Austria, the Alps and a feeling of home?

Having been confronted with the typical Austrian stereotypes many times during my travels – the Austrians love foam, know how to lead, speak “yodel” as their mother tongue and are all born as winter sports prodigies – I know how to handle these prejudices. Well, YES we love a cool beer with a creamy topping, YES Hitler was Austrian but we aren’t all good leaders, and NO we don’t learn how to yodel at school. As for the last stereotype – in my case – the rectification always takes more efforts, though. The reason for that is my loathing of all winter related stuff; mountains, snow, ice, cold, (unbelievably but true) après ski, and having boards stucked to my feet. So, yes when it comes to winter sports I’m the untypical Austrian (a.k.a winter outcast) and YES the rest of native Austrians share a high affinity towards snow activities.

Banner for the show outside Waiblingen
Banner for the show outside Waiblingen, Photo: Robert Bodnar

What was I doing at an exhibition with the title “Jenseits der Ansichtskarten. Die Alpen in der Fotografie” (“Beyond the Postcard. The Alps in Photography”) one might ask. Well, to be honest I was not attracted so much by the title as by the participating artist(s). As it is Robert Bodnar’s first international group exhibition in Germany, I was excited to see his timescans within the context of the show at Galerie Stihl Waiblingen(close to Stuttgart). Robert’s “Hoher Sonnblick”, two nearly 20 hour-scans of the Alps, were among the 122 works by 44 artists, all dealing with the Alps in their photographies in one way or the other. Needless to say, the museum was cluttered with picturesque images of mountains that ranged from large scale digital prints, photomontages, staged photographs, snapshots, photographic series, to postcards, collages and analogue shots. As gigantic as the mountain rage is in itself, so was the way with which they were captured onto photographic paper (the museum is dedicated to solely exhibit works on paper).

Time and space wise the exhibition started with the presentation of the early pioneers of Alpine photography, like the Wherli brothers, who captured the Alps’ glaciers and peeks as early as the photographic equipment allowed them to. It is up to the visitor whether s/he wants to start chronologically or by diving right into the contemporary encounters with the Alps. One of which is Michael Goldgruber, for instance. He shows the Alps from a climber’s point of view, whose outlooks are mostly directed by neatly positioned viewing platforms. Other works deal with a critical approach towards the touristification of the mountain range that gets harmed by the recklessness of the tourists, and the climatic changes respectively. The exhibition tries to capture the mystic and clandestine atmosphere of the Alps that can also be dangerous and uncanny, at the same time it sheds some irony on the stereotypical image of the Alps as well. We can, for instance, spy on Nazi members while they are peeing into the white snow. The Alps’ beauty, on the other hand, does explain itself in those photographies of Andreas Gursky.

Andreas Gursky, Aletschgletscher, 1993, C-Print
Andreas Gursky, Aletschgletscher, 1993, C-Print

Next to those picturesque encounters, the exhibition also tackles our perception of their real sublimity.  Those photographs of Robert Bodnar or Sonja Braas, for instance, challenge the visitor to distinguish between a snapshot (decisiveness) and the mechanically altered look (images produced in postproduction). Robert Bodnar’s timescans require enormous equipment, technical knowledge and patience in postproduction – a complex process of capturing the Alps that finally circles back to the early pioneers of Alpine photography.

Sonja Braas, as another example, creats backdrops of the Alps which she juxtaposes to actual photographs. Again, the artist tackles our notion of what is real and what can we believe it to be; in the end it seems like it always comes back to that fundamental question in photography, even if it deals with such a neutral theme as the Alps.

Sonja Braas, Forces #14, 2003, C-Print
Sonja Braas, Forces #14, 2003, C-Print

All in all, the visitor can experience a well-rounded excursion through Alpine photography, branching from history to contemporary, traditional to experimental, ironical to critical, romantic to uncanny, the real to the sublime. The exhibition wants to represent the Alps in a contemporary light, questioning their influence on artists and the various ways they are able to capture their overwhelming nature on paper. It aims to equip the visitor with a fresh understanding of this famous and monumental mountain range that holds individual connotations for each and every one of us – even for a summer lover like me. So,  YES it succeeded in making me wanna start with aprés skiing.

The exhibition is still on until the 6th of January, 2014 and will then travel to Bregenz.

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