The Granite Avatars of Patagonia, Reviewed

Posted on December 8, 2013 by Amy Lenzo

granite-book-coverThe Granite Avatars of Patagonia
Photographs and Text by Tom Reed, 2009
Hardback, $49.95
Published by Wild Coast Media

Reviewed by Amy Lenzo

This first book by Tom Reed sets the pattern I saw in his most recent book, Moved by a Mountain: Inspiration from an Alpine View in Alaska (reviewed elsewhere in Gatherings) – exquisite black and white photography set in full-page display with smaller color inserts woven in with the accompanying insightful stream-of-consciousness text. The aesthetic for both books is clean, clear, and extremely beautiful – almost Japanese in its simplicity.

Thom Reed Photography
Dr Shozo Sato, Professor Emeritus in Japanese Aesthetics at the University of Illinois and long-time teacher of the author, likens Reed’s photography to the sumi-e paintings of China and Japan in his Forword to the book. In his introduction, he locates Reed’s photographic choices, technique, and “eye” within Japan’s ancient creative tradition, as work infused with subtlety and spiritual understanding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReed’s stunning book of contemplative insight, imagery, and prose tells the story of his pilgrimage to El Chatlèn, Argentina, to pay homage to the granite spires of the Andes. It is also a spiritual odyssey undertaken by a pilgrim with keen insight and an inquiring mind that takes nothing at surface value and looks for both his ground and transcendence in the beauty of the natural world.

Reed’s petitions and prayers on this pilgrimage are the photographs themselves. His choice of black and white format serves the shining ice and blinding snow and the deep shadow of these dramatic mountain portraits perfectly, with his distinctive red chop and white brush-pen date reminding us that a human eye is contemplating their beauty and sharing them with us.

From what I can tell, creating this book was a deliberate act of kindness and compassion for all of humanity on Reed’s part, one man’s expression of the Bodhisattva vow to dedicate the results of one’s work for the awakening of all sentient beings:

“It occurs to me that people need to see these colossal carvings – to remind them of the Sacredness of Nature, and of the insignificance of “I”. If everyone could hike alone here, the world would probably be different. I think better. If they can’t come to the mountain, I can bring the mountain to them, through my photographs. I decide to undertake a project: to create a book of photographs of these two sacred immense sculptures, Cerro Torre and El Chaltèn.”

As in his most recent book, Moved by a Mountain, the text that accompanies Reed’s photography illuminates the spiritual thought behind what we are seeing and expands our understanding of it.

I love this description of the experience of awe that is at the spiritual
core of what appears to have driven Reed from the beginning of this career through to today:

“This state I am now in – the state of awe … could be the most powerful emotion I know. It’s so powerful it has the potential to wipe other emotions away, and has the potential to wipe the perceived owner of the emotions away too. The majesty may bring one to his knees, the glory may cause one to raise arms as if to scream hallelujah. In my case, I am stunned and stilled. It’s a spiritual experience, not different from what I imagine it would be like to see God. My eyes receive the sight of the spectacle before me and the image seems to course through my tissues as if to re-educate me viscerally. Each cell of me now knows what Nature is capable of creating – a sculpture of proportions beyond my imagination. The grandeur has literally blown my mind. The radiation of splendor has incinerated my ego.”


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Tom Reed is trained as a geographer, and is a wilderness photographer and author who has worked as a surveyor, river guide, sailor, fisherman, somatic therapist, artist, carpenter, martial artist and, currently, a hypnotherapist. Reed lives in northern California, where he also offers slide presentations to clubs and organizations.

His books and photographs are available at (be sure to check out his excellent blog)

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