Inauguration of Lumen, the Museum of Mountain Photography, at 2275m, perched atop Mount Kronplatz-Plan de Corones, South Tyrolean Mountains and Dolomites, Italy.
The highs and lows of photography? Well, in this case, the very highest of highs of photography, in the highest museum dedicated to mountain photography, at 2275m. Part exhibition venue, part museum, part architectural magnificence and part a fabulous place to eat, Lumen was for me an illuminating visit to a very unique place.
Uniquely, one can visit the four floors, exploring 1800 square meters of phenomenal mountain photography, then step outside and try one’s own hand at photographing the splendid views from Kronplatz mountain, situated in the Pustertal Valley, South Tyrol, Italy. The sights of The Dolomites and the Alps is breathtaking.
Not only layered landscapes but also some action shots of free falling paragliders, mountain bikers or the more sedate pace of hikers exploring the trails or the beautiful mountain flowers. I have to say that my nine hours didn’t feel enough as I wanted to continue taking in all that was on show at the museum and also make my own photographs around the magnificent venue and the views and opportunities for imagery.
Lumen is possibly the most inspiring museum I’ve been to. It’s been thoroughly thought out, beautifully designed and curated with taste and aesthetic depth. As an outsider to the world of mountain photography, my mind was opened when presented with so many aspects of imagery about the subject. Mountaineers, climbing shots, shots from the summit, images of record, all shot in a documentary way, showing the amazing feats, but also beautifully creative images of mountains in the landscape. It’s fascinating to see how mountains are perceived by different nationalities or beliefs; places of freedom and leisure, holy places, symbols of ideology. Nature, culture and symbolism.
Even the elevator has been creatively designed, with a glass back looking at a giant, four floor Lightbox, showing a journey from the valley to the peak of the mountain. Beautifully conceived and executed. Get in, press level three and start from the top. One Starts the journey by looking at the work of the pioneers in mountain photography. There is a section dedicated to the changes in photographic technology, starting with the earliest of cameras from 1840 and moving through the eras to digital. Many nowadays would have ever seen a darkroom, so I was thrilled to see a darkroom set up, along with three trays showing the steps in the development of a print, all done digitally, so no chemical stains or scents in this darkroom, just knowledge and experience.
Along with the more traditional prints, there is a lot of innovation throughout the museum. Everything from Virtual Reality headsets, allowing the visitor to experience the mountain, through to an action packed audio visual room showing the thrills of the sport of climbing.
One of the most interesting rooms to explore in a fully immersive way, was the Speigelsaal with its mirror walls, floor and ceiling. One huge wall was a screen showing images of mountains, which were then infinitely reflected through the room.
To add to the fascination, visitors walking around can see each other, or catch their own reflection, in a floating through time and space kind of way, defying gravity and hovering over a continuous montage of scenes. For those into selfies (and yes, I did take several!), this may just be the best location on the planet to do a self portrait.
The “Shutter” is a particularly impressive concept; a huge room with a floor to ceiling, circular focal plane type shutter which can be open or closed and therefore can be used as a projector screen when closed. When open, it’s a beautiful place to view the nearby mountain ranges and landscape from. A shutter through which to view and with which, to project what was already captured.
The artist in residence up to December 2019 is the supremely talented and fascinating photographer Kurt Moser, who along with project leader Barbara Holzknecht, forms Lightcatcher. There is a room dedicated to his wonderful ambrotype portraits, a film showing his workflow with this amazing technique as well as a “tiny” large format camera.
I say tiny as Kurt’s smallest regular use camera is a vintage large format Multilith Camera (USA) made in 1907, with a Charles Beseler Company 18” f3.6 lens, which when fully extended measures two meters. He calls this camera “Baby” and it can create ambrotypes up to 50x60cm.
The three meter “Lady in Red”, is the new camera which was purpose-built for Moser’s ongoing project on the Dolomites, following concern of putting the vintage baby camera through gruelling trips in the mountains. This supports both the square 90×90 cm and horizontal 90×55 cm formats. His next camera will be built into a vintage, six wheeled Russian military truck. Using an extremely rare Apo Nikkor 1780 mm and Leitz Epis 1000mm f3.5 lens, for photographing landscape images on black glass.
Kurt Moser says of the residency, “the artist in residence program of the Lumen Museum is very important for us. It is a relevant step on our way to Berlin where in 2021 we will have our big Unesco Dolomites Solo Exhibition at the Museum of Photography. The Lumen is our first exhibition and gives us the opportunity to make the ambrotype and its very special visual language accessible to a large audience. We also have videos in the Lumen which explain the procedure of ambrotypes to visitors, sharing this ancient technique. Of course our theme, the Unesco Dolomites, fits perfectly into the concept of the museum too!”
During the inauguration event, Kurt Moser did a live demonstration with “Baby”, making an ambrotype portrait of television presenter Max Moor. For the gathered crowds, the portrait was posed and lit, with the camera then being focused. After this point, the sitter had to remain completely still whilst the team rushed to their mobile darkroom to coat the glass plate with a collodion solution, which is then rendered photosensitive in a silver bath.
The prepared plate has a shelf life of only around five minutes, during which it must be processed and fixed. The coated glass plate was then rushed back into the Lumen Museum, placed in the camera and the lens cap was removed, allowing the nine second exposure. The plate was then rushed back into the mobile darkroom and processed, with the fixing stage being done outside the van, to the delight of the gathered crowd.
Once you’ve explored the museum, I can’t recommend highly enough popping into the “AlpiNN” restaurant, which combines culinary delights with the most stunning view. Even the mountain water is a sensory delight.
The summer season will continue to 13 October, open Monday to Sunday (including public holidays), between 10:00 to 16:00. Do keep in mind that the last cable car down is at 17:00! Find out more at https://www.lumenmuseum.it