WALTER ROIL'S PATAGONIA
Born on January 24th, 1904 in Freiburg, Germany, Walter Roil dreamed of a career as a musician, but finally became a photographer after beginning his apprenticeship with Hartmann in 1920.
In 1926 he was commissioned to work on the province of Chabut in Argentina, but the wind, the desolate landscape and loneliness drove him back to Germany.
However, the economic situation there forced a return to Argentina; and on November 17th, 1934 he opened his studio in Rio Gallegos, capital of Santa Cruz province.
A portraitist, Roil also documented the daily life around him in all its harshness: arid terrain occupied by sheeps and gauchos, the port where merchant ships put in, and the schooners and even small boats doing battle with the icebergs.
His uvre recounts thirty years of the history of this land where the end of the world merged with the sky, snow and ice mingled with sand, aviators were heroes and the London Hotel in Ushuaia welcomed the curious and the intrepid.
To appreciate Roil’s style we need to consider of the difficulty of working when wind-driven clouds produce an endlessly changing light and bright sunlight relentlessly flattens the contours of the landscape.
Patiently Roil composed his ode to this infinite space where people were few, time was suspended and life was made of tiny details.
In addition to his own pictures on glass plates, Roil salvaged archival material relating to the area’s aboriginal people and the saga of Aeroposta Argentina – images the tourists of the time could buy for a few pesos.
Lovingly preserved by Roil’s family, this moving, sincere body of work is a tribute to the Patagonia which, for French writer Blaise Cendrars, “consoles one’s immense sadness”.
Agnès de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, curator.