Frozen Observations: An Interview with Ester Vonplon
The snow and icy wonderland that sat on Arctic waters are the things hypnotizing photographer Ester Vonplon. Clear, pure white moves her poetic photography, and in this interview, the photographer surmises and wonders more and more about its enticement.
Hi Ester, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Firstly, what’s the inspiration behind your trilogy (ARKTIS, GLETSCHERFAHRT, SCHNEE/SALZ)?
When I moved back from Berlin to my home village in the Swiss Alps, I was very attracted by the snow again. Especially by the snow, I found in summer while hiking up in the mountains. All different conditions of snow and the look of old snow that made it all through the summer. The white turns dirty after all that time up there. There are many different conditions of snow.
“ I was interested in the concept of white. White in Western culture stands for so many things. We cover a dead body with white sheets — the snow covers the landscape and what ever there is. It covers dirt, everything… White can be nothing. Can be a sheet of paper.”
Then I was interested in the concept of white. White in Western culture stands for so many things. We cover a dead body with white sheets — the snow covers the landscape and what ever there is. It covers dirt, everything. A white landscape without horizon, only the structure left, remains disoriented. We lose ratio, we lose time and place. Things that are of great importance in photography. White can be nothing. Can be a sheet of paper.
For “Gletscherfahrt”, what inspired you to take images of glaciers?
When I was up in the mountain during summer in the search for snow I found the covered glaciers. I was very touched by it looks. To me, it felt, like being a witness of a dying animal. On the other hand, the large white sheets that covered the ice resembled the marble statues that I knew from Italy. The melting glacier and the harsh weather up there have drawn beautiful traces on the fabrics. In all that sadness I found beauty.
You also made audio recordings for this shoot. How did you feel when you heard the cold wilderness?
When you spend many days up there, you will find out, that there is a lot of different noises. Up there you feel far from society but on the other hand, even up there is no silence. You will hear all the melting water, the ice breaking, insects and so many airplanes and helicopters crossing the mountains on their way to somewhere.
In “Ruinaulta”, you photographed the Rhine Canyon in very dreamy aesthetics, similar to how Glescherfahrt was shot. Why choose this sort of style?
That is the way I see it and maybe what is out there if you go there on a certain time and look closer. Ruinaulta is the canyon of the Rhine. It’s where my village is situated. In winter I spend many early mornings in freezing cold conditions going around all alone. The polaroid-film did his part to the work under very cold conditions.
If you can do one thing forever, what would it be?
That’s a very difficult question! Is there really something I would like to do forever and ever again? Maybe to stay curious for a lifetime. To get up and keep the desire of exploring what is out there.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Who are your muses?
My inspiration I get from having time to spend. It’s quite a rare thing. If I have time to go around not knowing what comes next and have nothing in mind at that point I start to work. To lose myself in a sense that’s very inspiring.
If you could work or collaborate with any photographer, who would it be?
That’s is a difficult one. Probably it would rather be a filmmaker. 15 or more years ago maybe Aki Kaurismaki and if they would still be alive, Peter Liechti on the first place.
Describe to us — what’s a day in the life of Ester Vonplon?
It depends on the season. Summer is very different. My preferred time of the year is the cold months. In winter I get up early. First thing I do is putting a warm cloth on, go out side to get some wood to heat up my stove. Go to the café for a little breakfast. Listen to the news on the radio. Waking up my little girl. Send her to school and start the day. On a good day, straying around in the canyon. Getting lost in the snow.
Coming back home after hours out there around lunch and hopefully be invited to lunch at my relatives in the village. Spending the afternoon on the cross country slope with my daughter and friends. In the evening go to the cinema or bar in my neighborhood village and go to bed in my cold bedroom with a hot water bottle under my bedspread.
What do you usually do during your downtime? Any ongoing project, or other plans you’re keen to work on?
Lot’s of new projects in the pipeline. Just released my new book about the arctics called “lowlands” a collaboration with the 2 musicians Taylor Deupree & Marcus
Fischer, published by IIKKII books. An other 2 books will be published in September. One is an exchange with Juerg Halter, a very gifted poet. We called the book: “Alleine tanzend — irgendwo”.
The 2nd book will be published for my upcoming exhibition at the new Art museum in Chur: Singen Vögel im Schlaf. the book will come out with no words in a 4 x 5 format. Sort of contact sheets all collected in one book. My own little collection of the last years. And after all the publications I can’t wait to be out there to find new situations and places to work on and hopefully find some more time to help out my friend Roger Eberhard at b.frank books.