It was family, not photography, that led Jamie Kripke to board a riverboat in Basel, Switzerland, for a week-long cruise down the Rhine, but once the plans were made, he knew he wanted to take photographic advantage of the unique opportunity.
The Rhine has been a vital European waterway since the days of the Roman Empire. At more than 700 miles long, it’s the second longest river in Europe after the Danube. The Rhine begins high in the Swiss Alps and empties into the North Sea through the Netherlands, forming borders between Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and France. The Rhine Valley is known for its high concentration of medieval castles, a centuries-old site of intense conflict and a backdrop for Europe’s greatest wars.
Today the Rhine is the setting for a new conflict: that of human vs. nature. The most expensive photograph ever sold (to date) is Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, a heavily retouched landscape across an area of the river facing intense industrialization. It serves the largest inland port in the world and continues to serve as a vital shipping route.
“I spent a lot of time watching the scenery go by. There was a surprising amount of industry, but there were also some very beautiful areas,” recalled Jamie. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to use the images, but I knew I wanted to create something that reflected the idea of a river in conflict.”
Jamie selected images for two collections based on the trip. Down the Rhein is a documentary style group of images that reflect how the river is essential to the communities and cultures along its banks. Down the Rhein II is an abstract meditation on the clash between the natural and the industrialized world.
“I chose five photographs and a created mirror image to represent the opposing forces evident in the region. I layered in color, but there’s a darkness to them that speaks to the industrial theme that dominated much of this trip,” explained Jaime.