Mountain View

[Image: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

After posting several of these images in our recent Venue interview with outdoor equipment strategist Scott McGuire—easily one of my favorite interviews of late, touching on everything from civilianized military gear used in everyday hiking to REI-augmented wilderness camp sites as the true heirs of Archigram—I was so taken by their weirdly haunting views of humans wandering through extreme landscapes, dressed in 19th-century suits and top hats, carrying canes, that I thought I'd post a larger selection.

[Images: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

Middle class gentlemen and ladies in hooped skirts walk into ice caves and step gingerly across the cracked, abyssal surfaces of old mountain glaciers, pointing up at things they don't understand.

[Image: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

At times, these feel almost like photos from some as-yet-unwritten Gothic horror story, perhaps a 19th-century Swiss prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing, in which purely accidental sequences of photos—

[Images: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

—imply a narrative of genial discovery, focused exploration, and eventual solo flight down the mountainside in terror.

In fact, I could easily imagine an Alpine variation on Michelle Paver's memorably unsettling Arctic ghost novel Dark Matter set in such geologically extravagant landscapes, as humans struggle to survive, both physically and psychologically, in this encounter with an incomprehensibly over-sized landscape millions of years older than they might ever be, naively setting up camp amidst a wilderness that does not want them there.

[Images: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

But then, at other times, these photos are almost like exaggerated set pieces by artists Kahn & Selesnick, whose work proposes fictional expeditions to otherworldly landscapes, missions to the moon, ancient salt cities, and more, all told through an almost unbelievably elaborate series of props, fake postcards, paintings, photographs, and more.

Like some unrealized backstory for their "Eisbergfreistadt" project, for example, or their "Circular River" expedition, men in wool vests pull one another up abstract glacial forms, as an incredible wooden staircase—if you look closely at the next image—races up the mountainside in the middle of nowhere.

[Image: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

After a point, these scenes are Chaplinesque and ridiculous, like turn-of-the-century bankers who got lost on a glacier in a Modernist play.

[Image: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

In any case, these all come courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, where substantially higher-res versions of each photo are available; but don't miss the additional photos in the interview with Scott McGuire over at Venue.

[Images: Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division].

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4 Comments:

Blogger Dave Rudolph said...

I'm a huge fan of the LOC website. what did you search for to get these fantastic images?

been following you for years by the way. high time I said hello. I'm a RISD architecture dropout-turned-photographer in Portland. you can see my tumblr of public domain images at http://saintpedestrian.tumblr.com

April 26, 2013 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Antoine said...

Thanks for this post, Geoff. I had the same "Kahn / Selesnick flash" when I saw the pictures.
During a recent trip in the French Alps, I saw some comparable photos too... probably an influence for Kahn & Selesnick, I guess!

April 27, 2013 3:51 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Antoine - small world. Glad to hear, though, that Kahn & Selesnick are drifting through someone else's imagination, as well, these days, and it would definitely be interesting to see the original, presumably 19th-century source material that inspired them, in turn.

Dave, you can find most if not all of these photos in the Mountains--Switzerland--1860-1890, Mountaineering--Switzerland--1860-1890, and Glaciers--Switzerland--1860-1890 collections. Glad you like them!

April 27, 2013 11:02 AM  
Blogger timquinn said...

One can imagine, right after the arrival of rail, an enlarged world for short term travelers in Europe and coupled with photography bringing real pictures of near and distant novelty. Kapow, the birth of tourism. Maybe a weekend in The Alps was the iphone of its day, status symbol of the upwardly mobile. The locals probably stood back and laughed before realizing here was a new clientele. So they went and dug the leiderhosen out of the closet, introduced themselves as mountaineering guides and recommended the proper footwear for the well-dressed ice-climbing vacationer. The rest just follows along.

April 29, 2013 11:03 PM  

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