PARANÁ RA’ANGA: Image of the Paraná

Twenty-four photos, twenty-four horizons of the Paraná, skies and rivers photographed on twenty-four days of navigation from the Tigre Delta in Argentina to Asunción in Paraguay. A timeless trip up this immense river into deep America.
In March 2010 I took a boat up the Paraná, from Tigre to Corrientes, and thence to Asunción, following the River Paraguay. It was an expedition to commemorate the legendary sixteenth-century voyage commanded by Ulrich Schmidl, and was – like that first outing – sponsored by Spain, through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation. A group of us – intellectuals, scientists and artists – were invited to follow in Schmidl’s footsteps and give a contemporary view of the same settings surveyed and described by him over four hundred years ago. The project was dubbed Paraná ra’anga, a Guaraní term meaning ‘image of the Paraná’, and we boarded our Noah’s Ark one by one: painters, engravers, film-makers, documentary-makers, geographers, astronomers, writers, poets, engineers, draughtsmen, gastronomes, sound engineers, musicians from various genres, a group of young scholarship holders, and I myself as the expedition’s photographer.
The original idea was that we participants would develop individual projects about the Paraná River and the journey itself, and mine was to photograph this majestic river, where my own sense of time changed pace to adapt to the monotone droning of the engines amid the vastness of the natural setting. Paraguay, our cruise boat, plied the massive river at three knots, making barely any progress against the forward thrust of the water; from the deck, the riverbanks looked quite motionless. We went about our on-board activities and only later, when we turned to look back, that little hill on one bank that had formed such a landmark for so long was now lost in our wake – the real proof we weren’t standing still and that, in spite of the sense of motionless, our boat was travelling upriver.
Accustomed to the varied stimuli of the city, the eyes slowly began to adjust to our new environment: an endless plain of water between distant banks, with only minimal changes in the features of the landscape. Quite naturally, my photographic record focused on the horizon: that thin line dividing skies and rivers that were changing from hour to hour.
The twenty-four photographs included in this series represent, metaphorically at least, each day of our journey and that motionless horizon. These images remind me of the sense of unreality I had when gazing out from the prow to a north as vague as it was distant, amid the brown camalote-carpeted water. I believe these photos also represent something unchangeable in nature – a time paused before it, the silence. They are quite simply a personal chronicle of the journey: my own image of the Paraná.

Facundo de Zuviría
Buenos Aires, September 2013

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