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David Yarrow: Winter Magic in St Moritz

David Yarrow: Winter Magic in St Moritz

3 minute read

The lake below the celebrated and historic Swiss community of St Moritz has been hosting sports events for 150 years; sailing in the summer months and, of course, all sorts of activities on the ice in the winter, the most spectacular and famous of which, is the White Turf racing festival held over three consecutive Sundays in February.

I have been to St Moritz during this period several times over the years and the photograph I have had in mind to celebrate these fairy-tale races has never been possible because the weather hasn’t played ball. I wanted to visually glorify the amphitheatre as much as the racing itself and this required fresh snow. After a thaw, any winter town can look unexceptional, whereas after a snowfall it can look like a Disney movie or a winter wonderland from the pages of a story book.

St Moritz is a sunny place and the sun facing slopes of the town and the surrounding trees can get a little messy an d green after just one day of sun. From the far side of the lake, all the iconic grand hotels such as Badrutt’s Palace and the Kulm Hotel stand out, in all their glory along with the church spire and the famous old mountain railway. There can surely be no more glamorous a backdrop for a horse racetrack in the world, so long as there is fresh snow.

But my needs were even more demanding than fresh snow. There had to be not just recent snow, but no falling snow, and then, if possible, I did not want the sun to be out, as, by the time the races started at 11.30am, the winter sunshine would make everything too stark. I struggle to tell a story in harsh light, as the aggressive tonal range can detract from what the artist wants to say. But I also wanted depth, so that there were layers in the photograph from the horses up front to the cable car high in the mountains in the background. To do this needed light, but just flat winter light.

I woke that Sunday morning in town in February 2024 and saw my chance. It was still snowing, but the forecast was for it to stop by 11 am. The odds were always so low - one could wait many years to get these conditions on one of the three Sundays in February. But on 11 February 2024, it was all there for me and I took my chance. It’s fair to say that I have been thinking about my camera settings for many years on this shot.

The photograph would not have been possible without the collaboration of Dennis Schiergen, who has been at the helm of the White Turf - either as a jockey or now as its lead official - for many years. He loves the image and that makes me happy. I guess it is visually arresting, but all I was doing was photographing what was in front of my camera; I was not doing anything special. It was my view of St Moritz that was exceptional.

Anyone that knows St Moritz well can look at this image for a long time and tell their own stories of misadventures somewhere in the frame. We are all storytellers and I think this photograph will elicit many a tale of winters past.

– DAVID YARROW

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