The new five-episode film series from Holden Outerwear, 'The Glacier Express', follows photographer Silvano Zeiter, filmmaker Gray Thompson and Holden Explorer Fredi Kalbermatten as the trio embark on a train travel adventure aboard Switzerland’s fabled Glacier Express. Traveling from Zermatt to St. Moritz on “the world’s slowest express train,” they explore the pristine valleys, towering peaks and mythic Swiss mountain towns in between.
We recently sat down with Silvano to discuss his career and creative process and to learn a bit about how ‘The Glacier Express’ film series and GEX zine came together.
*All photos by Silvano Zeiter.
Hi Silvano, how are you today? Please tell us where you’re at right now. Are you home? Traveling? What’s the weather like?
I just got back to the apartment in Zurich after a 10-day road trip through Switzerland. You know — lakes and mountains and all that beautiful stuff.
Though only 29, you’ve been a respected professional photographer and outdoor adventurer for many years now. How is this possible?
I started off pretty young and was lucky enough to get publications very early. So I just went for it, gave it my all and it worked out.
Your photography skills cover a lot of bases— landscape, action, travel, portraiture, studio, fashion, lifestyle and B&W photography. Do you have a favorite discipline? Is there any one kind of photography that you enjoy most? Or do you enjoy all equally?
I’d say I’m most keen on creating series with a good mix of portraiture, landscapes and abstracts. Someone told me once that my work is a beautiful balance where documentary meets editorial. I kind of like that. It might be working with a stunning lady, or the 70-year-old butcher from a Swiss mountain village, or even just an interesting place. Basically, anything that catches my eye and keeps me inspired to create.
How did your interest in photography begin?
I used to draw a lot as a kid, so I guess photography was somewhat of a next step. My mom used to have this old Nikon SLR. Even when it didn’t work anymore, I was always fascinated just by looking through the viewfinder and playing with the depth of field. I ended up buying my first camera when I was 15 or so and took it to the mountains.
Can you remember the first photo you every composed? What did that feel like?
I remember the first portrait I took of my mom. There’s a print of it at my parents’ home. When I saw it just the other day I looked at it a little closer and thought it turned out surprisingly okay considering I had no clue what I was doing.
Did you attend university or are you self-taught?
I started off shooting mostly snowboarding. Looking back, I have to say it was a very good school. You learn to shoot everything from action to portraits to landscapes. You learn to work fast and smart and adapt to changing light and weather situations. You learn how to deal with clients and magazines. Also, I got to travel all over the world and meet amazing people, which ultimately lead me to Holden.
Where would you like your photography to be in 5-10-15 years’ time?
In a bunch of books and on a couple walls, and of course Instagram will be long gone.
Do you imagine you’ll ever get into filmmaking? Or do you prefer still photos to video? If so, why is this?
There’s a bunch of cinematographers among my closest friends. When I see what they create and how much effort they put into it, I think there’s no way I’ll ever get into that too. But never say never.
How did you come to work with Holden? Who introduced you to the brand?
Mikey Leblanc was stoked on my book “HONEY RYDER,” and he hit me up one day suggesting a collaboration. Then I remember bumping into him at ISPO in Munich. We hit it off right away talking for hours about art and music. I think we both new it was gonna be a good fit.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working with Holden?
I get to co-create the image of a brand I’m stoked on. That’s kind of what I’d always wanted those past 10+ years shooting snowboarding. It all fits my style of photography. And, I think my style has already evolved a little more in the process of shooting with Holden. I get to shoot fashion, and I still get to shoot snowboarding and be in the outdoors, but I also get to express the more artistic and documentary sides of my work as well.
This past season you embarked on a train travel adventure through the Swiss Alps with legendary snowboarder and mountaineer Fredi Kalbermatten, filmmaker Gray Thompson, and the two-person camera crew Puzzle Media. The trip is currently streaming as a 5-episode Holden film series all over the Internet. Can you tell us a bit about how the trip came together?
Yes, this was fun. We had been shooting in this configuration a couple of times. It was time to try something new. More importantly, it was time to try to get Fredi out of Saas-Fee at least for a couple days. Because that’s something that almost never happens.
The Glacier Express train has been in service since 1930, but is otherwise little known outside of Switzerland. And yet, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. Do you have any favorite memories from the trip? Positive memories, scary moments, moments of relief, etc…
Oh God, there are so many memories. We snowboarded, we laughed, we were exhausted, we raced, we partied. There was this one time I almost shit my pants because I was scared to death on the mountain. It is best to check it out yourself when the episodes drop.
Logistically, was traveling by train easier than other photo shoots you’ve done over the years? Or, did it have any special challenges?
Of course it was more difficult, as you have to pack smart and anticipate two-weeks in advance what kind of gear you’re going to use. You have to figure out what you can spare and leave at home, instead of just throwing everything in the back of your car. Traveling by train turned out to be easier than I thought though. And, I’ll consider it more in the future, be it for jobs or just for snowboarding missions. Also, let’s face it, it’s for sure nowhere as easy and exciting to do that than in Switzerland.
How did The GEX zine come about?
During the production of ‘The Glacier Express,’ I always photographed with the idea of a potential book project in mind. Going through the photos after the trip I knew there was potential, so after Holden and Doodah were down to give me complete freedom on it I didn’t think about it twice.
What was the motivation for it?
Print. I wanted to see the series in a finished piece. One that you can touch and smell. To be honest, I felt like the whole project was just too much work only to see the photos on the web and maybe some print mags. It was also a good way to add another layer to the whole project as it perfectly complements the documentary film and vice versa.
With whom did you work on it?
Graphic designer John “Goo“ Phemister came up with a couple spreads and helped me with the final touches, which was great. I designed most of it myself with support from my friend and artist Yves Suter, who edited and designed my first book, “Honey Ryder.” So I trust him a lot. It was an intense process but a lot of fun at the same time and I’m quite pleased with the result.
The printing quality, paper stock and layout of the zine all feel really unique. Like, it doesn’t really feel like a DIY “zine.” Rather, it feels more like a high quality coffee table book, albeit soft-bound. Why is this? Can you tell us a bit about the production process of making the zine and what your vision for it is/was?
The quality is indeed a bit more high-end than your average zine in the traditional sense. I wanted to keep it simple but make it beautiful at the same time. Same goes for the design, the photos are rather abstract and mysterious and there's some blank space here and there to calm things down. People should feel comfortable while flipping through, so I wanted the zine to be easily enjoyable. But it should also catch the readers' attention, make them reflect on what they see and leave some room for individual interpretation. Again, in some ways it’s very similar to the film project - simple, enjoyable, not too serious but beautiful.
How have people responded to the zine?
So far I think only one friend of mine thinks it’s shit. Everyone else seems to like it a lot.
Where will it be available? In the US? In Europe?
So far it’s available at Holden in the US and at Doodah in Europe, plus in a couple selected stores.
What were your favorite Holden technical outerwear pieces, mid-layers, and travel pieces while shooting the Glacier Express?
For those cold days on the hill, I’m a big fan of the Felton Down Jacket. The Corkshell Summit Jacket is insane when being active on the mountain, super light and breathable. Right now, I’m wearing the Puffy Slippers, they’re genius.
What are your upcoming 2019—2020 plans?
I worked my ass off in the first half of 2019, so I want to take it a little more mellow the back half. Maybe do a surf trip of two, work on personal projects, only do jobs I really like and reject the ones I don’t. Maybe at some point I’ll manage to update my website for the first time in forever.
What are your home mountains and resorts? How far is Zurich?
My home mountain area is called Aletsch Arena and it’s about 2.5h from Zurich, (which is kind of far in Swiss dimensions).
When not traveling, where do you live and ride, hike, climb?
I live in the city of Zurich. But everything is so close in Switzerland, so you can ride or hike the mountains and forests, chill at some lake Mediterranean vibe and party in some city all in one day.
Do you play any musical instruments? Exercise? Football?
I play the guitar. I recently bought a new amp I’m crazy about, so I fell in love with my Fender Tele again and I’ve been jamming daily.
How do you spend your time when not shooting? With family and friends?
I’m lucky enough to have a number of real and good friends, as well as a very harmonic family. So yes, I like to spend time with them as much as I can. It’s for sure what matters the most to me.
View more of Silvano's work here.
Purchase the GEX zine here.