Sometimes momentous, life-changing decisions can only be made in a single, radical moment – as Claude Wegscheider might tell you.
After more than 20 years as the executive director for the Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta, helping grow the French culture-focused nonprofit organization in Atlanta to more than 1,500 members, some said Mr. Wegscheider was almost married to his job – something he doesn’t much dispute. He even received France‘s National Honor of Merit for his work at the Alliance.
But as a child growing up in Dunkirk, France, it was a photo of Patagonia, a region in South America that stretches into both Argenina and Chile known for its awe-inspiring glaciers and snow-capped mountains, which first piqued Mr. Wegscheider’s interest.
Unbeknownst to the child, both photography and Patagonia would become significant in his life.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be an explorer,” Mr. Wegscheider told Global Atlanta.
And though he would later travel the world before finally settling in Atlanta, visiting countries on nearly every continent and living abroad for nearly a decade in North Africa and India, for example, he always lamented that he never had the time to pursue his real passion: photography.
Of course, he greatly enjoyed his work with the Alliance, he admits, but even his yearly trips to the Sahara weren’t enough anymore.
“I needed something different,” he says. So, he retired – making what was a “radical” decision for him so quickly that even he was a little surprised at himself.
“Nobody believed in it, they thought I was married to my job, which I was to a certain degree, I suppose,“ Mr. Wegscheider told Global Atlanta. “I was probably the last one to know.”
Now, with two new photography books showcasing his world travels under his belt, Mr. Wegscheider says he hasn’t looked back.
His first book, “Patagonia: Los Glaciares & Torres del Paine,” captures the imaginings of the days of his childhood, where he first imagined home outside of France.
“This is the kind of place that sticks with you but also wooes you back,” he writes in the preface, describing the famous Argentina and Chilean national parks, respectively. “Once you’ve seen them, you’ll never forget them,” he said.
“Patagonia” does not disappoint either, featuring stunning vistas of the thousands-year-old glaciers and its wildlife.
For the book, Mr. Wegscheider traveled to the region several times over, arriving at different times in the season to capture the wildly-varying weather patterns typical to the region, alternating between wide-angle shots and macro photography to highlight the natural beauty of the land.
He plans to return in April.
“You can go back to even the same place, not only the same region, and come back with totally different pictures,” he says. “The weather is different, the ice, the snow.”
Mr. Wegscheider’s newer book, “Icescapes: From Mega to Macro,” also draws on that theme, focusing solely on various “mega” ice structures around the world before contrasting them with macro close-up shots – enriched by short personal anecdotes that help convey a sense of intimacy and deeper understanding of his photos.
“Having a little personal touch once in awhile adds something,” he says.
For example, “Icescapes” features dozens of macro photographs collected of the French photographer’s Atlanta garden following a recent ice storm, which blanketed the city under inches of snow and frozen rain for several days.
To get the diversity of shots on display in the books, Mr. Wegscheider says he commonly approached everyday structures covered in ice, examining them until he found something he liked.
Part of what makes the images so interesting, he continues, is that many of the photos appear to have larger analogues, shown side-by-side at the end of the book. “[You] have to be careful to just keep shooting,” he says. “ [Then you] have to sit a little and think.”