Ludwig Favre pays homage to the natural world in haunting photos
“I was very close to a pine forest in Oregon when I found myself completely alone,” photographer Ludwig Favre tells me. “There was no one around, not even a single noise.” The silence and the darkness straining his nerves, he was well aware that he was “in the middle of nowhere” in an area he did not know. He was afraid his car would break down; the possibility of an unwanted encounter in the woods crossed his mind. But in the open air, breathing in the scent of evergreen trees, he continued to work – until slowly the first rays of sunlight appeared on the horizon.
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Favre began his journey as a photographer at the age of six, when his father taught him how to use film and chemical baths to create something out of thin air. Six years ago, after a career as an artistic director, he was able to evolve into a job as a full-time photographer. His father died when he was still very young, but the passion he instilled in Favre remained present throughout his life.
Three years ago, the artist embarked on a journey through the remote landscapes of Oregon and Iceland, some thousands of miles apart but united by a sense of strange calm and sublime beauty. Favre is well known for his architecture and urban photography, so a return to nature marked a start of sorts. “I love cities and their energy, but I also need to find peace and quiet,” he admits. “Nature soothes me and allows me to refocus on the essential.
He brought with him a DJI drone and an LED light, which he flew in circles across the vast expanses of land and water. Using the drone as a light source and implementing long exposures, he captured glittering halos hovering just above the Earth’s surface, illuminating the scene below. The result is NEON, a collection of photographs of landscapes which blur the border between the terrestrial and the supernatural.
Ludwig Favre’s essential equipment
Favre tells us:
“I used a Lumix camera, a wide-angle camera and a DJI drone, then did some post-production work with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I also used a tripod to take these photos, which are long exposures – twice: one with and one without a drone.
Favre scheduled the shoots in the early morning light, settling in while it was still dark. “The biggest technical challenge was to fly the drone and make a perfect circle while having enough exposure time to create the halo effect,” he explains. “It was a race against time, as I also had to watch the ambient light, which was increasing rapidly as the day dawned.”
The artist’s concentration and race against the sun resulted in at least one accident. After leaving his glasses on the roof of his car during a shoot, he realized that they had fallen on the road. The moment he grabbed them, however, another car appeared and smashed the glasses, shattering them beyond repair. He now remembers the incident as a fun behind-the-scenes anecdote, but it may also evoke some of the dread that comes with traveling on country roads in the dark. Nothing is exactly what it seems, and something always lingers right around the corner.
In NEON, the choice of a halo, as opposed to any other shape, was deliberate. “The circles of light symbolize the transition from darkness to light, imbuing the ground with a divine dimension,” explains the artist. “The natural world protects and shelters us, but we still do not respect it. The goal was to show that our planet is fragile and that we really have to be aware of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.
And these places are vulnerable. In 2020, more than 2,000 fires burned 1.2 million acres in Oregon; this spring, the Bootleg Fire alone devastated over 400,000 acres. Over the past two decades, Iceland’s ice cover has shrunk by 300 square miles, roughly the size of New York City. These are places where the effects of climate change are deeply felt, a fact that imbues these seemingly timeless photographs with a palpable sense of urgency.
The landscapes selected by Favre also carry with them their own spiritual and folk stories. Over the years, people have told stories about Oregon’s mythical beasts, from massive river snakes to werewolf-like creatures. Iceland has its own legends of elves, trolls, fairies and ghosts. In NEON, Favre doesn’t allude to any specific myth or story, but his hanging halos indicate something beyond the realm of mortals, conjuring up the many mysteries that nature keeps hidden from view. Ultimately, the artist says the series is about hope, rooted in the belief that, despite our mistakes, the Earth will continue to protect us from evil.
All photos by Ludwig Favre. Used with permission. To learn more about Favre, visit his website. You can follow on Instagram at @ludwigfavre, on Facebook at @ludwigfavrephotography, and on Behance at @LUDWIGFAVRE.