Review: The Aspen Series by Walter Niedermayr


Book Reviews, Photobooks


In 2008, photographer Walter Niedermayr was invited by two wealthy art patrons to Aspen, a commission to produce work for the Little Nell Hotel. In an obvious way the ski resort in Colorado and the artist seemed like the perfect match, and they were. Niedermayr had previously photographed mountains and snow, with skiers added. The commission expanded into a series, and it has now become available as a photobook, The Aspen Series.

Making a photobook is easy. Making a good photobook is very, very hard. The format presents an enormous number of limitations, against which the makers have to work (a good book almost always is made by more than one person): The size of the object, the fact that most of the time you can only see one spread, the appearance of a photograph printed on paper, etc. etc. A good photobook manages to conceal all the struggles that might have gone into its making, by seemingly without major effort showcasing the work in the best possible way. This is what The Aspen Series is doing.

For the book, publisher Hatje Cantz - who for some time have been pushing the boundaries of photobook making in their own ways (that appear to have largely flown under everybody’s radar) - worked with Dutch designers Mevis & Van Deursen. The result is a wonderful hybrid - a German sensibility (which usually is just one step short of the more celebrated, austere designs coming from Scandinavia) working with the best in Dutch design, making photographs that come in groups of up to six shine - and all that in an unassuming book whose preciousness slowly unfolds, as the reader notices the elegance of the typesetting, say, the qualities of the different papers used, and the binding itself (the square is very small).

The Aspen Series is the perfect book for this body of work, which, I must add, is what it is: Photographs of a snowy landscape, with people skiing (for what it’s worth, I prefer the landscapes over the photographs of skiers). Some of the spreads in the book are just amazing. Crucially, the book does not attempt to overwhelm with glossy scale (the temptation so many makers of coffee table books sadly give in to). Instead, it opts for elegance, with restraint bordering on the minimal.

Highly recommended.

The Aspen Series; photographs by Walter Niedermayr; essay by Catherine Grout; conversation between Paula Crown and Walter Niedermayr; 120 pages; Hatje Cantz; 2013