Doorstep paradise

In German we have a saying that goes like "Why wandering to far off places? Beauty is so close". Thinking about my own feelings about where to travel to and where to shoot I must confess that the opposite was true. I sought the wild experiences only other countries than Germany or other continents than Europe seemed to offer. Travelling far meant traveling adventurously? Sticking close to my home meant dealing with a landscape that is flat, to a great extent featureless and heavily trammelled by man.

This year made me change my mind to a certain degree. While the itch to travel far remains unbroken, I learned that beauty is actually closer than I realized. I always had the suspicion that I’ve not yet seen the most remarkable places of Germany or Europe, but I did not expect how much I’d love these places. In February I travelled to Norway for a week of shooting with Arild Heitmann and Stian Klo. The Lofoten Archipelago is a place beyond words and by no means inferior to the great wildernesses of the Americas or other places. I was hooked and will return sooner than later. A little research showed me that I’ve seen only a fraction of what Norway has to offer and that within the rest of this country lies remarkable beauty.

In August I made a long wish come true and made my first trip to the Alps in ages and the first trip with the intent to photograph these mountains. I had contradictory feelings concerning the Alps before my trip: On the one hand the photographs of Patrice Mestari, Alessandro Gruzza or Andreas Resch showed me the how remarkably fascinating these mountains can be, how serene, powerful and wild they can be when going to the right places. On the other hand I studied maps and researched for hikes and photo spots and learned that the Alps are among the most heavily transformed ranges in the world. Human presence is everywhere, few valleys without a highway, few rivers without villages and infrastructure, few mountaintops without cable car access and ski areas. I was sure that you have to look hard to scenes to hike through and photograph that can compare to the wilderness experience of let’s say the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

My week in the Wetterstein-Gebirge, a range of the Alps at their northern edge in Germany, reassured me in both matters. Yes, these mountains are dotted with human settlements and infrastructure all over the place and there often is only one way to look and to walk when you’re trying to escape it. This reduces the variability when shooting with the light. But I also learned that taking the effort to search for the remote spots is worth it. I found places of remarkable beauty, niches of wilderness that are able to deliver the same experiences as the Rockies. And I also found spots that even exceed anything that I’ve seen before – that is something I did not expect.

The photo below tells the story of me being hit hard by the wild beauty of the region. It portrays a roaring creek making its way out of the mountains and into the lush valley. The Hammersbach carves one of the most remarkable gorges I’ve seen so far and flows swiftly through the Höllental (hell’s valley) afterwards. The virgin forest of beeches, spruces and birches combined with the limestone boulders make the creeks way a wild and scenic one. Although I knew I was only three kilometres away from a well-established mountain village and a paved road with tourist busses, the wilderness of this place was a revelation. It was a mental reboot for me, a doorstep paradise.

I will continue travelling to far off places with the same enthusiasm. In a few weeks I’ll be off for a major trip through eastern Canada and New England for fall colors, lakes, mountains and streams. But at the same time, I came to believe the notion of looking at your own doorstep when searching for natural beauty. It’s a realization with only gains and no losses.