Lost Landscapes and the Aesthetics of the Expedition Experience

Jan Cervinka secured his position on the first national expedition not as a climber, but as an assistant cameraman, working with Bedrich Roger in the filming of a documentary “Where Birds Don’t Fly,” which captured the first prize in the 1966 edition of the Trento Film Festival devoted to mountain films. Roger’s promise as a Czechoslovak documentary film maker ended due to his politically motivated emigration in 1970.

Roger was not the only artist to achieve acclaim tied to the growing prominence of Czechoslovak mountaineering expeditions. Renowned Czech photographer Vilem Heckel’s work not only documented the birth of post-war mountaineering, but it defined a new aesthetic for the art of alpine photography on an international level. His career was tragically cut short at Huascaran in 1970 following a devastating earthquake and avalanche that decimated the entire Czechoslovak expedition.

The great Czech writer Ota Pavel also developed the literature of mountain climbing, penning the text to Heckel’s outstanding book Hory a lide. Before his illness in the the 1970’s Pavel was preparing to write a book about Czechoslovak mountaineers including Radovan Kuchar and Jan Cervinka. Unfortunately, Pavel did not live to see this project through due to the advancement of his illness, which he alludes to in a brief letter to Cervinka.

While Cervinka saw himself first as a climber, the lessons learned from his friends and mentors Heckel and Roger, fostered in him a need not only to document people and cultural sites that would become, from today’s perspective, lost landscapes, but, capture the beauty of nature that attracted him to the mountains in the first place.