The eternal ice is subject to constant change: in glaciers, the past and present merge into complete timelessness. Gaudenz Danuser’s radical and surreal photographs give visible form to this dissolution of time and space. Alpine Fragments is the name of his project, which shows excerpts of alpine worlds, concentrating on the structures of the landscapes that are, in part, centuries old. Consequently, it serves as a unique and contemporary document, offering an unconventional view of the glaciers in the Swiss Alps.
What motivated you to take on this project?
The subject of glaciers has played on my mind for some time; however, I was unsure what I wanted to do with it. My goal was to realise an imagery of the glaciers from an unusual perspective, with the intention of capturing abstract pictures with graphic structures.
Where were the pictures for Alpine Fragments taken, and how much time did you dedicate to the project?
The glaciers I photographed are located in the central Swiss Alps. From the idea to its completion took a number of months. Of course, the actual time taking pictures from the helicopter was relatively short, which made precise preparation for the work all the more important.
You took the photos from a helicopter. What were the biggest challenges to overcome?
The biggest challenge was to hit on the best time to fly and the right glacier to cover. The particular setting in a helicopter requires great concentration during the flight. The moment I open and lean out (secured!) of the door at 3000 metres in the air, I am at the mercy of the wind and downdraft on the one hand, and the shaking of the helicopter on the other. In this situation, when you have to concentrate on the picture while communicating by radio with the pilot to guide him to the right position, your pulse certainly races somewhat.
In your pictures, the lines between charcoal sketches, abstract painting and photography become blurred. While you were flying, when did you know that the right moment to take the shot had come?
The helicopter’s height and position must be right. If you are too close or too far from the ice, the shapes become recognisable and loose their abstract quality. It’s only at a certain distance that the graphic structures appear as I want to see them.
What role does chance play in this project?
Ultimately, I left as little as possible to chance: I researched topographic maps for my work, to find an appropriate glacier. Furthermore, I was in close contact with the helicopter pilot, whom I have known for years and with whom I have already realised other projects. He kept his eyes open for me in the air, because the right timing for the project was absolutely decisive; because both the conditions on the ice and the behaviour of the weather needed to be right.
What was it like working with the Leica SL2? Which lenses did you use?
At first I wasn’t quite sure if the image stabiliser would be helpful, or whether the helicopter’s vibration would make it a disadvantage. However, it turned out there was no need to worry; so it became clear to me to work with the SL2. It’s precisely when photographing out of a helicopter that it’s pleasant to have a handy, well laid out and dependable camera in your hands. What’s more it’s perfect for questions of fine colour gradients, details and structures. The lens I used was the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 f/2.8-4 ASPH., so as to have a certain leeway with the focal length.
Did you have a particular photographic approach, which differed from your other projects?
Not really. For all my projects, I look precisely for specific places at specific times. In the process, it can happen that my assessment regarding time and place is mistaken. This means that I visit certain places more frequently.
When looking at your website, it’s clear that you feel comfortable in many photographic terrains. What motivates you to keep on exploring photography?
The different terrains are related to my background: it lies in architecture; but as a young photography I worked primarily with outdoor companies. Over time many aspects came together: a partiality for graphic structures and a passion for mountain landscapes, as well as my personal interest in outdoor sports.
What photographic genre is most important to you and why?
I feel most at home with landscape photography. It is the genre that today defines the most significant portion of my fine art photography, and which I plan to dedicate myself to even more in the future.
What do your next projects look like?
I want to increasingly leave the mountains and turn to other landscapes.
Gaudenz Danuser has been working as a free-lance photographer for 30 years. He lives in Flims, in the Grison Alps. He trained originally in architecture, but gave it up in favour of photography. What remains to this day is his interest in aesthetic shapes and graphic structures. He is the father of three grown-up children. In addition to his interest in nature, he is repeatedly drawn abroad. Initially working in the outdoor sports field, he focusses today on the sea. You can find out more about his photography on his website and instagram channel.