Photographers' Blog

A taste for music

Haguenau, France

By Vincent Kessler

I love cooking and I have a passion for music. What then could please me more than an orchestra that plays music with instruments made out of vegetables?

I cannot remember when I first heard about the Vegetable Orchestra. But when I realized that they were planning to hold a concert some 40 kilometers from my home, I got in touch and was given the opportunity to watch them prepare for a performance.

Based in Vienna, Austria, the orchestra was created in 1998 by artists from a range of backgrounds, from musicians to people in visual fields like painting and design. Their website describes their sound as: “influenced by experimental contemporary, electronic music, musique concrete, noise, improvised music [and] pop music”.

Their brand of playing is summed up simply as: “vegetable style”.

Preparing a concert is a lot of work, as almost all the instruments have to be remade for each performance. The orchestra’s website even explains: “it is hard to play on bad or non-fresh vegetables as they prove to be unreliable… if an instrument breaks just before or during a solo for example, it is often because of a low quality vegetable.” The fresher the produce, the better the sound!

 

After spending three hours with drills and knives preparing their instruments, the musicians and technicians have to do another three hours of sound checks. As you can imagine a “leek violin” is not the most powerful instrument in the world and needs to be well amplified.

Under the ice

Lake Weissensee, Austria

By Michael Dalder

I’ve been diving for almost 15 years, but due to family matters it has fallen off my list lately. So a new picture assignment at Lake Weissensee in mid-February 2013 just came right to my diver’s heart: The Underwater Ice hockey Championships.

Underwater Ice hockey is not played on top of the ice like ice hockey is usually played but underneath it. That’s where diving comes into the game because the underwater ice hockey players are in fact apnea divers who want to give their sports an additional sportive kick.

My day started early when I met with the men and women from the Vienna rescue divers’ squad ASBOe – Moedling. These dive enthusiasts are responsible for safety and security during the whole tournament. If you dive under ice you can’t go straight to the surface to breath if you have an emergency. Thus ice diving is, together with cave diving, considered to be the most dangerous diving discipline. For that reason I listened to the security briefing attentively.

Taking the ski path less traveled

Innsbruck, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

The tragedy of Dutch Prince Johan Friso, who was buried in an avalanche while skiing in Austria last February and who has since been in a coma, generated the idea to shoot a story about freeride skiing and how ski professionals are trying to minimize any possible risks.

I’m lucky to have easy access to some of the best European freeride skiers as they are either part of my family or good friends with whom I go skiing with. I asked one of my cousins, Christoph Ebenbichler, who is a professional skier, if he would like to be part of this story. We discussed the riders who we wanted to work with on the story and the basic topics we wanted to cover, and decided to focus on showing the beauty of skiing in the back country combined with showing the professional approach everybody should have when skiing off piste. I contacted the skiers and they were all happy to work with me on the project.

Shooting freeride skiing requires a lot of preparation, organization and flexibility, especially in terms of getting up really early. We had to decide what time, which day and where we would go and of course we had to check the snow conditions and look at all possible avalanche risk reports.

Demon face

Heitwerwang, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

Tourists or foreigners have to look twice when attending a Perchten festival in the western Austrian region of Tyrol. Some probably think there is something wrong with the countryfolk – dressing up like demons, wearing head to toe animal skins and wooden masks, behavior that could easily be associated with some kind of a devil’s cult. It just doesn’t seem to be normal.

The explanation goes back to the years about 500 AD. Back then farmers performed pagan rites to disperse the ghosts of winter to help bring a fruitful harvest. They thought it might work with terrifying masks which should scare even ghosts. And what is more scarier than the devil himself? Right, nothing! Even ghosts have to be scared by the devil.

In 2012 not much has changed. Of course we know that scaring ghosts is not going to work, but traditions are deep-rooted and somehow people still believe in the power of pagan rituals. And in the countryside there is nothing more important than a good harvest, so why not help a good harvest along by getting rid of some winter ghosts one way or another. Old habits die hard I guess.

Pinball dreams

Vienna, Austria

By Heinz Peter-Bader

A collector once said: “When you buy your first pinball machine, it is fine with your wife. When you buy your second pinball machine, she asks “Why? You have one already”. After number three and four she believes you must be crazy. But after the fifth pinball machine she proudly tells her friends that her husband is a collector.’

Guenter “Pindigi” Freinberger from Austria owns 493 pinball machines. Well, 492 actually, after my visit…

Freinberger’s pinball museum is located inside a storage depot some 80 km (50 miles) west of Vienna and nothing indicates that it contains one of the world’s biggest pinball collections. Historic machines from the 1930′s up to top modern models are all on display, in top shape and ready to play.

Lipizzaners return home

By Heinz-Peter Bader

It was a beautiful late summer day with blue sky and not a single cloud when I went to the village of Piber some 200 km (124 miles) west of Vienna to see the world famous Lipizzaner horses. Well, actually, the 40 young studs were not famous yet, but some of them would be selected to become famous some day – members of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

SLIDESHOW: DANCING HORSES OF VIENNA

The young Lipizzaners spend their summers in the mountains, and the return back to the stud is traditionally celebrated. They are decorated with flowers, receive blessings in front of the local church and are presented to the people before they arrive at their stable after a 16 km (10 mile) walk.

The biggest challenge for photographers was the speed that they walk at. There was no time for me to “walk” as I needed to look for nice picture backgrounds in advance, run to be ready in time, photograph the flock on their way down the trail, run again to be ready at the next spot and so on. I really enjoyed the eventual arrival at the church for a short rest, in bright sunshine during one of the hottest days in September.

Buzzing with bees

By Lisi Niesner

An unsettling night followed this story. It felt as if something was scuttling on my skin. It was a tickling feeling which made me scratch and I saw bugs bustling around in my mind’s eye. In the morning I could not remember exactly what I had dreamed, but the one thing I knew, all night long I had heard the buzz in my head.

I got plenty of mosquito bites, a bee sting, and on top of that several times I encountered stinging nettles and thistles while shooting Vienna’s city beekeepers. The Austrian organization Stadtimker, retains wild bees and honey bees in the city area of Vienna. Everybody who has a little garden or a roof-top can join and make room available for one or more bee hives. The beekeepers build up the hives and fully care for them generally once a week.

The hives are placed on prominent buildings in the city center: On the roof of the Austrian chancellery, the State Opera or the Burgtheater, just to mention a few of the most important. The organic honey and even cosmetic products can be purchased in some cooperative shops in Vienna.

An Austrian clone, made in China

By Tyrone Siu

An elegant black swan sliding silently on the lake, cutting into the reflection of European style wooden houses and church clock tower in the water – the rare image radiated a moment of peacefulness in my mind until it was disrupted by a loud thundering sound of a truck passing by. It was not until then that I paid a closer look to the bird and found it to be a dark duck – another small replica, as part of a massive copycat project from China.

The $940-million-dollar project, conceived by a Chinese mining tycoon, is to clone Austria’s most picturesque village, Hallstatt. Even though it’s in the largest replica-industry county in the world, it still keeps people wondering how such an extensive scale of copying can be done, and whether it is even possible for the SIM city to be materialized into a dream village. I soon find out my answer.

SLIDESHOW: CHINA COPIES AN AUSTRIAN VILLAGE

Like the black duck I saw, other parts of the village gave me a similar kind of awkwardness. The structures and facilities look almost the same as the Austrian village I saw in photographs, but the spirit and taste of the complex is so typically Chinese. The supposedly peaceful atmosphere with relaxing background music is spoiled by the frequent shuttling of trucks carrying materials, bringing up dust and releasing the smell of gas. Rubbish and bags can be seen piling along the artificial lake, while the village is surrounded by construction work. You can occasionally see Chinese builders carrying bamboo sticks and wooden ladders across the little European town that would only be used by the East. The images are hilarious.

Almost knightly

By Lisi Niesner

This is not a story of knights; no knight’s armor, no knight’s castles – not even swords. It does consist of plenty of honor, pride, old-fashioned traditions and to top it off a codex. Now when I imagine the Middle Ages, I believe some farmers must have been quite close to chivalry.

SLIDESHOW: AUSTRIAN VILLAGE CELEBRATIONS

In times past, Austrian residents of Gailtal valley, mainly Noriker horse breeders, took advantage of their surefooted draught horses and operated a trade of wine and salt across the Alps. During these journeys they likely imitated or adapted what they discovered into a custom which lasted centuries and continued to the present day. The first written records of Kufenstechen did not appear before 1630, but we know that the rite is far older and likely related to knight festivals.

I arrived the night before the celebrations in Feistritz an der Gail, a village of around 660 in the province of Carinthia. Anticipating their most important annual upcoming festivity, I expected that everyone would be in a tizzy, but instead residents went about their quiet routines.

Flesh-eating beetles at the museum

By Herwig Prammer

When I came to Vienna for my studies in the mid-1980s, the Museum of Natural History Vienna (NMH) was my absolute favorite.

At that time most of the 39 exhibition halls of the NMH had never been changed. It was more like an oddity cabinet than a museum; historic stuffed animals eerily stared out from behind dead eyes – some even from the famous James-Cook expedition.

Mothballs, dust and creeky wooden floors, there was not even electricity in most of the exhibition halls back then. I had to leave when it became dark outside. Most of the time I was the only visitor. Fantastic, if a bit creepy.