Vanessa Püntener is a Swiss photographer who my tutor recommended me to research as an example of an artist who really manages to capture a sense of place in her Photographs. I was something of a challenge to do too much research on her because there appears to be very little written about her in English and my German is very poor. Although perhaps in some ways the lack of material to read means that I really had to focus on her work. Rather than try to review all the theatre, portrait and documentary work on her website (http://www.vanessapuentener.ch) I focused her documentary work (or story) Traum Alp. Literally the title translates to Dream Alp (or perhaps Dream Mountain and the work focuses on people living and working on Alpine pastures during the grazing season (roughly May to October).
Püntener’s work in Traum Alp was included in a book of the same title (https://www.amazon.de/Traum-Alp-%C3%84lplerinnen-im-Portr%C3%A4t/dp/3858695572) which she produced with Daniela Schwegler. The book focuses on the lives of fifteen women between 20 and 75 years old who spend their summers high in the alps living and working without many of the luxuries people take for granted today.
The first picture I have selected is on the book cover in a very cropped form that I assume was dictated by the book format. To me the original picture below really tells the story behind the book; a young woman tending to a cow lying in a pasture that is flecked with Alpine flowers with more mountains in the distance. Whereas the cropped version of the book cover misses out the Alpine meadow and other cows in the background thus not really telling the story as well as the original.
The second picture has a similar style, a woman tending her pigs high in the mountains, again looking deeply into the frame there are flowering Alpines among the lush looking grass growing between the rocks. Again there is a bright blue sky and mountains still with traces of snow on them in the distance.
The third picture captures the essence of a mountain hamlet in the early morning mist which captures a sense of the isolation of these small farming communities high in the Alps. There is what looks like a 4×4 next to the nearest house but no sign of satellite disks, TV aerials or phone lines.
A person, I assume a woman working with her dog to move a heard of cows, initially there is little to identify this as an Alpine scene but on closer inspection all the cows have tradition bells around their necks. This is clearly not a warm sunny day from the lack of shadows and the way the figure is dressed and thus talks to the harshness of the mountain life compared to that of town or city dwellers.
This next photograph really emphasises the idea of families being together working these Alpine farms here the mother and son stare lovingly at each other while the mother milks the cow. Both figures and the cows are in a dark building that appears to be only illuminated by a single window. While this picture in isolation doesn’t have much to locate it in the Alps as part of a series of pictures about the people working the Alpine meadows in summer it really captures the sense of togetherness and family life in what is a fairly harsh environment.
Another interior shot this time traditional cheese making, like the previous picture this captures something of the timelessness of the work on these small farms without anything to really tie it to a place independently of its inclusion in a series or work.
Finally, a portrait, I really like the expression of happiness which apparently is the result of what she is looking at outside the right-hand side of the frame. Perhaps she is looking at her child or someone telling a joke. Whatever is causing the smile the overall impression is of someone who is happy in their work even though it may be physically hard in an environment that would be alien to most people today.
I really like these pictures and the way that together they tell the story of a landscape and the way of life of people working it that has changed little over many years. However, it does also emphasise on big social change, the bulk of the people working the land are now women whereas in the past men would have dominated the workforce. Perhaps the book addresses this change but I cannot read enough German to verify that. However, I suspect the reality is that working the high Alpine pasture is no a labour of love, the dream in the title, rather than a job that alone can sustain a family.