“Gazes are very individual. We see how we see.”  

FLÜGELSCHLAG © Ester Vonplon / Galerie & Edition Stephan Witschi

Would you consider yourself a visual artist or a photographer?

I see myself as a visual artist using the medium of photography to express myself. It’s something that was always really satisfying for me to work with photography, to go around and find pictures. Nothing else worked that way for me. I tried with other things as well, but that was never that satisfying. For example, I wish I could play music or be in a band and be on stage and everything. That would be great as well but I’m so miserable in music so that really doesn’t work for me.

You used to be a snowboarder. How has this sport influenced your photographic approach?

I think it had a big influence on my artwork, on what I produce nowadays, since I did snowboard or skateboard in the 90s. And in the 90s, it was more like a culture than a sport. It had a lot to do with punk rock music. It was out there, in the streets, we travelled around Europe to do skateboarding… Yes, it had a big influence on my work and still does. I think the way I take pictures is influenced by what I did before, and where I come from. It’s something that will always be part of my work.

You’ve created herbariums, went to the Arctic… How important is nature in your creative process?

I think I’m more interested in using landscape, like looking at landscape or something that you can form to work on that, because nature can be everything. Everything comes from nature. I consider myself more like somebody who is working with the landscape that is surrounding me or in search for a landscape that can build something in my images.

Why did you stem away from the “traditional” way of taking pictures?

I used to study photography in Berlin. I had some very nice older teachers, German photographers like Arno Fisher and Sibylle Bergemann. I’m very thankful that I had the chance to work with these people – Ute Mahler as well. But in the beginning I was interested in telling stories, as they did before, and the whole process of it. At one point, I stepped away from this traditional way of taking pictures, and I got more interested in taking it further or just leave that behind me and not always being in the search for the truth or something.

How does abstraction help convey sense in your work?

I’m in search for abstraction in the images and to break it down to something until there’s almost nothing left anymore, to have an output. For example, I did that work about the concept of white. I went to the Salt Flats in the USA, I took pictures of snow during summer, here, in the Swiss mountains… It was only white images, taken in a large format where all the details are in, but everything you could see was basically white. But after a while, when you take a closer look at the work, there is definitely more than only white. So, this is something I’m really interested in, to have a closer look on things, and this is what abstraction is for me. It’s all about like going closer and closer, and try to get into places, to see something you were never looking at at first.

Your series are rooted in environmental issues. Do you consider yourself a militant artist?

I see myself as a very political person, definitely, but I think more in my private life, not so much in my work. Of course, the environmental issues are super important and part of my work all the time, but I think it’s more because of where I live and what surrounds me. If you live in the mountains, you are more affected by climate change, for example. Therefore, yes, my work has some environmental issues, but if I was trying to change something with my work, I probably would not be a photographer, I’d be something else, because going to the Arctic is probably more selfish than anything else. So, therefore, it’s something that is always part of my work, but I think not in the way it should be. I’m more interested in witnessing what is disappearing like the glaciers that are melting, the Arctic that is sort of melting…

Your work also has a poetic quality, what is your take on reality?

I try to have some poetry, probably, in my work. I’m very much influenced by books and poems. So, that’s something that I’m always looking for in my pictures. Before I started photography, I studied film, and film has always been very important for my own work, and I see it more like that. Also, when you take pictures, that’s one part, and the other part is to edit the work, and the editing is probably similar to a film. You can tell the story, and sometimes, I take a picture of something that looks perfectly nice, sharp, and without scratches and everything, and it’s the one that I’m not interested in. I’m more interested in the one that I lost control over, that has probably some “extras” I cannot take or cannot be aware of it. It’s the extra, the something that you cannot see while you take pictures, but only afterwards, it’s there and this is the beauty of it, I think. This is okay, you can call it a dreamlike quality, I would rather call it “poetry in the image”.

Do you think people’s genders influence their careers?

I think it’s a very difficult question. As a woman photographer or artist, yes, of course. In Switzerland, they checked, last year, among all the museums in Switzerland, how many solo shows were by female artists, in group shows, etc. and we’re far away from equality. It was really terrifying. There are museums that haven’t shown any female solo exhibitions over one year. Therefore, I think we’re far away from equality, and that what it should be all about. It’s a very difficult question to answer, how it influenced my career. If I were a man, I’d have no idea where I would be or if I would be further ahead or whatever, but it’s really time to gain equality. That’s something I wish for my daughter. It shouldn’t be an issue anymore… Hopefully, it won’t be in ten or twenty years from now.

Do you believe there is a female gaze?

I thought about that for a while! But I think… Would I see the world differently as a man? It’s something I cannot really answer. If we talk about equality, then I would say no. We’re going around as human beings, and I think it’s much more important, how you got the influence growing up, what is influencing or what is your surroundings, your interest… It hasn’t got anything do with genders. No, I don’t think so. That’s something very individual. We see how we see.

Ester Vonplon © Daniela Rensch


Born in Castrisch, Switzerland in 1980, Ester Vonplon studied photography in Berlin before continuing her journey at the Zurich University of Arts. Now based in the Alps, she produces there a dreamlike and delicate body of work inspired by the nature surrounding her. Between minimalism and abstraction, the artist explores a certain loss of control through the photographic mediuam, to build “poetry in the image”. Ester Vonplon’s creations were awarded several prizes, including the Swiss Photographer Award in 2008, the Foam Talent Award in 2011, and the Manor Kunstpreis in 2017. It was exhibited at the Buendner Kunstmuseum, FOAM (Amsterdam), the Rencontres d’Arles…. It is also part of various collections – amongst them, the Zurich Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Museum Allerheiligen Schaffhausen and the Mezzanin Art Foundation Schaan.

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