The Mythology of Nature in a Swiss Valley

Taking leave of her daily life in a bustling city, German photographer Jessica Wolfelsperger goes in search of an experience of a divine or absolute reality in a secluded village surrounded by mountains amidst pure nature.

© Jessica Wolfelsperger, from the series Saga

Verzasca Foto Festival (Switzerland) - a PHM 2018 Women Photographers Grant partner - each year invites twenty artists to be forest explorers. Nature is perceived as a source of creative stimulus, roaming through the forest as an open door towards introspection and artistic reflection. Last year, Swiss photographer Jessica Wolfelsperger was invited to take part in the experience.

For two months, she settled in a traditional stone house next to a river and immersed herself in the place. “Everybody should go into nature for a while from time to time. It’s really detoxifying. You are not distracted by houses, lights, and an omnipresent Wi-Fi. When it’s night it’s really dark; you see how important and strong nature is, and you start to value it”, Wolfelsperger recounts.

© Jessica Wolfelsperger, from the series Saga

She read and heard about the myths of the place, reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm’s folklore collections. Inspired by a new context – one deprived of hyper connectivity - she went for long hikes across the countryside looking for signs of these legends and of older times. One day, she came across a house that caught her attention. The rooms were exactly as they were in the 20’s – the new owner had kept it as the house was when she purchased it. Raw wooden furniture, icons on the wall, she hadn’t changed anything. “Everything was exactly like they were at the time when the sagas were written”, Wolfelsperger comments. And she shot a photograph with her Polaroid camera, emphasising the timelessness.

Playing with the medium, and with the various textures that a digital, Polaroid or film camera can reveal, she started to tell her own saga. A contemporary one playing on the anachronistic features of her surroundings, and the encounters she has on her way. Asking inhabitants of the Valley to incarnate some of the legends that touched her, she would often overexpose their face, or hide them behind a prop.

© Jessica Wolfelsperger, from the series Saga

The consequent anonymity immediately places the scene into the sphere of imagination. “I don’t do documentary photography; I do what I call ‘soul scapes’. I like the fact that there is always a bit of secret”, she says. And there is. A man hidden behind a horn-shaped piece of wood evokes both a deer, king of the forest, protector of all other creatures, and the devil, omnipresent in the local traditional beliefs.

Image after image, Wolfelsperger constructs a new mythology, based on the mysticism of nature, as if to reconnect to another important part of the region’s history. That is, the time when, in the 1920’s, a group of creative people from Berlin, tired of capitalism and politics, decided to escape the big city and founded a free-thinking community in Monte Verita.

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Jessica Wolfelsperger is a Fine Art photographer based in Berlin. She studied photography in Berlin and had her graduation of Bachelor of Arts at the BTK – University of Art & Design. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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This article is part of our feature series, Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

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