An Archive of Disappearing Landscapes

By Marie-Caroline Roussel

Mario Colonel is a French photographer who settled in Chamonix when he was 25 years old. Passionate about mountain-climbing, he wanted to become a mountain guide but eventually chose to walk a more artistic path. For decades, he has scouted European mountain ranges, sometimes exploring other parts of the world, always looking for breathtaking views of mountaintops - and their occupants. He ropes up with a climbing team, closely collaborating with mountain guides and constantly searching for the perfect shot. This way of working sometimes includes spending hours waiting for the perfect light to hit the peaks, or organizing several more expeditions until he gets a chance to shoot the view he wants. In his own words, Colonel strives to « gift [us] the next horizon » and to « transcend the soul ».

In that way, Colonel’s work offers a unique insight into otherwise unattainable places. But I believe that Colonel’s work brings something even more special to the table. Indeed, his photographs capture such places in the world that are currently disappearing. It may not be Colonel’s primary objective or part of his motivations at all, but through his work, he builds a visual archive of vanishing landscapes. Les neiges éternelles (« eternal snows ») as well call them in French, give mountain ranges such as the Alps the discursive gift of being ageless and everlasting. In our planet’s current state, however, the snow caps are melting and the Mont Blanc will soon be anything but white. Under this point of view, the appeal of Colonel’s photos is not just achieved by the physical difficulty for viewers to go see these places firsthand, but by the fact that soon, no climbing expedition - even the most advanced - will bear such views.

In the mountains, Colonel feels « the link between man and space. » In a literal way, ropes of climbers need to exploit such a link at every step. But this reminds us of the more general way in which humans and nature should collaborate. The photographs have a moral lining: the immense respect that Colonel and his colleagues pay to their surroundings when they ascend high peaks is a metaphor for the way in which, universally, we should treat nature. Essentially, it shows us what beauty can be borne by (born out of?) such a practice. As the artist puts it: « c’est éminemment spirituel » - it is eminently spiritual.

I believe that artworks are inevitably linked to the context in which we view them, and through this article, I hope to have shown the additional power that Colonel’s images take on when placed in the setting of our current environmental situation.

For the artist’s portfolio, (extensive!) list of publications, and more, see his website here.

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