The physical process of hiking the Alps

In Conversation with Bas Princen and Agnieszka Kozlowska


How would you describe your working process?

Bas: We have a strange relationship in the sense that there is not a lot of communication. But, when the communication is there, we try to pinpoint a couple of things that are possible routes or paths that could be taken. It feels more like looking at the process and getting it as sharp as possible. I don’t want to join the travels, I don’t want to join the real production, because I think that is so much part of Agnieszka’s work. It is really her work to go alone, spend this time, go to the mountain, prepare it. I would even go so far as to say: if you interfered in that part, the work would not be her work anymore.

So I take this role in which I am very removed and try to understand what you are doing, Agnieszka. Then I give my advice to see where things could be sharper. Mostly, we talk about the preparation: the walk into the mountains to set up the camera, going back, thinking about the process, monitoring the weather and understanding how long the camera has to be out. There is a very precise set of rules. I think that is part of the work and, in a way, it's what I am most interested in. How can you set everything up in such a precise way that the moment you start to walk, you are free from everything?

Agnieszka: Also for me that is what is the most valuable and what is the most needed with my work. The careful pre-planning of the making of every piece and then just executing this plan in the field have always been the way in which I worked, it is just about finding the right means to communicate the process.

You mean to communicate the process to an audience or the viewer?

Bas: No, I would say, what Agnieszka calls the process, I call the work (laughs).

I think the work is going up the mountain and then sometimes, she shows me if a plate worked or not, but that’s more a technical question. It has a lot of re-vibrations to connect what, I think, is her work: Going up the mountain, and then the element or the object that comes out of it. But these two things are not very connected, as I see it. It is about positioning the different elements of the work: going up the mountain and then the object that comes out of it - this very precise photographic relief.

How do you convey this personal experience? How do you deal with this problem of of making something tangible out of an experience, which is actually rather impossible?

Bas: The question you are asking was indeed a question for me as well. To me, it was quickly clear, it's not only about the plates, it's about something else. The plates are the perfect excuse. But you can also use the plates to somehow make this process visible and make it sharp.

We talked about this a lot and that is why there are going to be these videos that Agnieszka makes almost automatically. You just need a record of an experience. While this experience can never be transferred as the real experience that she has, there are parts of it which can make you understand that there is this travel. I think you ended up with showing this video where your watch is in the picture and your heartbeat is exposed  while you're walking up the mountain. I like this, because the stills that I saw just let you see the snow and the watch with the heartbeat and that’s it.

And I think this is very precise, because at that moment, you don’t have to transfer the experience, and it isn’t transferable anyway. That is the private part of the work, and I respect it. It shouldn't be about the atmosphere or about a romanticism of the beauty of walking in the Alps. But there is this certain aspect of doing it: Spending time and understanding how your body relates to the environment.

Agnieszka: Yes, it goes back to my earlier work where I looked for ways to communicate the experience of walking in the landscape. I wanted to find an automated way of recording it, which would be set up in advance and wouldn't require any intervention while I was walking - it wouldn't interfere with the experience. I am happy this aspect of my practice came back strongly into this project. I a way, this pre-planned and automated way of working has always been important. The creative and exciting part is coming up with the ideas for the photographic processes, materials and equipment, and for ways of using them in the field on particular walks. I plan every aspect of each walk and the photographic exposure down to the finest detail. This is the research and it takes a lot of time. And then I just go out and do it. When I do it, I'm not thinking about it anymore. I really do it sort of on autopilot. And with Bas we are trying to find a way for the work to fully embrace this pre-planned aspect and extend it also to the way it is being exhibited.

Then there is this striking similarity between presenting two things that are both spatial and very physical - the walking and the three-dimensional plates that are carved by light, right?

The reason I experiment with photographic processes and materials is to find a way of communicating the embodied experience of space. This is why I want this physical photographic object that was directly formed by the environment. The aspect of walking itself and of physically being in the landscape is key, but it was more in the background of this project, and we were working on ways of bringing it to the forefront again.

Bas: Do you remember, Agnieszka, when you told me last time that you had to travel to the south side of the Alps, because that is where the light was falling. You know, there are all kinds of questions that come up, but they come up very slowly, in the process of the work.

Agnieszka: Yes, definitely, the whole process is incredibly slow. I mean, I think people don't necessarily realize how slow this whole thing is. I began experimenting with those materials two years ago and I'm still trying to work things out. Each photographic exposure in winter takes several days or weeks, because there is so little light. And the light falls only on the south slopes of the mountains, so I have to position myself very carefully. To make each work I need to travel to the Alps and wait for good weather to be able to set a camera up. Then I need to repeat the walk to collect it. Sometimes there is nothing in the photographic plate because the camera got snowed under. So I'm spending months just to get several of those plates done.

Here you can find more Information about Agnieszka Kozlowskas's project Carved by Light.