Carved by light

Experimental relief photographs of major Alpine peaks 150 years from their first ascents

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the golden age of alpinism, between 2015 and 2017 I traversed the Alps and climbed up to locations overlooking peaks ascended for the first time by mountaineers in that period (1854-1865). From each solitary walk performed with a self-constructed 10×8in camera on my back I brought down a unique photographic artefact. Using a heretofore unexplored photographic technique, for each summit I produced a relief in a light-sensitive polymer plate exposed directly in a camera for a period of several hours. Each installation of the project in site-specific and brings selected mountains into the particular exhibition space. The photographic objects are placed in the room according to the precise geographical location of the peaks they represent and at the angle from which each mountain has been photographed.

The project has been selected in the Forecast Forum mentoring programme in Berlin in August 2015 and developed with the guidance of Bas Princen. In 2016 it has been shown as a work-in-progress at the Forecast Festival in Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and in a solo exhibition in Kunsthaus Zug, Switzerland. In 2017, a site-specific installation Carved by Light (Mapping): Unterengadin was produced for NAIRS Centre of Contemporary Art, Scuol, Switzerland. This was followed in 2018 by a site-specific installation that included the Valais mountains, which was shown in Maxxx Project Space in Sierre, Switzerland.


Spot On 2, NAIRS, Scuol, Switzerland, 2017, the installation brought selected peaks from the region into the architectural space of the historic bath house, positioning them exactly according to their location in the landscape and the angle from which they were photographed.


Project details

Mid-19th century was not only the time of a dramatic change in perceptions of mountains, but also the time of rapid developments in early photographic techniques. Explored for the first time with curiosity rather than fear, mountains could now also be photographed using processes such as wet plate collodion, which allowed the photographer to work outdoors, albeit burdened with heavy cameras and materials that had to be processed in the field. The project brings attention to the early mountaineering achievements while exploring a heretofore unused photographic technique that, in the slowness of the process and the cumbersomeness of materials and equipment, recalls the working methods of early photographers.

Building on my doctoral practice-led research, the work investigates the possibilities of a three dimensional photographic artefact communicating embodied experience of remote landscapes in ways that go beyond purely visual apprehension of an image. Through an analogy between the mountainous environment sculpted out of rock by geological forces on the one hand, and the action of light carving a relief in a photosensitive polymer plate on the other, the process is intended to convey the solidity and spatial dimension of such a landscape as it is experienced by a walker physically immersed in it.

Light-sensitive 20x25cm polymer plates used in the printing industry are placed in a self-constructed camera, which is carried on foot up a mountain (often a climb of over a thousand meters in altitude) to make a single exposure lasting several hours. Where more UV light reaches the plate, the emulsion hardens, while the shadow sections of the image are washed away afterwards, forming indentations. The expanse of snow and rock in front of the lens is no longer translated into a two-dimensional set of tonal differences, but rather into a three-dimensional relief, which becomes visible when light illuminates the plate at a certain angle. Purposefully time-consuming, cumbersome, labour-intensive and prone to failure, this method prioritizes physical immersion in the environment – each work begins with carefully planning the walk and ends with making the photographic exposure. The plate taken out of the camera and washed is the final artwork, to be encountered by the viewer as an authentic having-been-there object formed by the light reflected off the scene in front of the lens.

Individual works are placed in an exhibition space according to the precise geographical location of the sites they represent (as if a map of a fragment of the Alps was superimposed on the architectural plan of the room) and at the angle from which each site was photographed. Such installation of the works aims to take the viewer on a journey – not only intellectually but also physically as they move through the exhibition space. Being forced to navigate the apparently chaotic placement of the works in the room, viewers gradually realize that they are in fact metaphorically travelling across the geographical space of the mountains. Accompanying the installation is a large scale map of the Alps with the architectural plan of the exhibition space superimposed onto it, showing the exact location of the represented sites and the position of the works in the exhibition space.

Carved by Light, MAXXX Project Space, Switzerland, 2018, installation views


IMG_8848m-downstairs view-650pxCarved by Light, Kunsthaus Zug, Switzerland, 2016, installation views


The project has been generously supported by Arts Council England, Polish Institute in, Forecast Platform, Kunsthaus ZugAKKU Uster and Via Alpina.

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