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  • December 1, 2014

When Falling Off a Horse is Part of the Job Description

I’ve admired Tomás Munita since first seeing his haunting images of the Atacama desert in 2010, when we honored the work with National Geographic’s All Roads Photography Award. But we never had the chance to meet in person until a year ago, when Tomás came by to show us his latest work. 

When Sarah Leen, our photo director, saw his new project about bagualeros—cowboys who round up feral livestock in the untamed lands of Chilean Patagonia—she liked it enough to pursue it for a feature in the magazine. We sent Tomás back to Patagonia for two more trips. The resulting story was published in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic.

It’s always fun to work with photographers on their first story for National Geographic because they’re usually surprised by the resources and support we can provide and by how much of a voice we give them in contributing to their story.

Bagualeros Abelino Torres (white hat), Dario Muñoz (black beret) and Jorge Vidal (blue beret) dry their clothes drinking mate, after a rainy day on the way to Sutherland in Peninsula Antonio Varas, Chilean Patagonia. January 9, 2014.
Bagualeros dry their clothes after a rainy day on the way to Sutherland in Antonio Varas Peninsula, in Chilean Patagonia.
All Photographs by Tomás Munita

In one sense, “Cowboys on the Edge” is a simple story grounded in a stunningly beautiful landscape and the intense camaraderie of the bagualeros. There’s something primal in this tradition of hunting dangerous wild animals, but also in how the cowboys care for their own animals—the horses and the dogs that are their companions. The men need to trust each other and their animals. I think both the tenderness and the brutality inherent in this way of life surface in the pictures.

In the video above you can see what it took for Tomás to make the photos—confronting savage bulls and positioning himself to frame the action, as well as practical matters of generating power in remote locations, and most crucial, trying to shoot without falling off his horse!

Jorge Vidal ties a cow they catch a couple of days earlier. Sutherland, Peninsula Antonio Varas, Chilean Patagonia. January 13, 2014.
Jorge Vidal ties up a cow the bagualeros caught a couple of days earlier on Antonio Varas Peninsula in Chilean Patagonia.

I was worried because I knew the bulls could be extremely dangerous, and that Tomás would have to get close to capture key moments. He is such a gentle soul. I had to remind myself that he has worked in conflict zones for the New York Times, and for the Associated Press, and that he knows how to take care of himself. Even so, this was a different kind of threat, when you have a bull charging at you full tilt. I just had to trust his judgment—that he would avoid taking foolish risks, and would have the wisdom to know how to handle the danger.  Luckily for us, he did.

See more images from the December 2014 feature story “Cowboys on the Edge.”

Related Story: For Patagonian Ranchers, a Family Gathering Means Barbecue and Rodeo

There are 11 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Kirsten
    December 13, 2014

    The feature story moved me to get choked up more than once, as well as smile with the warmth shared especially between Fuller and the bagualeros. Without Munita’s amazing photos, the story wouldn’t have made the emotional impact on me.

    Abelino – who’d just returned cold and bruised from tracking bagualeros – placed his coat over Fuller’s shoulders because he was so cold from dropping so much weight. Fuller wrote that “an abiding, instinctive kindness” is what impressed him most about the bagualeros. Munita’s photos capture that beautifully, tragically. All you have to do is look at the picture of Garcia and his dog post-hunt.

    The opening photo, of the bagualeros on horseback in the wilds of Patagonia took my breath away. It’s what made me want to dive into the story.

    Great photography, great writing. I’ll remember this one for a while.

  2. Rachel Manderas
    December 8, 2014

    So they take care of their own horses and dogs, yet are brutal to the feral bulls. How horrible.

  3. Rajeev Ranjan
    December 8, 2014

    all pics are awesome.

  4. PRINCE TRIPATHI
    December 8, 2014

    Best performance& real hero on the junglee life .

  5. isabel Hernandez Tibau
    December 5, 2014

    Yo vivo en Montevideo, Uruguay pero estoy en contacto con el campo. Conozco todas esas actividades que nos son comunes a Uruguay, Argentina y Chile también parte de Brasil aunque con algunas diferencias.. El campo y sus tareas son actividades muy interesantes y se realizan en ciertas ocasiones con la colaboración de los vecinos, como la Yerrra, cuando se marca el ganado, por ejemplo y muchos más.Es muy bueno que se hagan conocer estas cosas por eso les doyb las gracias. Las fotos buenísimas!!!

  6. Silas
    December 4, 2014

    Sarah & Elsie, it’s motivating to see that new stories receive support as well as a bit of funding to come alive.

  7. Rodrigo Ramirez
    December 2, 2014

    A great job, congratulations!

  8. nehal
    December 2, 2014

    top helpful and the best

  9. Nárjara
    December 2, 2014

    Last month i went to Patagonia and fell in love with the place.. congrats on the work, and im very happy to see such beautiful images of this magical place!

  10. Arshad Ali
    December 2, 2014

    want to see nature

  11. Soledad Campaña
    December 1, 2014

    great work and photos!!!

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