Up here, it’s the silence you breathe that remains most in your memory. It’s the profound respect and infinite wonder. On the Plan de Corones in South Tyrol, there is a state of natural and spiritual magic rarely found in other places. The world at 2,265 metres above sea level seems crystallised and waiting; anyone who finds themselves surrounded by what Le Corbusier described as “the most beautiful natural architecture in the world” has no choice but to surrender and allow themselves to be enchanted by its beauty. When LUMEN, the Museum of Mountain Photography, opened to the public for the first time in 2017, this fascination found its photographic home. 1800 square metres, masterfully distributed over four floors, are entirely dedicated to mountain photography, ranging from Italian to international photographers from photography’s early beginnings to the present. The museum’s curatorial programme narrates the mountain through different perspectives, such as mountaineering, tourism, politics, spirituality and history. But, most of all, it’s the perception of freedom and deep, eternal connection with nature that LUMEN celebrates with events, temporary and permanent exhibitions.
The building occupies what used to be the top arrival station of the Plan de Corones cable car, built in 1963 and operating until 1986, when it was replaced by a second cable car, the largest single-cabin cable car in the world, the Kronplatz 2000. This area of South Tyrol is not new to strong contemporary architectural projects aimed at culture. Just think of the famous Messner Mountain Museum Corones, built by Zaha Hadid at the top of the Kronplatz mountain, with underground galleries and a viewing platform cantilevering over a valley. The museum is dedicated to the renowned mountaineer Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb all 14 of the area’s mountains which are over 8,000 metres and reach Everest’s summit without supplementary oxygen.
What is striking about LUMEN, designed by Gerhard Mahlknecht, is how gracefully the architecture blends with the environment, becoming a monument to the love of mountain photography, a genre as unique, broad and extraordinary as the mountains themselves. The curatorial team has organised and produced 15 permanent exhibitions of different sizes, themes, exhibition routes, and temporary exhibitions to tell their story. Among the first ones, one can go from Camera Wall, a real journey among some of the oldest camera models, to Stereoscopia where one can discover the forerunner of 3D photography which, it must be said, with snowy peaks as subjects, reaches extraordinary levels. Then, to the postcards and advertisements of Mountain Mania and the Sacred Mountains of the world. In the Tensegrity room, on the other hand, the architecture itself becomes exhibition: where, until 1986, there was the opening where the cable car’s entered, today there is a gigantic photographic shutter which, just like a camera, can be opened to offer a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountain panorama, or closed to become a projection screen. Finally, after adrenaline-pumping and climbing images, there is the magical Hall of Mirrors where one can live suspended between reality and illusion entirely surrounded by mountain peaks and landscapes. According to the museum’s calendar, two new temporary exhibitions are due to open in mid-January: a personal show by Melanie Manchot and “Über alle berge…to make for the hills”. The first, a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the mountains, sees snow as the protagonist and all the unseen people who work on it. The second is inspired by a German saying that means to flee, run away, leave. That is because the mountain is not like the sea, you don’t go out to wander here, you walk, climb, explore, to find a new home, a fresh field and why not, a new culture beyond the peak. Where silence becomes discovery again.