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From Yemen to Peru, traveling around the world through the photographs of Richard de Tscharner

Music and photography: the exhibition Il canto della Terra is not only an ode to the earth, but also a way to honor the work of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler

Richard de Tschaner – photographing beauty

When Richard de Tscharner decided to focus on nature and landscape photography, his decision was dictated by unconsciousness: «I did not know the wide range of possible divisions within the spectrum of photography». Raised in Switzerland, he followed his father’s example, and, in the Fifties, started experimenting with black-and-white silver photography, though he is keen to point out that it is incorrect to talk about “black-and-white” in photography as these two contrasts contain shades of grey. His passion turned into a real job only years later after retiring from his job at Lombard Odier & Cie, encouraged by a friend of his, the portraitist Jean-Baptiste Huynh who, a few years before, had invited de Tscharner to join him on a photographic trip to Mali. De Tscharner had been photographing beauty, understood as harmonious shapes and nice-looking subjects, inspired by the photographic production of Ansel Adams, world-famous American landscape photographer and environmentalist, who spent most of his life photographing American national parks and desolated panoramas. Soon after his retirement, he realized it was time to discover what he likes to call “the other world”, distant from the one he had experienced and witnessed during his career and business travels. He embarked on a 108 day trip around the planet far from the beaten tracks, where he had the chance to come across unexpected types of beauty in the forms of cliffs, canyons and mountains carved and polished by the wear of time and the action of water and glaciers. 

Lampoon talks to Richard de Tscharner

De Tscharner’s fascination with geomorphology pushes him to question ‘Who are we? What are we doing here?’. «If you observe mountains, valleys, and cliffs you can see they have several different layers, each of which represents around 1000 years of history of our planet. The world is seven-eight billions years old, but we have been around only for about 200.000 or 300.000 years». These observations offered de Tscharner insights about what he wanted to convey through his photographs: the landscapes and horizons which our world hosts and offers to humans are the result of a long process of formation marked by testing times earth had to overcome. «Life is not meant to be easy; we all have to get through testing times, but they represent milestones of our way to wisdom ». During that physical and emotional journey, de Tscharner had the opportunity to visit some of the remote places of the world. From Yemen, where architecture, plains and wadis harmoniously mix and intertwine, to Peru, which he defines «absolutely perfect, from the summits of the mountains to the bottom of the sea», from Kamchatka’s volcanic lands to the Salt Lake of Uyuni, where the setting sun turns the white of the salt towards blue and pink depending on the clouds and the reflections of the sky, he captured with his camera what he calls «the gardens of the gods»

Gustav Mahler The song of the Earth

Most of them are gathered in his solo exhibition Il canto della Terra (The song of the Earth), in Todi, from 12 June until 22 August. The exhibition, curated by William Ewing, is an ode to the planet and a way to honor de Tscharner’s favorite composer, Gustav Mahler. In 1908, Mahler went through depression caused by the early death of his eldest daughter. On top of that, the anti-Semitic wave sweeping across Europe and his heart condition forced him to resign his post as artistic director of Vienna Opera House. Despite all of this, Mahler found the energy to immerse himself in Chinese poetry which inspired The song of the Earth, one of his most intimate works, according to de Tscharner, in which the eternity of the earth and human transitional life are put in contrast. «It was his goodbye to the world. In this symphony he talks about nature and seasons which keep going on and on, though he was aware that soon he would have not been there to witness them anymore». 

White desert, Egypt

Lampoon review The song of the Earth exhibition in Todi

The photographs exhibited in Todi were selected and combined by the curator to create three narratives focused on different themes. The first room, Sala delle Pietre, is dedicated to the uncontaminated landscapes of planet earth with no trace of human life, from Vietnam to Sudan, from Sri Lanka to Bolivia. The second location, Torcularium, hosts a selection of pictures entitled Youth. The photographs portray actions and rural habitations of humans living in Mali, Ethiopia and India, among others. What de Tscharner appreciates about coming in contact with different populations and tribes is seeing how traditions and behaviors change according to their culture: « Muslim women do not like to be photographed, they feel as if their souls could be corrupted by the camera and when in Yemen, we tried not to offend the people with our camera. From there we flew to India, it was the Indian new year and there everyone wanted to be photographed, pilgrims and families, even though they knew they would have never seen the final shots». In Ethiopia de Tscharner visited the Omo Valley where eighty-eight remaining tribes still live in primitive conditions, working the land, without electricity or internet. «There are two kinds of trips around the world: we chose the sunny part, where people live in harmony, grateful for what they have. I realized that a lot of the unhappiness is concentrated around the urban agglomerations, where people expect to find a job and earn a living, but often all they encounter is misery » de Tscherner claims. The third sector, “Farewell”, located in the Pinacoteca of Todi, is a collection of pictures of ancient ruins which testify the short passage of the men on earth. Once again, the remains of Soudan pyramids and Inca fortresses are there to remind people about the brevity of human life. 

The changing times in life

De Tscharner remains faithful to analogue photography which he considers a mature technique, despite the difficulties in processing the film and printing the photographs, «The man in the dark room is a key person, it is said that the photographer only does fifty percent of the job». The choice to employ an analogue camera is coherent with his philosophic approach to photography, which leads de Tscharner to only portray subjects which arouse emotions and interest in him. The aesthetics of the photographs presented in Todi is emphasized by de Tscharner’s photographic technique, which sometimes ranges in width and depth, and sometimes captures the subject from up close. De Tscharner is aware that he will have to adapt his work and subjects of interest to his possibilities in the future: «There are different times in life: one to grow up, one to deliver, one to relax and enjoy life remaining active and, finally, one to lay back. The more you grow old, the less you go far away and immerse yourself in extreme situations. In fact, there will be a time when I will be happy focusing on still life». While waiting for the time of still life to come, de Tscharner keeps traveling and learning as he is trying to incorporate digital photography into his work. When in his home country, he works on a series of photographs portraying Swiss alpine passes, which nowadays are popular tourist attractions, but in the past centuries served as borders and defense barriers against potential invaders. An exhibition and a book on the subject are planned for 2023. This collection of pictures is a reminder of the historic role of alpine passes, where the ruins of trenches and fortifications, well integrated in the mountain rocky landscape, are once again a memento of the transience of life and of the passage of time.

Richard de Tscharner photographer

Richard de Tscharner was born in Bern in 1947. In 2009 he retired to devote himself to photography. Remaining faithful to black-and-white analogue photography, since the beginning of his photographic production he focused on landscapes, nature, and travel photography. Some of his works have been exhibited at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland, among others.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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