Rolf Sachs: Camera in Motion

The multi-talented, London-based designer and artist Rolf Sachs just presented his conceptual long-term photographic journey “Camera in Motion – From Chur to Tirano” at the St. Moritz Art Masters in August 2013, which he captured using the Leica S-System. We sat down in his exhibition located in an old metal workshop and shot the above video with the Leica M. Below, the St. Moritz local hero offered us a close look at his work and also his striking personality.

Q: Hi Rolf, could you please give us some background information on yourself.

A: I am an artist and designer. I live in London. I’ve got my studio there, which is some sort of creative lab. We do all kinds of different creative work there. We do furniture, sculptures, set design, window design, and occasionally also conceptual photography projects.

Q: When did you start taking pictures?

A: I started to take pictures when I was seven. We’ve always been a very creative family. So, I have had a very strong relation to photography since my childhood. I got my first camera from my father, who did a lot of movies at that time. I’ve shot a lot of performing musicians and pop concerts. I developed the film myself, enlarged the negatives and printed posters, which I sold to class mates and friends.

When my father started to became a serious and professional photographer, I lost my interest in photography for a while. He was really great and I felt that what I am doing is comparably poor. However, I loved photography that much that I always picked up again. I also gave photography classes once. In the long run I couldn’t other than using photography again to express my creativity.

Q: How do you take photos? What is your approach and what are your main subjects?

A: Of course I take a lot of pictures privately. When I go public with a photography project it normally has a conceptual and documentary background. For instance in my first photo project, “The Wild Emperor”, I took photos every 10 minutes  from the same view of a landscape over the course of one year. So in the end I had over 48,000 photos, which documented the impact of the seasons on the landscape. During another project I placed a camera on a boat, which was on a cruise around the world for one and a half years. In the end we had many, many “Souvi-photos”, which basically means very beautiful and highly diverse horizon landscapes of the sea.

Q: Apparently you like to combine a static camera with an overall dynamic subject. Could you explain why you tend to go for this kind of conceptual layout. Please tell us also something about the parallels to your recent project “Camera in Motion – From Chur to Tirano.”

A: I always loved the idea of adding a certain dynamic to a still picture. Thus, I often use a still and very static camera set-up, which is somehow in motion. That way I like to capture a very dynamic world, which normally appears to stand still for the observer. With “With Camera in Motion” for instance we were virtually able to add a certain layer to the world. You could compare the images that came out of the camera to the oeuvre of Gerhard Richter, where you have photo-realism, the blurred and also totally abstract paintings. Combining the dynamic of the motion to the static landscape you have even an added extra between the blurred and the photo-realism.

Q: Could you please describe your project “Camera in Motion” in detail.

A: The photo project is done on a train. It’s a very famous train line between Chur, St. Moritz going down to Italy, over the Bernina Pass to Tirano. The Albula and Bernina train line which runs through the alpine landscape called ” Engadin” is a UNESCO  world heritage site. The train line was built in the early 20th century and was due to the challenges of building it in these heights and massive rocks a true engineering wonder at the time. The overall aim was to document this impressive landscape from a dynamic angle. So it was an obvious for me to do it from this train.

Q: When and how did you come up with that idea of the project?

A: Basically, I woke up in the morning and the idea was just there. When I met some friends from Leica, we discussed the idea and decided to give it a try. Whilst doing our first trials, me and local photographer Daniel Martinek, who has been assisting with the implementation of the project, realised pretty quickly that there’s much more depth in the project than we originally thought. So the overall concept evolved over time. And every time we do a run, we’re always fascinated that the results are a little different and we experienced many fantastic surprises.

Also, each time the result has a lot of different aspects to it. For each run we are always trying to capture new, different and interesting perspectives and angles. But overall the surprise is a big and inspiring force in this project since you can only plan the result to a very limited extend.

Q: When did you start with that project and how long will you be working on “Camera in Motion”?

A: We did our first test runs in October 2012 and then started in January 2013. We will continue until December 2013. So this covers pretty much one year of Engadin. It’s especially important for me to properly cover the fall, which is a spectacularly beautiful season in this area.

Q: What was your overall intention or main message?

A: What I, in general and always, want to express with my creativity is to find the new. A big driving force is finding something truly different and a way where one could add a new and inspiring view to an existing and established method, way or technology.

There are many other aspects involved too. For instance, I wanted to document the Engadin in a way that differs greatly from the usual and romantic postcard look. I have a very strong emotional relationship to this area. I was brought up here, my family lived here, I went to school here, so the Engadin it’s probably a big part of my soul. This train line is particularly beautiful and in my point of view one of the most beautiful train ride in the world.

Q: Why did you decide to present “Camera in Motion” at the St. Moritz Art Masters for the first time?

A: I think it was an obvious. First of all, St. Moritz is the starting point of this photographic journey. The St. Moritz Art Masters are now in its 5th year it is getting more and more established and is attracting a great amount of culturally very interested and educated people. Needless to mention, that the St. Moritz Art Masters have also a big focus on photography. I am totally convinced that St. Moritz Art Masters will have a great future.

Q: Are you already planning new photographic projects? What else can people expect from Rolf Sachs in the future?

A: I haven’t really planned new projects yet. Next to the upcoming exhibitions, I will probably do something else. I need some variety from time to time in order to stay creative. In the long run, I could image converting / transferring “Camera in Motion” on a completely other and different location compared to the Engadin, maybe the Andes, Panamericana route, the Trans Siberian train line or something similar. I still feel that the concept has still a lot of potential to reveal fantastic and surprising photographic results.

Thank you very much for the time, Rolf.

- Leica Camera Internet Team

To learn more about Rolf Sachs and “Camera in Motion”: www.rolfsachs.com.