Werner Bischof’s Diary

An extract from the Swiss photographer’s diary describes a dawn ascent of the Alps and highlight his lyrical relationship with the landscape, and his existential and humanist interests.

  • Photography: Magnum

"How serene and great nature is, quite removed from this world - the moon casts its pale face on the glacier below us - a mighty flow of ice with holes and crevasses; blackish blue abysses signifying nothingness. So soft - so gentle, ennobling all, like a gentle hand the moonlight glides across the icy cold sheets, the shadows are not voids, they are full of life.

In the blue-black sky a star shines unnaturally bright – Venus, the sparkling dome descends upon the Lauteraarhörner as we make our way, infinitesimal in this immense basin, surrounded by ice and snow. Two beings joined by a rope, silent, unspeaking, each lost in his thoughts. The sharp spikes of the crampons start to bite and without effort the first steep slope lies behind us.

The first splinters of ice fly into my eyes, gleams of silver. I sense the power of the mountains, it is not the cold night air alone, nor the sound peculiar to ice axes cutting footholds – it is the space, the dimension about me, the freedom I need to live…

A contact sheet showing Werner Bischof's photographs of mountains (courtesy of Magnum Contact Sheets, published by Thames & Hudson ISBN 9780500544105).

The warming sun feels good. We are only a few meters below the cornice of the summit. What splendor will unfold before us when we look into the next valley, as yet unknown to us. Will it be a gentle snowfield! Will it have steep, rugged rock walls! We do not know…everything about this is wonderful: the anticipation, the enchantment of surprise, unbounded happiness for the person who sees and appreciates the mountains, who grows tired from looking, not from walking.”

This description of a dawn ascent of the Ochsen from the Strahlegghutte was found in Werner Bischof’s diary, dated 19 August 1940. Nature came to Werner Bischof’s rescue, and photography. On long mountain hikes, often alone, he relaxed from a total of 800 days on active duty during WWII.

His observations reveal the photographer’s sensitive eye, and his longing for peace and harmony too. To him the mountains were a kind of “home”.

Article taken from
Articles

Further Reading

Prefab Sprout

Vertical farming gets a conceptual boost in a design that reconnects urban residents with nature.

Archive Letter: ‘Three Sporty Girls’

In early 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton’s office posted an advertisement worded: Men wanted for hazardous journey. The overwhelming response was not limited to men, but the reply to Shackleton’s office to these ‘three sporty girls’ was one of regret.

Soviet Bus Stops

Photographer Christopher Herwig recounts the epic Central Asian road trips he took over 12 years, covering 30,000km, to document the unique and architecturally experimental Soviet bus stops.

Hunting Eagles in Mongolia

Against the backdrop of an unforgiving landscape, the Kazakh tradition of eagle hunting endures. Photographer Frédéric Lagrange documents the culture he first fell in love with seventeen years ago.

The Frontiers of First Aid

Combat medic LCpl Hangam Rai - who has himself narrowly escaped death in Afghanistan - takes Avaunt through the essential kit for survival on the battlefield.

Will Self: Adventures in Writing

Inspired by the premature efforts of medieval Norsemen, author Will Self sets out on an adventure to recolonise literary modernism for the digital age.
Browse by Category