Carol Jones is a third-generation horse rancher who led Katrina and me on a two-day horseback trip through the foothills of the Andes here in northern Patagonia. I asked to make her portrait for a photography project I’m doing called 100 Strangers. The idea of the project, as the name implies, is to photograph one hundred strangers. Essentially it’s a baptism-by-fire method of becoming a better portrait photographer.
I knew immediately I wanted to photograph Carol for the project. There was such character in her features, her manner, and her attire — a feminine toughness from a life spent outdoors in the sun and the dust and the snow. As we set off from her ranch, I watched her up ahead riding a Norwegian Fjord, a wool sweater draped across her shoulders, a deer-horn handled knife tucked into the belt line of her pants. In a country famous for its cattle ranchers and guachos, Carol seemed to embody something of the spirit of Argentina.
My interest in photographing her only grew as the day progressed. As we climbed higher into the hills, Carol told us about leading horse expeditions in Wyoming and France and shared a little of her family’s history. Her grandfather, a Texan named Jarred Jones, had come to South America as a young man in the late 1880s and became the area’s first white settler. He established a cattle ranch along the headwaters of the Limay River near the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, drove cattle across the Andes, and built the area’s first general store, a building which remains open as a restaurant today. History says he even crossed paths briefly with the infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and “The Sundance Kid,” who had fled to Argentina and later Bolivia to escape the law.
By the time of his death, Jarred Jones had amassed thousands of hectares of land, which were later incorporated into Nahuel Huapi National Park but which remain privately owned today by Carol and her three siblings. For nearly thirty years Carol has organized pack-trips through the national parkland and private ranches, some as short as an afternoon, others as long as two weeks. Her land was virgin and unspoiled. From the arid steppe into the foothills we saw herds of beef cattle, sheep, and horses roaming freely in the vast terrain. Rocks and grass and earth. A cow bone. A spooked hare. A condor overhead.
I asked to take Carol’s portrait after we made camp for the evening. We had made a fire under a makeshift shelter built from tree limbs by deer hunters. The good light was arriving and Carol was pouring herself a mate and Katrina nudged me and whispered, “one hundred strangers,” which was the motivation I needed. I explained the project by saying I was making portraits of cien extraños, which made Carol’s ranch hand burst into laughter, extraño meaning both a stranger and a strange person. But Carol was good natured and agreed.
I asked Carol to walk with me to a rocky clearing where we could see the setting sun over the mountains. The light was still somewhat harsh and so I had to reposition Carol a handful of times before I was happy with the interplay of light and shadows around her eyes.
In the end, I’m pretty satisfied with this portrait. To me, her eyes show a serenity and honesty while her tanned skin and sweat-stained hat show grit. And that was precisely the impression I took away after spending two days with Carol Jones.