When the day has just 30 hours

Art needs planning too

Barbara Holzknecht has worked for almost 20 years in the film industry – 13 years as an independent producer. Some two years ago she became project manager of one of South Tyrol’s largest-ever art and photography projects – and perhaps “one of the craziest”, as she remarks right at the beginning of our interview.

The Lightcatcher project may sound somewhat megalomaniac to some, yet size is of decisive importance for the entire project. A huge truck, an oversized objective and the Dolomites – great mountains in every sense – are together all essential for Kurt Moser’s project of creating ambrotypes of the “pale mountains”.
But why ambrotypes? Why immortalise images on glass using a procedure from the turn of the last century? “Because ambrotypes are beautiful. Because ambrotypes are unique, like the pale mountains themselves. “Because ambrotypes are works of art, and only a work of art can do justice to the imposing beauty of the Dolomites.” This was how Kurt Moser described his motive, says Barbara. “And I immediately understood what he meant.”

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“I immediately knew he was up to something.”

For over two years now, Barbara has been in charge of project financing and communication, conducting sponsor interviews, putting together exhibitions in major museums around the world, managing the crowdfunding project on the Kickstarter platform and supporting the artist in gradually achieving his gigantic project.

“When, three years ago, Kurt sent a photo of a beautiful bellows camera to my mobile phone, I already had an idea that he was up to something. When he subsequently told me about his idea, I only had two thoughts: first, that such idealism deserved support and second, it sounded impossible, yet it wasn’t. And I still think the same today.”

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“Things really began at the moment when Kurt managed to get hold of an optic of the required size for creating enormous ambrotypes of the mountains and converting an entire truck into a mobile camera. That was back in July 2015. And the project’s order of magnitude – in both senses – was somehow already clear at the time. It became obvious that this was no casual matter and that it would instead require a great deal of time and energy.”

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“And suddenly the day had 30 hours.”

The film industry, in which I have been working for nearly 20 years now, is extremely fast moving. Everything always has to be done extremely quickly; the pressure never lets up. I have seen how it has not been possible to realise various projects to the originally planned quality. With Lightcatcher, I was finally able to participate in something where it was necessary to have sufficient time in order to achieve something aesthetically impressive – and to focus. I looked forward to working on something where high-quality imagery lay at the very centre.

“The project start phase was of course extremely demanding. All of a sudden my day seemed to have 30 hours – and even that did not suffice. But when for example I am with Kurt in the darkroom, waiting for the photographs to develop, everything else loses meaning. The air crackles with tension as we wait for the photo to appear on the black glass. In an age of ubiquitous mobile phone snaps, it is like a moment of escape, a statement and a reminder of how photography is an interface between art and craft.”

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All effort is rewarded

We have already achieved so much. Noteworthy sponsors have already offered their support or interest, as has the president of UNESCO Italy. We have approval for exhibitions in Berlin, at the Helmut Newton Foundation’s photography museum – and even for an exhibition in Mumbai! The media resonance is also tremendous and, when we look at all these factors, the project can already be regarded as a success even before the conversion work on the Russian military truck gets started. When you also take into account the emotional achievements – I have got to know some fantastic people over the last two years – all the effort has been worthwhile.

“There is an unbelievable amount of idealism invested in this project, which is why it needs everyone’s help. I truly wish that Kurt can find the financing for the project. Lightcatcher will make a statement and travel around the world in the form of works of art – ambrotypes.”