David Yarrow laughs at the idea that he might have done the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club’s famously scary Cresta Run himself. “Ha, no – but I’m full of admiration for those who do,” says the acclaimed Scottish photographer, who shot the cover of this very magazine when he was on assignment in the Swiss town in winter 2023. “In fact, when I was photographing our interpretation of the run, I slipped on some ice at the top of the run and knocked a tooth out… It was embarrassing. “
All fixed now, Yarrow has good reason to be smiling about his latest series of photos, all taken in or around the vicinity of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. He explains they are a gently satirical homage to the iconography of the region: majestic Alpine views meet classic sports cars, big hair and 1970s style.
“There’s a challenge in taking photos of anywhere that’s been so well-photographed and then to expect people to pay good money for them and to regard them as art,” he adds. “A lot of photography can be too literal, and art is meant to be interpretive, so I think there has to be an element of parody here. I don’t think you can be too earnest about it. Everything – the women, the cars, the place, the period detail – needs to have that sense that this is not a normal place,” he adds. “There needs to be a sense of exaggeration about it, in that Coen brothers’ way. If you’re shooting a mountain pass, it had better be the most dramatic mountain pass. Find the best possible backdrops, even if they’re not going to be in focus.”
That Yarrow should cite the sibling filmmakers behind classics such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski is no accident: all his work has a cinematic quality to it. Firstly, in terms of scale, with his signature prints typically outsized and, as he calls it, ‘wall-centric’. Secondly, in terms of staging and production values, often framing together a cast of characters, costumes and even animals in challenging environments. Small wonder that his shoots often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – the cost of the latest St. Moritz series he estimates at US$200,000. This, of course, brings its own pressure to get those shots.
“It was actually pretty mild when we were in St. Moritz so getting the images we planned, with that sense of winter, of the cold, was tough,” says Yarrow. “But you can’t be too prescriptive. You must be adaptable – we hadn’t even thought of taking the shot on the magazine cover with the Aston Martin DB5, best known for its role in the James Bond films, in front of Badrutt’s Palace, until 36 hours before the shoot, when we managed to find someone to drive the car up from Zurich. In this job you need a plan B, to be thinking so much of so many variables. You need people to be collaborative too, to be ready to bring a goat or cow into your iconic bar, for example….”
These animals, photographed by Yarrow inside the hotel, were loaned by local farmers, persuaded by the photographer’s convincing back catalogue. But Yarrow is used to shooting much less compliant, much wilder animals. Indeed, having started out as a sports photographer (he took the famous shot of the late Argentine footballer Maradona hoisted aloft with the World Cup in Mexico), he took a side-step into finance and hedge fund management, before returning to his camera, when he earned the right to claim he had reinvented wildlife photography.
Breaking new ground
His strategy for capturing wildlife is not the getting-lucky-with-a-long-lens school of thought. He gets up close and personal to his wild subjects. The results are immersive, spectacular, revelatory and real, being free of post-production manipulation. No wonder the photos are so popular. But then Yarrow is not the kind to be cloistered in a garret suffering for his art: his mother was an artist and, he notes, she went bankrupt because she did not care about the business side.
“There’s a saying I’m always repeating to my team and that is ‘It’s not creative unless it’s commercial’,” says Yarrow, who typically prints in black and white not just for its timelessness or aesthetic reductiveness, but because it complements any décor. Over the years he has built up a network of galleries worldwide that get his work in front of high-net-worth individuals. In St. Moritz, he has been represented by Petra Gut Contemporary for the last four years.
“People here understandably love the town. And if you live in St. Moritz, you’re not going to put a picture of an elephant on your wall,” laughs Yarrow, whose next project is shooting a series of portraits of sports stars, including ski-racers Mikaela Shiffron and Aleksander Kilde.
“This is one project that we knew just had to happen,” he adds. “St. Moritz is so fabled, with that racy, naughty past, that idea of ‘everything goes’, that it all just played into our hands. That’s why I think these photographs will be appreciated here. All that back story provides so much emotion. And the key to good photography is always to create an emotional connection with viewers.”
To find out more about David Yarrow’s exclusive photography for sale, please contact Petra Gut Contemporary, Via Chavallera 1a, 7500 St. Moritz or visit petragut.com; email: email@example.com; tel: +41 81 422 40 69. Or Petra Gut Contemporary, Nueschelerstrasse 31, Zurich.