Alpine Gaze

Once gazed upon with awe as indestructible and pristine, mountains and the habitats they curate are increasingly threatened. Magnum has documented this evolution over the course of the eight decades since the storied photo agency’s beginnings with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and a small group of friends. The prints of vistas from around the world reflect man’s fascination with the peaks that dot the Earth and the drive to conquer them in quixotic attempts to reach the skies.

Some of the images bear witness to difficult journeys along steep, narrow paths, whilst others capture various encounters and interactions. There’s also a grim side when nature becomes a curated commodity rendered increasingly fragile by tourism and industrial encroachment. In Martin Parr’s The Matterhorn (1990), grey-haired tourists fill the foreground, obstructing our view of the snow-capped peak that straddles the Swiss-Italian border. Alex Webb shows Japanese tourists going trigger-happy with their cameras at Bolivia’s Valle de la Luna. Capa’s view of the Matterhorn is more glamorous, featuring a skier sunbathing at its foot. Chris Steele-Perkins gives a hallucinogenic view of Mount Fuji thanks to a long-exposure where the flashing red lights of road work combine with the fluorescent green of Fujinomiya city reflected in the clouds above. 

Even when majestic ranges are on full display, man is never far away. Thus Alex Majoli’s 2004 image of Mount Kenya stresses how what we see are only the “remnants of fast disappearing snowfields.” The exhibition is one of four revolving around alpine themes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Locle, Switzerland, an apt location for the show, perched at around 1,000 metres. They are also part of the upcoming Alt.+1000 photography festival in September.

Olivia Hampton

Magnum Photos: Montagnes. Musée des beaux-arts Le Locle, Switzerland. Until 13 October. Also at Forte di Bard, Italy. Through 7 January 2020. Find out more here.

1. Zermatt. SWITZERLAND. 1950. Skier sunbathing in front of the Matterhorn. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.