A philosophical discussion of the Dolomites with photo-artist Kurt Moser
The golden larches shine from the forests. Before us, like a stone wall, rises the Latemar range. We sit on a sun-blackened wooden bench contemplating the gigantic mountain that is as yet untouched by the light of midday. I am accompanying Kurt Moser as he seeks the most beautiful spots in the Dolomites, or rather, the finest mountain perspectives, which he wishes to immortalise using an age-old photographic technique: the ambrotype.
Two more giants will play a role in his Lightcatcher project – a Russian military vehicle and an enormous camera lens. Kurt uses this sunny moment, however, to tell me what plays a role in his heart.
KM: For me the Latemar is one of the most beautiful mountains in South Tyrol. It is always a little overshadowed by the much more famous Rosengarten but, particularly from the photographer’s viewpoint, this mountain is at least as atmospheric. With its wild nature and numerous crevices, there is plenty to photograph! I can see before me here many fantastic subjects for an ambrotype artwork.
IV: You can see it with your eyes. But what do you see with your heart?
KM: My home. I see my childhood. I grew up here in these mountains. My spirit of adventure was born here, and it was from here I set out into the wide world. But now I am drawn back to my roots here.
IV: How do you feel in this place?
KM: I feel peace in my heart and at the same time the longing to relive what I felt as a child: this freedom.
IV: Is the Lightcatcher project (LINK) also a way to help you preserve this feeling?
KM: Sadly it isn’t possible to catch feelings but, during my work in the mountains, they come alive in me and I can feel them all over again. The ambrotype gives me the chance to create very special moods. My aim is to awaken what inspires me in the viewers of these unique images: to capture as images the massive grandeur, the majestic nature, that makes the Dolomites so unmistakable, to catch them with the only kind of photography that can do them justice! These things are unique – they are images that occur in exactly this form just once. Just as every single peak of the Dolomites is unique.
IV: What is the biggest challenge when photographing these mountains using the ambrotype?
KM: The finest days like today, with blue skies and plenty of sunshine, which we as humans enjoy the most, are in photographic terms of no value. Especially not if your aim is to work with ambrotypes. Here it is a matter of UV light, shining clouds, light at sunset. Finding the ideal light situation and judging it correctly – that is the challenge! Another matter is the fixed nature of the optics – there is no fast zoom, so careful planning is needed: I have to scout the location first, decide on the location for the camera, and select the image detail in advance through the camera position. I can’t change anything afterwards. Finally, the chemical processing involved is yet another challenge! Developing the images is practically a ceremony. Temperature differences and fluctuations in air humidity are also a test of my flexibility and experience.
IV: So you’ll wait outdoors in the wind and rain for the ideal lighting conditions?
KM: Living and being out there is not a challenge, but a privilege. I am also very happy to be here on my own. For me it is a pleasure to wait endlessly, to spend a lot of time in the mountains, living and sleeping there: it is pure gypsy romance.
IV: And where do you await the perfect moment? In a tent?
KM: The idea is to convert the Ural, a Russian military truck. The idea is to turn it into an enormous mobile camera with a built-in darkroom that will at the same time serve as my camper-van or my base. Then I will be very close to my mountains and can capture their light on glass.
IV: If there is something that you could wish for these mountains, what would it be?
KM: That the constant building in the mountain world will come to an end and that we can at least enjoy it in its current state. I would prefer a return, a going back to nature, so that these mountains could preserve their wildness.
IV: Does wildness still exist in the Dolomites?
KM: Yes, it does. And part of my motivation is to seek out and immortalise as images these wild, unspoilt places, these quiet, deeply moving rocks. And perhaps my pictures will also manage to make a statement to some people: preserve what there is, because it is unique.
Together we sit in silence in the evening light. Clouds build up on the summit. I try to imagine this magnificent image before us transposed in black and white and grey to an enormous plate of black glass. Unique and expressive pictures, an artistic ode to the mountain world.