The Rainer Viertlböck Travel Photography:  Exposing for the soul!
An approach to simplicity that is not so simple after all.

Asher Kelman © Nicolas Claris

If you followed some elite by invitation-private forums at the cutting edge of architectural photography, you’ll also come across Rainer and his ideas on maximizing the use of high-resolution digital sensors. A lot of his cameras are one of a kind, custom machined for him.

You may already have noticed a number his images of modern architecture on entering the forum. Composition, framing, exposure and execution are clean and non-distorted, celebrating the structures in their natural settings. These represent the signature work for which Rainer is best known and gets well paid. He is now one of the sought-after European photographers for premier mega-architectural projects over several continents. So, why do I write about his travel photography, even more strange, blurred pictures?

Here I will present a different, more private side his work. He, BTW, boasts of no particular superior esthetic sense and no especially informed view of the world or the environment.

His pictures in Italy expose this, not as a kind of modesty, for he is not that modest, but as an example of the extent to which he demands of himself observation and thoughtfulness. He eschews the strutting of importance and rank of his success as a photographer.

Actually, having spent a lot of time with him in Munich this summer, he is educated about and sensitive to all current socio-political issues you might throw at him. Then he’ll reframe them in new perspectives! It is this almost stubbornly independent view of things that informs his work.

Now to his vacation photography, the first surprise is his camera: black, hardly noticeable, 9.2 oz little brick. The lens is a sharp 28-85 mm zoom 2.4-4.3 aperture. The camera boosts sensitivity to 1600 ISO albeit with some noise. Add on lenses, such as the DW4 wide angle, were not used by Rainer.

Even though this camera produces exceptional color, based on an RGB CCD, you wouldn’t know this from the pictures Rainer shows us here: all black and white.

It is one of those things I have observed, that color can be such a distraction sometimes, like rows of medals on the chest of a 2-bit dictator. Stripped of everything, how do we rate? The same with images. Color is however, an easy method for coding distance, feelings, mode and so forth. However, in Black and white, the color information is re-assigned by particular artistic choice to define or obfuscate and so focus meaning. In B&W, properly exposed, texture and tone reveal the stuff of things without the easy razzmatazz of colors.

So, there is no color from this little Ricoh Caplio GX8 and therefore, good-bye color noise too

Let’s now follow Rainer to Italy. Rome and Venice are without doubt, first or second on the itinerary. Who hasn’t enjoyed the gondoliers and the barges moving people and goods along the waterways through grand canals and narrow passages?

Here comes Rainer with his little Ricoh and here is his picture of the Grand Canal.

© Rainer Viertlböck - “needs to be seen like this”.

A hand-held shot. He uses his architectural sense. The building is fully dimensional. Wait a minute, the building leans back! It's no accident mind you. Rainer prefers this. This represents how it looked from the bridge on the other side of the canal. Tripod? No, this is photography, not work.

This ability to capture an image without the image capturing limiting one’s life is an important attribute to develop. Remember, anyway, if you end up with 3 perfect images from your big trip, you are doing particularly well. Now, of course you or I might have switched to a wider lens and captured more of the background on the right, but, then again, we would have missed the point. The picture of the building, is as you will see shortly, departs from his portraiture style. Here he seeks sharp lines, where normally he prefers blurred shapes. This building is in a way, isolated, cut off from the past and present and the buildings in the skyline.

Let’s get on a Vaporetto, one of those that noisy broad beamed motor vessels, the "Paris Subways/New York Metro" of the waterways. Sardines in a can get more respect than the Vaporetta traffic.

These boats are the normal transport of Venice, (a cold wet mobile penal system in the winter becoming) a crowded but romantic transport the entire summer.

Just the same, there is so much to reach where one has to access on foot in Venice, that one walks more than you’ll ever imagine. One walks to go to eat and there’s many ways to go back, but again a schlep. So much of Venice becomes a unique gastronomic vacation: guilt free eating. There’s no weight gain, no matter how well you dine.

Yet for many destinations one has to move on the superhighway, the Grand Canal!

Here in Rainer’s “Waiting for the Vaporetto”; there is a very casual loss of clarity. It seems, at first, almost childish. But that is party of Rainer’s style. I see it as an attempt to capture the ordinary moments in a blur, so that life is not examined with a micrometer or by a surgeon’s knife, rather looked at, admired with some respect and perhaps even venerated from a distance. The technique he uses must remove the distractions. For this he uses unusually slow shutter speeds.

© Rainer Viertlböck

He doesn’t use words like “I like to deconstruct the perfunctory nature of the colored scene ….blah, blah”.

So he doesn’t talk art. He hardly talks about equipment either, except in defining his needs. No grabbing hold of you and show off a catalog of pictures. His communication is more focused. When it is right, he just shares his pictures, but parsimoniously! Sometimes it is quite sudden and unexpected. I have had the privilege of being with him in Munich. We were in a street. With no introduction he took a roll of paper. He then bent on one knee. I was mesmerized seeing his work unrolled on the ground, wind blowing, as great photography appears. No great fanfare, just a moment of appreciation and quiet pride.

Now let’s return to where we were, in Venice, on the Vaporetto on the Grand Canal. It’s getting dark.

Now the boat is off. We’re loaded, packed into the seats between tourists and office workers, a soldier and a priest. Outside, the canal lit by the lights of small boats, tugs and the frontage of overpriced hotels.

In this next shot, we are invited into the world of indefinites, perhaps, probably. It is dark. A boat on the right bank moves out into the canal leaving a trail of lights below ghost like shimmering mansions were masked balls and revelry once delighted the prosperous Venetian elite. But now it’s lifeless or asleep. And what of us on the boat, looking into darkness? Look at his picture of the canal. Where are we going? Perhaps through a gauntlet of ghosts? No, we answer, this is now, there are no ghosts; we are just on a Vaporetto.

We look ahead and focus on what’s real. But what questions might we ask of what we see ahead? The stark image we are speeding into, demands us to question. Darkness always does that.

This is no world of parties and celebrations. Rather it invokes, at least to me, warning of possibilities and of consequences.

Did Rainer think of any of this when he took the picture? Almost certainly not. However, this picture alone shows that his abject denial of special artistic talent is merely a facet of his obsession with the understatement.

© Rainer Viertlböck

We have all walked between ancient Venetian stone buildings, trying to find that restaurant or Evening Choral.

Here Rainer has framed his subjects, and allowed us, we, ourselves, to come into blurry view and be captured. We do not, perhaps, know whether they (or even, we) are coming or going.

The purposeful de-definition of Rainer’s pictures, removes, in my opinion, the very distractions of detail that others strive for.

© Rainer Viertlböck

At first glance, this is just an empty narrow passageway with old stone pavement and a dark building oppressively towering from the right. Then we see emerging, from below streetlights in the distance, indistinct figures, receding or approaching, we don’t really know.

Passageways are always interesting since they limit the choices of people to escape or wander to either side. Here the passageway becomes a stone gauntlet through which one must pass.

Because we know very little about the people, we can now instill characters of our choice, fantasies, or maybe incarnations of oneself in those vague figures.

This, to my view is the richness of Rainer’s approach. Whenever artistic rendering is simple, we are induced to participate in the artistic intent as we fill in the gaps so it makes sense.

In doing so, we indeed enter intro the very creative process. The artist thus bridges time and place as he links to us through our interviewing and populating the spirits of his vision.

If everything were known, this very adventurous part of art would not be so encouraged. We always are curious. We don’t like indefinites. So, whether we like it or not, we are forced to test different scenarii to get meaning from the picture. This is how this art works!

I hope you like this sparse and different approach to street and vacation photography. This work, Almost un-photographic, but to me photography that engages and makes me want to see more.