Les temps changent.
Back when Viktor Sedlacek founded the Grande Hotel de l’Europe more than a hundred years ago, he would not have been able to imagine the following: Tom Oehler, trialbike legend, elegantly jumping over the reception front desk while having his photo taken by photographer Armin Walcher working with a Leica medium format camera. Obviously, times are changing.
The spirit of better times is still alive at the Grand Hotel, because after all, a few years ago the picturesque place in the center of Bad Gastein still accommodated guests. The golden clock at the front door indicated the passing of every full hour and the chandelier in the entrance hall used to sparkle brightly. Although these times are long gone, entering the pompous building still leaves the visitor speechless. It feels like travelling back in time as you take in the royal elegance and unique charm of the abandoned hotel. Among other factors, this special charm is what immediately captured photographer Armin Walcher and athlete Tom Oehler. They knew they had finally found the perfect location for their plans.
Just a few weeks’ time passes between the initial idea and the actual implementation of the project, which is mainly due to Armin’s habit of putting ideas into practice as soon as possible. Of course, his way of motivating and convincing the rest of the team was another driving factor here. Other than the short-lived and hectic work he does in his other projects, Armin’s intention is a precise and detail-oriented shooting session. Individual sujets are minutely planned and thought through in order to capture both Tom’s bike skills and the impressive atmosphere of the hotel de l’Europe. To put it differently, the photographer’s original intention was to tell a tale of the hotel’s vibrant past by looking at it if from an entirely new perspective.
Working with the Leica S (Type 007) in this project turned out to be a great choice for Armin. A distinguishing characteristic of this specific shooting situation was the prevalence of low light situations in which this camera and lenses proved to be just the thing. During the shooting, Armin Walcher worked with three lenses, namely LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-S 1:5,6/30-90 mm ASPH, LEICA Summicron-S 2,0/100 ASPH and the LEICA Summarit-S 2,5/35mm Asph. CS. The output was simply amazing and what convinced the photographer most was the three-dimensional quality of the pictures taken. Another pro is the camera’s speed and the amount of data processed, which definitely qualifies the Leica S for usage in multiple practical contexts. Armin says he has gained valuable insights as far as timing is concerned and points out that after all, it’s not only the number of shots per minute that determines quality. What’s much more important is the feeling you get for the situation, the anticipation of movement and the ‘right’ moment. For him, the Leica S system was an additional motivation that helped him put his ideas into action. The photos taken in Bad Gastein also confirm one of Armin’s personal beliefs, namely that a photo is primarily created in the camera and that any editing happening afterwards should be kept at a minimum.
When looking at the sequence of pictures, one can feel the spirit of the story that is being told. That’s why even the athlete Tom Oehler says that this project was a unique one. For him, the biggest challenge was finding suitable obstacles in this unsusual location and secondly, performing in the chilly temperatures of the old hotel. At times it turned out difficult to retry certain tricks multiple times in the antique setting without doing any harm to the architecture. Clearly, that was a first even for this experienced pro athlete. Repeating tricks and jumps until focus, lighting, framing and action are on point can be exhausting for the athlete, but Tom managed to stay patient and motivated till the end. Especially the last shot, Tom’s favourite, in front of the revolving door, was probably the most challenging for the team. All of them realized that certain things just take their time, especially photographic detail and perfection. However, the very moment Tom saw the product on the camera display, he pointed out that it had all been worth the effort.
This unique and impressive experience made the team realize that great things can be put into practice if you only have the right amount of ambition, creativity and perseverance. Because after all, Tom was right when he said that hard work always pays off in the end.