Paolo Avila is a Chilean-born, high-performance athlete. Hyperactive by nature, he has never felt comfortable in the rhythm of normal life. When he was 25 years old, he decided to change course and take a camera to explore his limits in the most extreme environments on the planet. He has crossed glaciers, jungles, and deserts in South America, as well as other parts of the world, making reports and photographs for outdoor magazines.
Through his passion for his dreams, he has twice to be invited to be a photographer in world events, such as the Dakar Rally. He is currently supported by Lippi and Nikon, which have helped him to a high point in his work and personal life. They help him in each adventure, delivering technology, equipment, and support.
Words and images by Paolo Avila
Paolo is currently preparing for one of his toughest endeavors: to cross Campos de Hielo Sur (Southern Patagonian Ice Field) in Chilean Patagonia while shooting photos and making a documentary video for the Lippi brand. In this challenge he will make the most of his photographic and physical abilities to achieve excellence.
I prepared for the adventure and on July 26, 2019 I made my way to the Llaima Volcano located in the Conguillio National Park in the Araucanía region of Chile. My goal was to take pictures of survival courses in the high mountains. This trip also served to update my knowledge in survival, which is fundamental for my work, since I frequently live in borderline situations on glaciers and on volcanoes. The course teaches how to survive with almost nothing in the middle of snowy mountains. Part of the course is about making shelters in the middle of the snow to withstand storms and all that the mountain produces. Avalanche and mountain rescue techniques are also taught.
I usually travel only in South America, since that is where I live. There are few other photographers going where I like to go, therefore I undertake adventures mostly alone. In every adventure there are always challenges, which leads you to develop skills that you never believed that you could develop. These challenges test you and define you as a person and as a professional. On this particular trip, after several days living in snow caves, doing daily walks on ice, working and learning about rescue with ropes, we were attacked by a storm during the last night. The storm grew more violent and aggressive. We had whiteout conditions, temperatures around -20º C, and winds over 100 km/ h during the night.
The next day the storm continued as we began the walk out with almost no visibility. We began to descend from the mountain as a row of 14 people. I was located in the last position, to close the group, and see that no one was left behind. In a moment a gust of wind took me, and I tripped. I fell to the side, but nobody noticed. I remained there for a few seconds, covered in snow and without sight of anyone. I realized that I was lost and with every second I stayed there my chance of survival slipped away. I got up and tried to locate something that would give me direction, but it only looked white. I took off my glasses thinking it was the effect of those, but it was not. I could see only 30cm in front of me. I threw myself to the ground and I looked for the footprints of my classmates to find where they went down. I searched in a tight circle, and, luckily, I managed to find some traces that still weren’t covered by the storm. The next thing I did was slide down the mountain. I followed the tracks until I found my group and continued down the mountain safely.
Just as adventure challenges you, it also gives you moments of fun and sharing with friends. There were four of us in our our survival cave, two men and two women. During the night we talked and laughed a lot. At one point my friend Nicolas Palma Meyer, a mountain guide, put on a mountain hat and pretended that she was a sheep making a crazy face while cooking pasta for us. After a day of exhausting work climbing and learning, food and the good company of people who love the same things as you are priceless. The Llaima Volcano has unique places that surprise and amaze. The volcano was one of the greatest wonders of this adventure.
To be able to record your adventures, it is necessary to have batteries charged to capture the moments. Always keep your batteries warm and away from water and cold. When taking pictures of ice climbing, make sure you are well attached to the ice and always keep the equipment straps attached to your body to avoid either you or your equipment falling.
I always face adventures with the idea of showing a person in the midst of some of the most extreme environments on the planet. I love telling interesting stories of overcoming obstacles. I'm always looking for the limits of my abilities. For me, my work means passion, dedication, and life. I want to live this way, always looking for the perfect light in the toughest environments on the planet. If you want to see more of my work, please follow me on Instagram @paolophotojournalist.
I currently own the f-stop Tilopa, which has accompanied me across the deserts, jungles, and mountains of South America and the Sahara in Morocco. It is an exceptional backpack.
I am also sponsored by Nikon, who supplied the following equipment; Nikon D4s, Nikon 70-200mm f2.8, Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f2.8, and the Nikon 50mm f1.8. See them on Instagram at @nikonchile.
I am always grateful to those who trust and support my job of documenting the places I visit in my adventures.