28 September 2017

The Last Frontier of Civilisation

28 September 2017 - Written by IC Visual Lab

Co-ordinated by Nicolás Janowski, Adrift in Blue is a transmedia project that re-imagines the first encounter between white men and the aborigine cultures inhabiting the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.

© Nicolás Janowski, from the book, El Fin del Mundo

Since circa 8,000 BC, indigenous populations of different cultures have lived on the archipelago of Tierra Del Fuego: the Selk’nam, Yamana, and Kawesqar people. All of these tribes had a nomadic lifestyle, and lacked permanent shelters. As Patricio Guzman poetically narrates in his documentary Nostalgia of the Light, these cultures had a very close connection to the Universe; they painted their bodies emulating starry skies as they thought they would become at one with of them after their death. After different European expeditions, these ethnical groups were killed both by exposure to European diseases and through an extermination campaign by ranchers who offered a bounty to hunters for killing the indigenous populations.

Among all the Europeans that travelled to this land, I would like to mention Martin Gusinde, a German missionary, who undertook research journeys to Tierra del Fuego between 1918 and 1924. The objective was to explore the different groups of Tierra del Fuego Indians and of course to convert the native people. He stayed in the region for 22 months in total. He was allowed to participate in the initiation rites of the groups he studied. Photography was an important aspect of Gusinde’s scientific and humanistic endeavour, and The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego is the first book to address this aspect of his work in its own right. Comparing his field notes with the 1,200 images preserved in mission archives, it became clear that many of his photographs did not so much record daily life and ritual, but rather, reconstructed, recreated, and reenacted.

© Nicolás Janowski, from the book, El Fin del Mundo

Tierra del Fuego is also the context for El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) by Nicolás Janowski, a photobook recently published by CHACO Books with the support of La Kursala. Janowski received a BA in Anthropology and later studied photography in Paris and Argentina, where he originates.

In this book, Janowski, rather than trying to collect visual evidence of the present, constructs a journey back to the past in order to discuss that moment when the ‘white men’ first met the aboriginal groups. In opposition to Gusinde’s photographs, he uses the language of photography to re-imagine an historical event. He proposes a return to the belonging and to the love for the place of the first inhabitants and the first settlers. He re-imagines a piece of land where the experiential, magical and sensitive predominate.

The reading experience is designed as a trip; the viewer is adrift in the violent waters of the sea, and we travel through a strange and changing past. The book itself acquires the form of a logbook used by travellers to write annotations about management, operation and navigation of the ship but also about the weather conditions, significant events, crew complements or what ports were docked in and when. These logs are included in the book as textual elements (extracted from ships' logs from European expeditions) but also in the form of visual sequences.

There wasn’t any land1

Looking straight to the south2

A string of storms3

Sways violently 4

© Nicolás Janowski, from the book, El Fin del Mundo

There is a constant blue dominance throughout, a melancholic tone of despair that washes this new imaginary land, stripped away by the new colonisers. This strategy helps the viewer to let their imagination run wild, assuming that the meaning of these images is something that needs to be worked out between the author and the reader. Images appear as vanished traces of the symbols that were part of Tierra del Fuego inhabitants’ mythology such as the fire, the moon, or the fox.

These inhabitants are also included as faded representations on a tracing paper section - abstractions that are hardly visible: a rebelled attitude against the traditional figurative trophy representation of ‘the other’ made by the Europeans like Gusinde. The images in the book are very texturised. The surface becomes an entrance to a different world; a world where the viewer is confronted. The short distance and the full bleed help to embed us into this land of no promises. It’s a first person view; the view of an inhabitant searching for his own habitat, a journey of coming and going, of discovering and escaping - ultimately a journey of life and death.

© Nicolás Janowski, from the book, El Fin del Mundo

This book is an extension of Adrift in Blue, a transmedia project that combines photography, audio, video, poetry and other graphic materials which can be visited at


Adrift in Blue

Photography: Nicolás Janowski // Web & Transmedia: Juliana Salvans // Narrative Sound: Joaquín Cofreces


El Fin del Mundo

Photography: Nicolás Janowski // Concept & Design: Verónica Fieiras & Martín Bollati

Edition: Verónica Fieiras, Martín Bollati and Nicolas Janowski // Text: Luis de Lasa

Prepress: La Troupe // Printing: Grafilur Arte Gráfico // Size: 165 mm x 240 mm // Pages: 111

Paper: Munken Lynx 120 gr - Translucent de 100 gr

This book has been published in collaboration with Kursala, Universidad de Cadiz

First Edition, June 2017 // Published in Spain by CHACO



Nicolas Janowski is an Argentine photographer based in Buenos Aires.

Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as designer and editor at ICVL Studio.

Written by

IC Visual Lab

Reading time

6 minutes

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