L’Alpe 39 : Photographing mountains

Translations : Cary Bartsch

Written for people looking for information with meaning, L’Alpe is the first review devoted to the many cultures and heritages of Alpine Europe. Its ambition is to provide information, language barriers not withstanding. As your guide, L’Alpe looks at the people who, from the meandering Danube to the Rhône, have adapted to an exceptional climate. A cross between a book and a magazine, it draws on the first to provide background documents on a main theme, supported by rigorous analysis, an insistence on quality and the notoriety of renown authors. From the second, it adopts a quarterly rhythm for regular contributions to current debates, rich illustrations, the insatiable curiosity of its journalists and a necessarily didactic approach. Though rigorous in its approach to knowledge, L’Alpe is not a scientific journal. It calls on the contributions of history, geography, archaeology, ethnology, etc. to shed light on the meaning of the traces left by man on the mountain environment. And it is also open to current debates on the future of the Alps and other mountains in the world.

Mountains under glass
Nicéphore Niépce invented the concept in 1826, but it was Louis Daguerre who turned it into a process in 1839 and photography was soon on its way to the Alpine summits. The first photographers had to demonstrate technical, artistic and… athletic capabilities, but their successors found the going easier due to technical progress and a breaking away from Alpine stereotypes.

The mysteries of the dark room
The incredible discovery, in 2007, of the oldest photo lab in the world sheds new light on the first photographic techniques. Around 1850, Fortuné-Joseph Petiot-Groffier experimented the new techniques that were rapidly being invented. The discovery is a unique chance to take a new look at the pioneers and their alchemy with light.

When the Alps convinced Kodak
Paper from Rives was a must for photographers over decades. The dynamic company in the Fure valley north of Grenoble met with striking success by innovating in the middle of the 1800s in high-quality photographic paper. A driving force in the new technology, Rives convinced George Eastman and earned a share of the world market.

Light pen
The Bisson brothers, forerunners in mountain photography, found an accomplice in writer Théophile Gautier. At the start of the 1860s, Gautier reinvented Alpine literature, inspired by their images of Mont Blanc whose spectacular realism spelled the end of overly picturesque painting.

High in colour
Thanks to the autochrome, invented in 1907 by the Lumière brothers, colour photography went industrial. This complex process, based on potato starch, timidly penetrated the Alps with a few knowing amateurs. In the beginning of the 1930s, film put an end to the autochrome, but… retreated to black and white.

Dressed to shoot
A jeweller captured lifestyles in the lower Isère valley in the beginning of the 1900s. The 750 glass-plate photos take by Alfred Vourey constitute a portrait of a rural population from 1900 to 1936 and reveal the increasing presence of photography in local life. The collection may be seen at the Grand Séchoir in Vinay.

Still different !
The Alps. What remains to be done, photographically speaking, in the Alps, after so many years of stereotypes ? That was the question for this special issue. The result exceeded all our hopes. Despite all the weary clichés, there are still photographers and writers with the desire to take a new look at such an outstanding environment, at the human and natural landscapes, even the most common. A demonstration.

The Swiss watchmakers’ camera
Alpa, the outstanding brand, symbolises Swiss high technology. That is why the various models produced by the company are prominent in the impressive collection of the Photographic museum in Vevey, dedicated to both technical and artistic creation.

Eye to eye
What lies hidden in a photograph ? Examined attentively, three old images and one new reveal the secret links between the author and the viewer, just waiting to be discovered. In an infinite game of mirrors.

Brides revealed
All identical, yet each unique, old marriage photographs reveal a thousand social details. Taken by an amateur photographer in the Vercors in the beginning of the 1900s, a major part of the images, both solemn and moving, underwent anthropological study that stirred buried memories and family histories.

Digital photography
No past ?
If we, amateur and professional photographers alike, are not careful, the total numerisation of images could well make inaccessible in the future the millions of photos taken today.

Limping, but still going
Over 300 years old and always on time like a Swiss watch, the Messager boiteux is an almanac published every fall in Vevey. Considered essential by many Swiss families, it offers a pot-pourri of information and bases its predictions on both lessons from the past and good common sense.

City lights
Grenoble, nestled among the mountains, has drawn engravers and painters since the 1500s. Over time, the many works, fascinating in their variety, have portrayed the transformations and day to day life of the city. A remarkable journey through a changing urban and pictorial landscape to be seen at the Musée de l’Ancien Évêché.

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