The Ausseerland, in the geographical middle of Austria, is an area of outstanding natural beauty with its crystal clear lakes and impressive mountain backdrops. Beneath its picture-postcard appearance, the region and its inhabitants preserve a strong sense of tradition and heritage, while equally embracing change and progression. Austrian Leica S photographer Armin Walcher explores this fascinating region in search of the hard-to-pin-down sense of local identity via 30 in-depth encounters with local craftspeople, musicians and artists. The personal stories are told via images and text in the beautifully compiled book “Zeitlos in Bewegung”, while an interactive website includes compelling videos, offering more insight into the 30 individual stories. Here we feature just a few of these local characters and speak with Armin about the challenges of capturing such an illusive concept as local identity in photographic form.
You used to be a professional athlete before you became a photographer, how did you transition from one career into the next?
It was more or less by accident. During my career as a professional athlete I wanted to update my website with better photos. So I bought a better camera. I immediately fell in love with the feeling of photography, which I had not been able to imagine before. I really got obsessed and started to do more and more and more…
How did your passion for photography develop? Is there anyone in particular, who influenced or inspired you along the way?
The development went from nature, to sports, then to commercial, people and documentary photography. It was a process, I would say. I had to grow as a person to go more into people and documentary photography. I could not imagine that when I started to shoot. It took me some time.
Nature photography is still a learning process for me. I gain new insights each time I shoot, I keep discovering new things and I appreciate it if situations have meaning in an honest way, not in a spectacular one.
I learn a lot from each kind of photography, which keeps my life and my life as a photographer in fascinating movement. I don’t want to stand still. I want to develop. I can’t say who influenced or inspired me in particular, but my dad is a big part of my career in photography. He loves photography and always has honest feedback.
Your earlier work was very dynamic, while this series especially feels very grounded in the present. Was this change intentional or did it simply come about?
That’s true, it’s something completely different. I mean it seems like that but I always had that in mind and I was already working on such grounded things. I would not say it’s so much a change, as simply growing as a person, realizing ideas and bringing those ideas to life. From the beginning on I have always been shooting things for myself, they now make sense if you combine them.
With the book, “Zeitlos in Bewegung”, you pose the following question, “Is it possible to combine flexibility and stability, change with tradition?” This seems incredibly pertinent to our time. When did you first come up with this series and how did you go about realizing it?
I came up with that a little over one year ago. I had a concept in my head and I already knew what it would look like in practice. So I “only” had to start it. I had no assignment for the project and I didn’t want to have one, because I wanted to realize it in my own way and then see the final result. I found a great team, every person had the same goal and the same motivation. So we kept going and going to finalize the book. In the end it was a great experience to see how people can work together in creative freedom. Now I realize that I have published my first book in such wonderful quality. All in all, it was great teamwork and a wonderful result.
Your conclusion is incredibly beautiful, to paraphrase: “A strong sense of identity and home will protect you from ever being afraid of change and movement”. Was this a result of all the people you spoke to or was this already a thesis at the beginning of your work? How do you think this type of thinking manifests in humans?
This thesis was one I had been thinking about for a while beforehand and it got reinforced during talking with the people. I would say the more convinced you are of what you are doing, the less scared you are of losing something and the more relaxed you are about changes. You just need to be yourself and be convinced of what you are doing. That is true for most situations in life, I would say.
Why exactly did you choose to focus on the Ausseerland in Austria?
It’s not far away from where I live. I know the area and the way of life there. I can also identify with the area, which is really special. From the outside it looks like the people are completely different and special in their own way. I mean their behavior, their way of living. They are confident, really confident. It is hard to get really close on a personal or emotional level because they are not easy to approach. I wanted to find out about that behavior, to see what’s so special about it and why their attitude is different. I wanted to focus on culture and traditions, and I want people to realize that we also have culture that is worth documenting, we don’t always need to search for it on different continents. I felt like I needed to understand my culture as well as learn from it.
Do you have a favorite image in this series? And why?
No, I can’t name a particular photo. The result is a book with over 600 photos and 508 pages. I am sure other people will find their favorite image. For me it is always hard to answer something like that, because it has more personal meaning for me and I have a different relationship with the stories and people in the book. I can definitely say that every story is something special.
You shot this selection of photos with the Leica S. What is it about the camera, which you appreciate the most?
The image quality, the reliability, the file size, high ISO, the whole camera is a masterpiece. The book was shot with natural light, so no artificial light. I mean, I shot in a mine. I thought, what can I do there? I pushed the ISO to the maximum and I still got stunning results. It is also weather resistant and the lenses are perfect. This camera is a wonderful piece of art.
Apart from this fantastic series, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I am happy that I can finally hold the book in my hands now, but I already have some other ideas in mind, which need to be put into practice. This won’t be the last project, for sure.
What advice would you offer to anyone looking to improve their photography?
Go out and photograph things you love. Stay motivated and don’t do it for likes. Add meaning to your photographs, a meaning you see and people will see or discover. And the most important thing is to have fun using your camera.
You can find out more about Armin’s project “Zeitlos in Bewegung” at the official website, where you can also see a number of excellent videos.