The Rodeo. Probably the most important festivity in Villa O’Higgins. People from close-by villages come round to join the party. In Argentina the notion of distance is not the same as in most European countries… often the closest village can be 100km away, if not more!
Half of the year, because of negative temperatures, snow and ice, Villa O’Higgins’ villagers have no contact with other people. I love my time alone, but I have no idea what it is like to live in an isolated place where the total amount of the inhabitants doesn’t reach 100 people. So few and then again too many… At the end of the 4th day I must have photographed and met half of the local population. I was invited to many houses where I was offered matte. And I was told many stories, which allowed me to have an idea of what it is like to live in Villa O’Higgins the whole year long, especially during winter, when life becomes harder, and moods too… The men leave the village to chop wood, and they’re away for 10 to 15 days. Women work in the house, look after the kids, cook. There’s no local bar to get together and chat or play some games. The men that stay behind drink. And neighbours get cross at each other.
Spring comes as a blessing! The warmer weather, sunny days and the rodeo is an event they all long for.
I had never been to a rodeo. My knowledge of rodeos was pretty restricted to what I had seen on television. I thought I was going to watch a bunch of cowboys rope and break wild horses.
The rodeo: the idea is to rope the horse’s legs and throw him down. If the horse breaks a leg and stays incapacitated it will be put to sleep… They rope the horse a few times and if the horse proves to be strong, they use it to mate the mares. If it doesn’t put much fight, they castrate it - the horse becomes more docile and easier to ride.
A horse was roped and it was lying on the floor. I saw a man taking a knife and walking proudly toward the horse. A gust of red and a few handfuls of white powder. It is done.
I turned my back and walked toward Fernando and two other men drinking wine. We shared a glass of wine. It felt good. I needed a drink to calm my stomach after what I had just watched. Yes, as a photographer I know the camera raises an invisible barrier creating a separation from the scene witnessed, but some things I rather not see.
Every person is living its own film, from the kid trying to slap the horse, the woman who stretches her strong arm in an attempt to grab the horse’s shadow to the strutting rider who takes off his riding boots to break the wild horse in bare feet…
A portrait of the human circus where we are both the spectators and the clowns, trying to prove our valour. All over the world.
Villa O’Higgins, a far and away village in deep Patagonia. A portrait of human society in a smaller scale. For better and worse.