Of people and Alpine landscapes
Since the beginning of time, mountain ranges have exercised an almost eerie fascination on us. Even in long-since civilised people they touch something archaic. They are challenging, grand and sometimes deadly. Generations of mountaineers have struggled on their steep walls with their own strength, led the fight against loneliness and felt the pain of disappointment when the mountain is stronger than the human. For photographer Olaf Unverzart, too, mountains have a magical appeal. They challenge him physically and mentally – and they give him freedom, tranquillity and an overview.
"ALP" photo volume
As the son of a family of farmers from the Upper Palatine Forest, he first came in contact with the Alpine mountain range relatively late. As a child, it was trips to South Tyrol with his parents. In his youth, he began to pit himself against the mountains physically as a cyclist.
For the last few years, he has documented the Alps photographically. This had now led to the impressive photo volume "ALP".
Over a period of 12 years, he has travelled through Alpine landscapes on countless trips and tours and has developed a visual composition of sublime but also often mundane mountain landscapes. He himself speaks of subjective documentation characterised by the individual standpoint and a scaled-back observation. No mountain backdrops or Alpine panoramas are shown here; rather, a very sober and at the same time reverential look is taken at a unique cultural landscape.
Unverzart understands landscape as being formed by humans. Even though people are mostly absent from his images, their impact can be detected on most of the photographs. Sometimes strikingly in the form of tunnels hewn in the stone, elsewhere subtly in the form of a barely recognisable signpost.
Endangered mountain landscape
Unverzart says it leaves him speechless and sad to see how people purchase, categorise and subordinate nature. He resents the lack of reverence and the greed for profit. For instance, in the photographs the observer often sees how much both long-distance views and the growth of nature is restricted by human construction. Mountain faces embedded in concrete, fences to provide protection from avalanches, tunnels, barrages, paths and roads. But also, again and again, overwhelming nature. Massive rock formations, lush meadows, wide sky – picturesque shades of grey, red, blue and green form charming tableaux. Contrasts are presented between the art of engineering and the work of God. In some of the photos, man-made buildings and mountains merge seamlessly. Still other photos show the perishability of man-made buildings. Tunnels that have caved in, weather-beaten paths and crumbly walls give an idea of how nature ultimately cannot be restricted and their landscapes are certain to return.
Some mountains look badly oppressed, due to natural forces such as glacial movements, water and erosion, as well as storms or due to human intervention. Deep furrows and scars on the elegant giants that tell of the unfathomable forces that have been exerting their impact on the rocks for millennia.
In the tradition of Alpine photography
For Unverzart, the climbing of a mountain and the associated physical effort is an important part of his work, as it gives him a physical feel for himself and his subject. With his spirit of discovery, Unverzart follows the tradition of Alpine photography. The latter was founded in the mid-19th century far away from mass tourism, initially for the purposes of research and military development, and for a long time it was the privilege of people of corresponding material means. Like the pioneers of this type of photography, Olaf Unverzart chooses a plate camera and analogue film for his photographs. A literally weighty decision – bringing the equipment to a total weight of approximately 20 kg. When he finds a subject, he waits for soft and colourless light. Composition, light incidence, mood – Unverzart makes the most important decisions before he starts, so in most cases he only takes two shots per subject. This amounts to approximately 20 subjects per year. For his photos he uses a Sinar F2, mostly a standard lens, 4 x 5 inch negative film.
Impressive look into the Alpine mystery
His photo volume "ALP" ends with a series of summits – Eiger, Piz Badile, Grosse Zinne, Petit Dru, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses, the photograph of which Unverzart counts among his favourite subjects due to the lighting conditions. He thus pays homage to the great age of mountaineering and forms a series of north faces that were considered the six last challenges of alpinism. With his photo volume, Unverzart fills a gap. For in his opinion, there has been no artistically important photographic observation of the Alps in the last twenty years. Mountaineer Hermann Buhl, admired by Unverzart, once said that mountaineering was something erratic. One comes and goes and never reaches one's destination, he said. That was perhaps where the particular appeal lay. One searches for something that one never finds. With his photo volume, Unverzart has managed to offer the observer a not always unobstructed but always impressive look into the mystery of Alpine landscapes.
Der von Unverzart bewunderte Bergsteiger Hermann Buhl sagte einmal über das Bergsteigen, dass es etwas Unstetes sei. Man ginge und komme nie ans Ziel. Darin läge vielleicht gerade der besondere Reiz. Man sucht etwas, das man nie findet. Unverzart hat es mit seinem Fotoband geschafft, dem Betrachter einen nicht immer unverstellten, aber immer eindrucksvollen Blick in das Mysterium alpiner Landschaften zu bieten.