Saturday, June 26, 2010

Flower Child

...from a photographer's notebook.

Arosa is a mountain village, high up in Switzerland’s eastern-most canton of Graubünden. It is reached by a most scenic one-hour train-ride from Chur, the cantonal capital, on the Rhätische Bahn, the narrow gauge railway that serves the canton.

I first fell in love with the various lines of the Rhaetian Railway and the views they provide of the glorious Alpine settings in this region in 1989. A highpoint of that visit included riding the famous Glacier Express from Zermatt (in Canton Valais) to St. Moritz – the Rhätische Bahn operates the train from Disentis to its eastern destinations, whether St. Moritz or Chur. That visit also introduced me to the Alpine enchantment of the RhB’s Bernina Line which connects the sunny Upper Engadine Region with Italy. But the RhB route that most engaged my passion for photographing brooding mountain landscapes was the Albula Line, which connects St. Moritz and Chur, and includes the soaring stone Landwasser Viadukt as well as other similarly dramatic structures, carrying the line over the deep gorges of the region.

While the Upper Engagine boasts its “Champagne Climate” with more than 300 sunny days a year (and what’s not to like about that?) the Albula route brings more of a brooding cloud- and mist-swept aspect, making those craggy gorges and soaring stone viaducts all the more wildromantisch. This is not to say the Albula Region does not see sun, just that its weather is more “mountain-variable.” And certainly more of a challenge to the photographer…

So, what does my little stone urchin have to do with trains and mountain weather?

It took me five years to return to Graubünden and the inviting red trains of the Rhätische Bahn. In early autumn 1994, I spent a few days in Chur. Chur is something of a train lover’s magnet. Its main rail station is the connection point between the mainline trains of the Swiss Federal Railway (SBB) and the narrow gauge trains of the Rhätische Bahn. Perhaps lost on the disinterested traveler in the easy cross-platform transfer from the SBB express from Zürich to the waiting Schnellzug nach Sankt Moritz, is that he is entering the domain of an extensive narrow gauge railroad system that reaches deep into the Albula Region, the Upper (and Lower) Engadine, the Vereina Region of Davos and Klosters, and the high-altitude line through the Bernina Range into sunny Italy. Ah, but the train lover revels in the different types of locomotives and rolling stock, and if he is patient, he might even catch sight of one of the RhB’s iconic brown “Crocodile" locomotives departing with a mixed goods and passenger train.

Another attraction for the railfan at Chur is upstairs from the mainline tracks, in front of the station, where the train to Arosa departs. Narrow gauge, like its brethren downstairs, this train begins its journey into the mountains by rumbling up a main thoroughfare of the capital, like a city tram. Before long, the buildings of Chur give way to some seriously beautiful mountain views, with stone viaducts that remind one of the bridges traversed on the Albula Line. Re-powering of the line in 1997 replaced the red multiple unit electric trains pictured here with blue equipment pulled by locomotives. I’m certain the blue cars are just fine, but frankly, I’m glad I was there in ’94 to catch the red trains in their autumnal mountain surroundings.

Well, about my little stone urchin…

Sometimes, an expected shoot – especially in the Alps – takes on a different character. While the trip began in sunshine and included lots of pristine sunlit vistas along the way, by the time we had climbed to Arosa, we were into the mists at the base of the clouds that shrouded the mountain peaks. So, Arosa itself was rather cloudy, chilly, and damp, with nary a peek at the surrounding mountain grandeur. Well, the photographer’s eye is always open for motifs that make him glad he’s “there.” And so, the shooting while awaiting the train back to Chur was more at close ranges than infinity. More like f/4 than f/22. The Velvia was stashed in favor of some “Faster-Fuji” that would allow some handheld shooting in the misty village. No sooner had I reloaded my trusty EOS-1 when my exploring eye caught this whimsical little sculpture. What made it really appealing was the serendipity of the purple flowers, which transformed my little stone cherub from mere monochrome. Oh, yes, and those wide white eyes.

And in that moment, I was glad I was there.

“Flower Child” was juried into the June show at the Art League Gallery in Old Town Alexandria. It is available in matted prints as well as framed. It will also be joining my line of Photo Note Cards.

I hope he brings you a smile.

©2010 Steve Ember

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