Photographer Rolf Sachs Takes us on a Picturesque Train Ride Across the Alps

Alexxa Gotthardt
Jan 12, 2015 9:09PM

When researching the route from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy, Google Maps instructs that, by train, the trip rounds out at 4 hours and 15 minutes. To track the journey, a meandering red line carries the eye across topographic representations of mountains, forests, and a national border. We envision the scenery, seen from the train window, as enchanting—the stuff of Swiss Alps-set fairy tales. In a new exhibition at Galerie Andrea Caratsch in St. Moritz, Switzerland, artist-designer-polymath Rolf Sachs visualizes our imagined European crossing in photographs taken from a train in motion.

Assembled over many trips between the two cities in the span of a year, the series takes up the enduring overlap of the passage of time and sense of place. (Sachs amassed over 12,000 photos during his numerous peregrinations, and each is titled with the date and time they were taken.) Individually, the blurred, brilliantly chromatic images give glimpses of Alpine details that range from detailed to abstract. Together, they are an extended, serial study of landscape, transformation, and perception.

01.05.2013 - 07:21:11 (2013) grounds the series in a clear view of a charming Swiss town. Like a snow globe depicting a miniature, faraway world, the image might represent an outsider’s perspective of Sachs’ surroundings—Switzerland, a land of gingerbread houses, cowbell melodies, and crowns of edelweiss.

As the series unspools from this concrete depiction, the photographs become more indistinct, atmospheric, and intimate. 26.06.2013 - 12:21:07 (2013) depicts tiny hikers, defined only by their brightly colored shirts, in a whirl of mountains, sky, and lush green grass. Here, where landscape overwhelms its inhabitants, there is a sense of the nature’s grand scale and its ability to induce awe.

The most abstract views—of scenery that nearly touches the train window—also feel the most personal. In 31.08.2013 - 20:36:58, 2013 we see the luminous shock of a fellow train racing by at dusk, and feel the thrill of an impending adventure. In 18.10.2013 - 14:20:46, 2013, pine trees blur and distort into green-scale, perspective is lost, and our eye and the landscape become one. Memories of running through deep woods on childhood expeditions might rush in.

Finally, in the glowing, gauzy 18.10.2013 - 10:50:02 and 18.03.2013 - 10:23:29 (both 2013) Sachs captures the transcendental and existential. Here, we’re reminded of the cathartic, transformative powers of nature and adventure. Trees become glowing orbs and snowscapes shape-shift into ominous underworlds that jog memories, emotions, and imaginations.

Alexxa Gotthardt

Camera in Motion: From Chur to Tirano” is on view at Galerie Andrea Caratsch, St. Moritz, Dec. 1, 2014–Apr. 7, 2015.

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