I took a walk on the pistes here, during the summer season, and it struck me how absurd this all is. So much infrastructure that goes unused for two thirds of the year. I’ve also been told that the occupancy rate here is quite high out of season - seventeen percent! Other resorts must be like ghost towns.
I think this could make a compelling photographic project, also i brought some rolls of speciality film with me that could make it more interesting. I’ve shot a couple of rolls here and it seems there is potential so have ordered some more of the film before it becomes unavailable.
The downside to this is i will have limited time to shoot, June to October looking at timetables for resorts, and am very much dependent on the weather. The upside is that it will give me an excuse to get out and explore the country.
There are approximately forty ski areas in Switzerland spread across one hundred(ish) resorts. I only need to get one good image from each resort to have more than enough for a complete project. If i can get to twenty resorts in a year that means five years. I can do this.
It’s nearing the end of the year and i am considering abandoning this project, even though i have been shooting it for the past twelve months and believe it to have a lot of potential. What’s even more surprising is that i am thinking of abandoning the project even though i am getting a hit rate of around fifty percent, in terms of usable images that is.
The main reason i am considering this is quite simple: Richard Mosse. His recent work has a striking similarity to this project in terms of the medium. He has won the Deutsche Börse 2014 prize, which is my first encounter with his work, and the exhibition of his work will continue into mid-2015 (and probably beyond).
The speciality film i have been shooting this project with is LomoChrome Purple. Mosses’ work will live long in the memory and should i complete this project comparisons will be inevitable. Mosses’ work hangs very much on the medium, it certainly is part of the message, and that is my hook too. So in completing this project i run the risk of being dismissed as a weak imitator.
The other reason is that i’m not convinced with LomoChrome Purple. The first rolls i shot came out quite well, even though it seems to render everything purple. Recent rolls have been muddy and i’m not satisfied with the consistency of exposure, although this may indicate my camera needs a service.
However, i have forty two rolls of LomoChrome Purple left and it needs to be used for something; that something being something i believe in, at least at this moment in time. While i am still here i will continue to visit the resorts. I have visited sixteen out of one hundred and seven resorts, this is going to take a bit longer than my initial estimate.
Something else occurred to me in late 2014 after reading an article, especially the statement “Climate change is not something many ski resorts want to talk about”. Really this project is about the future of swiss resorts; although the photographs are shot in the spring, summer, and autumn, they show the future of the winters.
I think this is a direction worth following. A large part of my initial interest in this project was to show the resorts out of season, but there is a compelling reason to hook into the whole climate change issue. Many people enjoy winter skiing breaks in Switzerland and The Alps, perhaps they never think about the resorts out of season; perhaps even they don’t realise that skiing may soon be an endangered pastime?
My camera was serviced. Whether or not this will make a difference to the quality of the LomoChrome Purple remains to be seen, but it may not matter so much now. The project has taken a new direction that means the shots of resorts out of season may not matter so much (if at all).
I have been following the local ski club around several resorts this season with an aim to shoot some “behind the scenes” style photos. It turned out that some of the resorts were those i have already visited in 2014. It’s fascinating to see these resorts again, in season, and also interesting to see another side of the ski season that, perhaps again, doesn’t cross the minds of the many winter visitors.
It seems unlikely that i will complete the project in its originally planned form. Partly due to the reasons from 2014, but also because of having underestimated the number of resorts here - the number is closer to 250. I believe i can salvage some of the work already done, and will spend this summer and autumn focusing on shooting the resorts i visited with the ski club during the ski season.
While the work with the ski club continues, and itself evolves into something else, this work has returned to its original form. Having spent a week at a photo retreat in the south of France i have decided to return to my initial plan. The response to the early ideas in the project were positive and i was reassured that it can stand on its own, so that is the direction i shall return to.
I was even told that i should approach galleries with prints sometime within the next six to twelve months as they may well be interested in the work. So the plan for this summer is to shoot more (and re-shoot some images that showed signs of light leaks), find a competent printer, and formulate a plan to show the work. I was also told that the Mosse connection is irrelevant and can be forgotten about, and the use of the speciality film in this case may be even more suited to the message.
There will still be a reference to the ski club, perhaps this work can form part of a larger, longer, wider, study of the Swiss Alps and the communities therein, without shoehorning it directly into another project. If i can complete it before the ski club project it can form as a prelude. I have visited ten resorts with the ski club during the winter season and shall make images from the same resorts in the summer season form the bulk of this project.
There is another hook that i had not considered until i revisited the work at the photo retreat, that being the vintage feel that the photos arise. Many of the images feel as if they could be shot decades ago, and then overtime the colours faded or warped. The vintage feel extends to the link with ski resort posters, where many have quirky graphic design and odd colour schemes - including prolific use of the colour purple.
I got straight into shooting more photos having returned from the photo retreat and had an immediate setback. I, foolishly, listened to a recommendation to use a local lab down in the valley rather than travelling to Lausanne. Unfortunately the local lab proceeded to destroy two weeks worth of film, costing in the region of 100CHF when considering the film + development + travel + lift passes. In well over a decade of shooting medium format i have never seen film so poorly handled. This project seems to not want to be completed.
From that point on all my film was sent back to my trusted lab in the UK, and immediately i saw a huge improvement. I should have been doing this from the start. That said i’m still not convinced by LomoChrome Purple. In an effort to add balance to the project i started shooting LomoChrome Turquoise along with the purple, i much prefer the turquoise.
Since returning from the photo retreat i have visited seven more resorts (two of those twice due to aforementioned problems). With the previous year’s work i now have a total of 243 frames, which i have edited down to a selection of thirty. These cover a range of the infrastructure and are split roughly fifty/fifty purple to turquoise.
I am positive the shooting period of this project is over. I am absolutely sick of this film and all its problems and inconsistencies. In the later stages of shooting this film i was taking six frames of each image, one on each back bracketed +/- a stop for each film. Again, in over a decade of shooting medium format film i’ve never had to do this.
There is an irony in that the final edit shows images that look like they’ve been mishandled, or gone off, or just aged and warped over the years. Yet i’ve had to reject in the region of 25 percent of the frames i shot because they were bad from a purely technical point of view.
I still have around forty rolls of this film in my fridge and i don’t know what on earth i am going to do with it.
I found an excellent printer in Lausanne and had four 20x20 inch prints done to see how they hold up to this kind of enlargement and was very surprised. The images in print are several magnitudes better than on the screen. After this i had twenty smaller prints made for a portfolio box, and again the prints are far better than i would have expected.
I would go as far as saying this project needs to be seen in print form, looking at the images on the screen just doesn’t cut it and not just because of the detail but you can’t get over the colours on screen, whereas in print form it seems to work much better.
I also printed a dummy book having created a sequence for this work. The nature of the subject makes the sequence somewhat arbitrary, although it is possible to open by establishing a time and a place and close with the message. This also allowed some initial ideas for graphic design.
However, i’m not sure a book is the appropriate final form for this project, although in printing the book i did see ideas for pairings and switched out a few images in the final edit. I may investigate having the project printed in a piste map style, to fit the form of the project. This will also be far cheaper than a book and allow for guerilla marketing. Certainly the work needs to be exhibited as i believe that will be the strongest presentation for the work.
I have submit the project, in partial form due to the various submission guidelines, to several contests, portfolio review applications, and publishers. I shall investigate other submission avenues throughout the year, including galleries (local or otherwise). Given the aforementioned difference in the print versions of the photos it would seem actually attending portfolio reviews in person is a must, and i hold little hope for any electronic submissions i have already made.
So far i have submit the work to twenty awards/competitions/calls. Given the cost of submitting the work, usually in the range of 30 to 50 CHF per call, i have decided to limit myself to two submissions per month from now on. I have heard back from some of the calls and one featured a submission review, which was quite positive, the rest tend to use a token response along the lines of “we received a record number of submissions, many high quality works, etc etc”.
About half of the calls i submit to do not provide any acknowledgement, you see the results so can assume you were not selected, although those tend to be the ones that will have (tens of) thousands of entries so this is understandable.
I attended my first portfolio review with the work at the Musée de l’Elysée and there was enough interest for them to invite me back to give a presentation on the work (and others) in November. I have also contacted the local gallery who are looking for more artists, and there was also some interest in the work. As i suspected, viewing the work in print is far more impacting than on screen. I suppose this could be said of just about any work however. Time will tell, it is still early days.
I received a response from CENTER after submitting the work and have been accepted on the Review 100, which is an annual three day portfolio review taking place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This takes place at the end of October, which is good timing as i was planning to be there due to another project i am working on.
I am not sure how much benefit the review will be, but research leads me to believe it is worth the trip. We will see how useful it is, as the work will be shown to several reviewers as well as a public viewing event. This combined with another (much more local) portfolio review event is going to be the last of my efforts to push the work out.
The work is now on display at the local gallery - four framed 50x50cm prints along with smaller postcard sets are for sale, and should recoup some of the costs of recent submissions and printing/framing (if they sell that is). I will also take this to judge interest and combine with feedback from the portfolio reviews to think about if/when/how to take the work further.
The response at CENTER Review Santa Fe was largely positive and there was some interest from curators. Response from reviewers was also positive and i was asked to follow up with a couple to be featured on blogs / sites.
Coincidentally Santa Fe turns out to be a skiing town, and during the public photo walk there was quite a bit of interest from people who were clearly skiers as i had many questions about where the photos were taken. The point of the project seemed to be largely lost however.
I arrived back in Switzerland after a week long trip to the UK in November. I brought back a large format camera with me, and will be investigating another project that shows The Alps in another way. For now i have decided that i am done with this project. It can be seen here.
I will sell off the last thirty eight remaining rolls of LomoChrome Purple/Turquoise, although much of it is now out of date it has been stored in my freezer so should be good. It is arguable whether or not the film was ever any “good” in the first place, and the irony of it having taken up one quarter of my freezer space for the last few years is not lost on me.