The Grand Budapest Hotel story from Austria.
When Viktor Sedlacek founded the Grande Hotel de l’Europe more than a hundred years ago, he surely would have never imagined Tom Oehler, austrian trialbike legend, elegantly jumping over the reception 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. Only 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 along the aisle. Although these times are gone, entering the pompous building still leaves the visitor speechless. It feels like traveling back in time as you take in the royal elegance and unique charm of the abandoned hotel. Among other factors, it was this special atmosphere that immediately attracted photographer Armin Walcher and athlete Tom Oehler. They knew that they finally found the perfect location for an idea that had been in the pipeline for a quite a while.
Armin has a habit of putting ideas into practice as soon as possible, that and his way of motivating and convincing the rest of the team were the driving factors. In comparison to the action packed and hectic projects he usually works on, his intention this time around was to have a precise and detail-oriented shooting session. Individual scenes were planned, timed and thought through in order to be able to eventually frame both Tom’s bike skills and the special atmosphere of the Grand 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.
Using a Leica S (Type 007) in this project turned out to be a great decision for Armin as the camera and lens were ideal to overcome the distinguishing challenges of this specific shooting, mainly the prevalence of low light situations. “The camera’s speed and the amount of processed data definitely qualifies the Leica S for usage in multiple practical contexts.” Armin says. Gaining valuable insights as far as timing is concerned he also points out that after all it’s not only the number of shots per minute that determines quality, but the feeling you get for the situation, the anticipation of movement and the ‘right’ moment. The photos taken in Bad Gastein also confirm one of Armin’s personal beliefs, which is that a photo is primarily created in the camera and that any editing happening afterwards should be kept at a minimum to keep the original look and feel of the photograph.
Looking at the action sequence one can feel the spirit of the story that is being told, but the performances shown didn’t happen easily. Finding suitable obstacles in this unusual location and performing in the chilly temperatures of the old hotel were the biggest challenges athlete Tom Oehler had to face. It turned out to be difficult to retry certain tricks multiple times as they wanted to avoid doing any harm to the aged interior of the building. Clearly that was a first, even for an experienced pro athlete like him. Repeating tricks and jumps until focus, lighting, framing and action are on point can be exhausting, but Tom managed to stay patient and motivated till the very end. The moment the team saw the final shots on the display of the camera they were convinced it was worth the effort.
This unique and impressive experience made all of them realize that even the craziest ideas can be put into practice if you only have the right amount of ambition, creativity and perseverance.