Armin Walcher’s latest photo series sees the native Austrian touch on the memories of his youth as he tells the story of a humble drag-lift. As advances in technology lead to the overhaul of this seemingly out-dated machinery, he asks what will remain of the emotional ties formed between novice skiers and this particular piece of Alpine history, as well as portraying the stunning snow-covered landscape of Styria.
You started out as an athlete and then moved into photography. What sports did you compete in and how did this switch come about?
Yes, that’s true, I competed in alpine skiing and I worked on my career pretty hard. Due to two knee injuries within two years I had to end my career. So first I switched to windsurfing. I had to switch off my brain from skiing after the injuries and went abroad for 6 months just windsurfing, working and experiencing new countries. It was a good experience for me. After coming back I took up free-ride skiing and moving forward with sponsors. During that period wrote a blog about my experiences. I picked up a DSLR and fell in love with it. By accident somebody asked me to show him my photos. People saw potential in what I was shooting, supported me and I kept pursuing it. I believed in it, worked hard for it and still love each day I go out shooting.
Was there any photographer in particular, who inspired you to pick up a camera?
My father is a passionate photographer, he is in love with photography. But when I was young I wasn’t interested at all in photography. I had to discover the passion on my own to realize what photography means to me. I wanted to work on something where I can see the result at the end of the day, something that is long lasting and useful. Photography gave me that feeling. It never felt like work, it’s more of a journey for me.
Where in Austria are you from? Which locations do you enjoy photographing the most and why?
I live in Pürgg in the state of Styria. It’s a tiny, beautiful village elevated in front of a special mountain. I see the sun climbing down from the mountain in the morning and see the sunset next to mountain. It is a silent place. 190 people live in the village. But that’s what I love after traveling. Silence. It is a special location, but having said that, I feel like every location has something special. The hard thing is to see and feel the special things in each place. I want to feel these things because, in my opinion, it helps you grow as a photographer and as a human.
How would you describe your photography?
It’s hard to describe your own feelings. Photography is a feeling, transported through the eye and the camera. I would say it’s a mix of documentary and nature photography.
Where and when did you shoot this series?
I shot this series in January, at the Planneralm, a small ski resort in Styria. It’s the ski resort where I grew up.
What is the story behind this particular ski lift and its surroundings?
As I said, it’s a small ski resort in my home region. The region where I live is well known for skiing in Austria. Pretty much all villages in the area have ski resorts. There are smaller ones and really big ones. You can see the ski resorts growing each year. There’s development in each resort and technology is part of this fast-paced progression. One example are the new chairlifts with their heated seats.
I enjoy to see an older lift like the one featured here, where people have built a personal relationship with a thing made out of metal. Many people have learned to ski here. It’s rather unforgiving though. It is hard to get to the top of the mountain with the lift. It is very steep. So, over the years, people have built up a relationship to, and feelings for, the lift. The memories are both good and bad, dealing with both success and failure. Capturing this portrait of the lift and its surroundings was a great way to tell its story visually.
What is your personal relationship to this part of Austria?
As we get older, we grow in a personal way. I love traveling because it opens your mind but I am always looking forward to coming back home. I enjoy the silence and the beauty of nature. It helps me get back down to earth. It’s home.
The fact that the snow has remained on the metal framing of the lift suggests that it was pretty cold when you were shooting. How cold was it and how did the weather conditions influence your technical considerations when shooting?
It was super cold and we spent the whole day outside in the snow. It was -20 degrees Celsius! Nevertheless, the equipment worked perfectly, even the batteries didn’t suffer that badly. We had to consider that we couldn’t take the equipment inside to warm up because everything would have been fogged up afterwards.
Your series spans the course of a day from sunrise to sunset. What was your thinking behind this?
To document the awakening of the lift, to see what’s going on during the day and to see it falling asleep, when it becomes silent again. It sounds strange, but when you focus on one thing during a whole day you need to open your eyes and mind to see and feel what you want to tell. As I said, you can see it as a machine made from metal or something else, something more human.
What significance does the close-up shot of the mounted cable have?
The cable has history. It’s about how people built such cables. How they built it in the past. The cable is the connector. Without a cable the lift would not work. The metal threads are like people; if you connect people in a good way they hold together and life is better.
And who is the man in the hut with his eyes on the slopes?
He is a lift serviceman. He needs to stop the lift, when skiers get in trouble making their way up to the top. It is a long day for people like him, watching skiers going up with the lift. He enjoyed observing the nature around him. He was completely surrounded by nature.
He was also curious what we were shooting the whole day and he got even more curious when we told him that we were actually only shooting the lift!
Which camera and equipment did you use to shoot this series and what do you see as the advantages of this set-up?
I used the Leica SL with the Vario-Elmarit-SL 2,8-4,0/24-90mm Asph and the Vario-Elmarit-SL 2,8-4,0/90-280mm lenses. For me it’s a perfect system. It works so well and the quality of the images is incredible. The viewfinder brings shooting with this camera to a whole new level. The quality of the equipment is great. I love the look, the feel and the image quality and it also works perfectly in harsh conditions, as you can see.
When did you start shooting with Leica and how has your relationship to the brand developed?
I started shooting with Leica when they announced the Leica M Monochrom Typ 246. I saved money to buy it straight away when it hit the market. When I discovered Leica, I felt the history, the quality and their passion for photography. Passion is key for me. I need to feel connected to a brand and their beliefs. Leica feels like a family, a family where photography, passion and quality are particularly important. True, honest and inspiring.
What advice would you offer to your fellow photographers, especially those interested in nature photography?
It’s always hard to give advice. People should be inspired to shoot but also able to sense and communicate their own feelings. Photography is a really personal thing. You transport your feelings via the eye and the camera. You can go out and shoot every sunrise and sunset but you can also bring something more to it. Things you want to explain, things you want to express via your photography. Enter nature with an open mind and you will see the world from a different point of view.
You also work on commercial jobs, as well as your more intimate storytelling series. What do you have planned for the near future?
In the near future there’s going to be another issue of the story-telling magazine for the region of Grimming-Donnersbachtal. I’m also working on a book. It is a project with friends, which will be finalized at the end of February. This project has been running for about a year now. It has been the biggest project for me so far and I have invested a great deal of passion, time and effort.