (2020). His second book, Man and Earth, was published in 2023. He divides his time between Patagonia and Porto Alegre, Brazil. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram page.