Rolf Sachs’ blurred journey through the camera's eye

Swiss artist and photographer Rolf Sachs’ latest project shows an ever-changing train journey, with trees, buildings and structures reduced to abstract blurs.

Many of us take the same train journey day in, day out. The details that sweep by the window become part of the familiar detail of our lives. We no longer really see them.

Swiss artist Rolf Sachs grew up in the Engadin Valley, an Alpine pass which includes the ski resort town of St Moritz. The passage of time and the seasons has been a hallmark of his work, such as his series The Wild Emperor, in which a camera took a picture of the view of the Wild Kaiser mountain range from Sachs' home every 10.5 minutes for a year.

For his latest project, Sachs commuted by train from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy, capturing not the landscapes but the rush of undefined details sweeping by: trees and lamp-posts, other trains,station buildings. The result is a collision between landscape photography and abstract art, streaks of colour filtering the Swiss countryside.

He spoke to BBC Culture about the influences behind this project.

BBC Culture: Where did the idea come from?

Sachs: The concept first developed from a photographic project I did with my wife Maryam in 2004; The Wild Emperor documented the ever-changing view of the mountainscape spanning over an entire year, taking a photograph every 10 minutes and 31 seconds.

BBC Culture: Why this journey and location?

Sachs: As a boy, I grew up and went to school in the Engadin valley. I often travelled on the Albula-Bernina Railway line and so appreciate the natural beauty and diversity of the surrounding Alpine landscape. I am constantly surprised by the new details I see in every journey – I wanted to experiment with combining the motion of the train with these remarkable views. I was inspired by another project I did where I mounted a camera onto a boat, which captured the journey through the seas of the world.

BBC Culture: How long were you taking these images?

Sachs: The shooting began last December 2012 and the last journey between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy will be taken this December 2013 to finish the project and capture the full cycle of seasons. We used the Leica S2 camera, the smallest medium-format digital camera system. It is easy to handle and robust while producing superb image quality.

BBC Culture: You grew up in the valley – is this to try and document how it’s changed?

Sachs: No, it has nothing to do with documentation. Through the motion of the train I want to show a new perspective of the landscape and the result is surprising and in some ways unexpected.

BBC Culture: How many pictures did you take? How hard was the editing process?

Sachs: Between 1 December 2012 and 26 July 2013 we had already taken 9,077 images so you can imagine how difficult the editing process must be. By the time we finish the final journey, we anticipate the total number will be about 15,000.

BBC Culture: This captures the way people often see landscape as they travel – a blur. Is it hard to capture it the way we actually see it?

Sachs: The project aims to capture the landscape in a way the human eye cannot perceive.

BBC Culture: And did you notice patterns and things that you hadn’t before?

Sachs: I find the surprising combination of photorealism with blurred abstract elements very interesting. Every journey provides different views and ever changing combinations of light and speed. I hope it allows the viewer to really engage in a moment of capture and to appreciate the beauty of this landscape through an abstract technique.

A selection of prints from Camera in Motion: From Chur to Tirano will be on display at the Schlossereiwerkstatt in St Mortiz from 25 August.

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