the skiable landscape / introduction


I’m not a skier. I live in a low, flat country. So far I had been in the mountains only during summer holidays. Of course I had seen pictures of mountains in wintertime, mostly in advertisements for ski holidays. These images usually presented small groups of skiers sliding through a peaceful winter wonderland, or enjoying a luxury life in a picturesque chalet, covered with a thick layer of snow.

I never felt really attracted to this, partly because I'm not very sportive (and probably also too lazy to learn to ski), and partly because winter has never been my favorite season anyway.

The first time I found myself on the front de neige of a French ski resort I was astonished by the industrial scale of what is supposed to be a leisure activity: the machinery that is needed to get all these people up and the ant-like crawling of the skiers coming down the slopes, entire cities being built to house, feed and entertain them, and all this in a spectacular winter wonderland setting. What also struck me is the strange mix of careful planning and architectural wild-west: some resorts are beautifully designed to fit in their natural surroundings, while others are nothing more than a clutter of chalet-style buildings that, notwithstanding their so-called traditional architecture, have no relationship with the original landscape at all.

It also made me wonder how all this would look in summer, when all the tourists are gone and only the infrastructure is left behind, bereft of its purpose.

There is, and has always been, a lot of debate about the good and the bad sides of this mass tourism, about the burden that it is laying on the previously sparsely inhabited mountain areas versus the prosperity it brought to the region. It can not be denied that skiing is a great pleasure for so many people, and allows them to break away from everyday worries. Nor can it be denied that the rise of the winter sports tourism gave the region's economy, that was severely lagging behind in the post-war years, a tremendous boost. But it can also not be denied that the infrastructure needed for this mass tourism hurts the delicate ecology and the landscape of the mountains, and the change from agriculture to commercial service industry has almost inevitably affected or even destroyed many of the traditions that existed among the people who lived there.

I have a strong stance that, as a photographer, I have to be humble. These are complex dilemma's, and I am not in the position to decide what is wrong or what is right. I can only observe, with a distant - albeit personal - view, and show the things that have struck me. It is the photographer's gift, and maybe therefore his task, to intensify views, and thus feed people's thinking, and keep the debates alive.

With all this in mind I traveled through the French Alps for five separate weeks, in the winters from January 2010 till January 2012, and in the summer of 2010. My focus was the landscape, and how it was affected by the ski tourist industry. My vantage point was the idealistic views presented by the advertising photographs; the result is simply what I found, with all its beauty and with all its ugliness.

I chose to mention my series The Skiable Landscape, as it has been the ability to be skied upon that has been decisive for the fate of many mountain areas.