Our new mountaineering collection, Bergtagen, is based on a now rarely recalled legend. This Swedish word was used to warn people away from mountains. It was wrapped in myth; a myth about trolls living in mountain caves. These trolls would kidnap lonesome mountain wanders, often forever. If those bold, curious explorers did manage to return to normal life in the valley they were changed beyond recognition. They were anything but normal; they had gone mad. Their minds lost to the mountains.
These days, now that mountain exploring – from trekking at low altitudes to climbing the highest peaks – is commonplace, the word has taken on a new meaning. But an echo of the original definition remains. These days the word is used to describe the obsession for being among nature’s giants. To describe that feeling of being captivated and humbled by their size and greatness. The trolls are, thankfully, long gone. But the notion of losing one’s mind to the mountains isn’t so far from the new truth. Nowadays for those of us that fall in love with mountain landscapes, our minds always wander back to those peaks where nature is at its rawest.
Swedish landscape photographer and author Claes Grundsten thought it a fitting title for his latest book. Bergtagen is a stunning photographic journey through the world’s mountains. Its subtitle is ‘trekking inspiration’, but really his book is more like an ode to mountains, a love story that, for Claes, began in 1966.
Stockholm-born Claes has always been interested in nature. But it wasn’t until a 1966 trip to Sarek National Park – then and still a remote wilderness in northern Sweden – that he combined photography with his passion for the outdoors.
“I actually started with film. I got a Double 8 film camera from an uncle and after experimenting for a while I took it to Sarek and made a 20-minute movie about our trek. I still have that film actually; it’s digital now, but I like to show it during lectures.”
A year later Claes returned to Sarek with a still camera, the Rolleicord, which was medium format with a twin-lens reflex. “I fell in a river on that trip and dropped the camera. But it had already affected me. After that trip I bought an SLR camera and switched from film to photography.”
And he hasn’t looked back. Film isn’t Claes’s medium. He prefers the fantasy of still photography; he likes leaving interpretation up to the viewer. But he didn’t go pro straight away. Despite his camera being a constant companion on every trip into nature, Claes actually went to university to study physical geography and biology. This led to a job as an aerial photograph interpreter. He poured over aerial photographs of Sweden’s vast forests, its mountains and expansive valleys. Far from satiating his interest in nature, it only made him hungrier for more and for protecting these landscapes that he felt so close to.
“I got the opportunity to be an officer at Sweden’s Environmental Protection Agency and work with issues surrounding national parks and nature reserves on a national level. I ended up staying there for 15 years and it was during this time I published my first book. It was a book about Sweden’s national parks and it was published in conjunction with the EPA.”
But that itch for full-time photography still wasn’t being scratched enough. And in fact his time at the environmental protection agency, writing reports and research, had added a lust for writing into the mix. So in 1993, Claes waved goodbye to bureaucracy and office work and said hello to the freelance life as a photographer and writer. Since then he’s written numerous books and articles, mostly about nature but also some travel pieces too, mainly for Swedish travel magazine Check In.
“If you ask me where my passion lies, where my art is, it’s nature. I have made it and continue to make it my mission to teach people to love and respect nature. That’s nature photography’s most important mission, I think.”
A mission that merges with our own. Through the Fjällräven Classic events we hope to inspire and enable more people to get outdoors and, in turn, to develop a deep respect for nature. We produce our gear to make getting out there safer and more enjoyable. So it seemed natural for us to team up with Claes to offer his book with sales of our new Bergtagen collection in our brand stores and on our website. That and the fact his latest book shares its name with our new mountaineering collection.
“Claes’s book strikes a cord with us. It’s page share inspiration for how to enjoy the world’s greatest of landscapes: mountains. Our philosophy here at Fjällräven is to go slowly and tread softly. We don’t see nature as something to be conquered or tamed. We love its wildness, its obstinate attitude to just continue as it pleases no matter how hard human beings try to control it. There is no final destination for us. And that is what Claes Grundsten celebrates with Bergtagen. Nature is to be respected and admired, but it’s also there to be enjoyed forever,” says Fjällräven CEO Martin Axelhed.
The book Bergtagen is a collection of images from throughout Claes’s career, with the oldest actually dating back to 1971.
“Nature photography is two parts,” explains Claes. “First is to plan and read maps so you can build up your fantasy of how it can look especially if it’s a new place. This is so you’re mentally prepared for what you’re going to see. But when you’re there, the reality is always going to be a different thing. When you’re there you have to look for things you can’t plan, angles for instance. It’s hard to decide on the right angles to shoot from to get the best perspective, so secondly you also have to have a good mind for the foreground. What can you find there that gives your pictures depth? That takes a lot of training. So you need to be prepared but also have good observation skills when you’re out.”
But this book is more than just a series of awesome mountain photographs with precision perspective. There is a deeper undercurrent, one that goes back to the meaning of its title.
“My inspiration is the beauty of the scenery, but the more you think about it, the more you come to the philosophy of it. I think ‘big’ nature brings you closer to the inner most part of nature; the more spiritual part of the nature experience. The mountains, more than any other kind of nature, draw you to this inner core. I feel very strongly about this. And that’s what I’ve tried to pick up in the book Bergtagen. The word today is better defined as meaning obsession. It can be an obsession about anything actually, but I think it suits that deep love for the mountains.”
Claes, like us, is definitely obsessed with mountains. And together we are Bergtagen.
Text: Sarah Benton