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

The Poem Pavilion

British designer’s Stephen Hawking-influenced structure will use artificial intelligence to generate poetry.

Up Close: Wall of Death

The stuntmen of Allahabad, north India, risk their lives daily by riding motorbikes around vertical walls made from salvaged wood. Defying gravity through sheer momentum, they create a vertiginous, noisy whirl of action to enthrall the crowds.

Peter Freuchen

Shot here by Irving Penn in 1947, we commemorate the life of the Danish explorer, author, journalist and anthropologist who discovered Inuit culture, resisted the Nazis and won 'The $64,000 Question'.

Return to K2

Avaunt meets one of the greatest living mountaineers, Jake Meyer, to discuss what motivated his return to K2, the infamous mountain that defeated him seven years ago.

Living Free

When Devi Asmadiredja arrived off the bus in Georgia’s Pankisi valley, she had never travelled, spoke no Georgian or Chechen, and knew no one. Living among the locals, she soon began spending weeks walking alone in the mountains.

To the Congo

Children play on abandoned planes at Goma Airport during a rare time when no security forces, or the UN, were stationed there, in this series by Magnum photojournalist Michael Christopher Brown.
Browse by Category