The red deer is the monarch of the Valais forests. Marcel Grichting spends his free time tracking it down – for the perfect photo.
The slightest sound, the smallest movement or the lightest cough can be enough for Marcel Grichting to end up waiting alone for hours. So he has trained himself to remain totally immobile, blending into the landscape as if he were a tree stump or a moss-covered rock. He sits and waits, hoping that a deer will approach on its way through the forest. “I am just a guest in their kingdom,” the 57-year-old wildlife photographer says. “They are the ones who decide what they want to give me.” But even if he does not take any pictures, the time he spends in nature is never wasted, he says. “When I stay completely still, I hear all kinds of noises and appreciate nature in all its variety. I never get bored.”
It took a while for Marcel to attain this meditative state, as well as to gather the necessary equipment for what has become a passion. The initial spark occurred in childhood. When he was growing up in the Valais village of Mühlebach, he found a book of photographs in an abandoned old house. “It was lying on the ground, and I kept going back there to leaf through it,” he says. As a teenager, he bought his first compact camera before moving on to an SLR. He learned to develop his pictures and spent hours in his own dark room. In due course, he mastered digital photography. So much for the technical side of things. At the same time, Marcel developed his exceptional talents as a wildlife photographer. About 5,500 people follow his Facebook page entitled “Wild & Nature Photography Marcel Grichting”. Visitors find impressive pictures of red deer, the kings of the forest, as well as chamois, roe deer, squirrels, eagles and grouse. “Photographing wild animals has sharpened my perception of nature,” he says.
Marcel has also refined his hunting technique. He hides under a camouflage poncho and sets his camera shutter release on silent as “the animals can hear the click from 60 or 70 metres away,” he says. He has also adopted the habit of showering exclusively with water before he heads into the forest, as deer can detect the faintest scent. He knows exactly where to set himself up, and even has a spray to make the deer think he is one of them; now and again, he uses a deer call. Usually he heads into the forest in the morning between 6 and 11, or later on between 3 and 7 pm. He is so well camouflaged that walkers hardly ever notice him. Often, the wild animals don’t, either. “When I’m alone in the forest early in the morning and a deer comes so close I can smell it, the feeling is amazing,” Marcel says. And when they bell, “it gives you goosebumps, it’s an experience you never forget.” When he is not photographing wildlife, Marcel drives postal buses in Valais. “I originally trained as a cook. But I realised after a few years I didn’t find it fulfilling.” By contrast he loves his current work. “Driving a postal bus demands a lot of concentration. But you’re in nature, and you really experience the beauty of each season.”
One of his favourite runs is up to the Simplon Pass, for its wild, wide-open landscapes. “It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny, raining or snowing, the Simplon route is always an adventure,” he says. He also enjoys tricky stretches such as the hairpin bends along the steep road from Brig to Blatten, or the drive up to the village of Mund, famous for its saffron. “When I reach the Simplon Pass, passengers sometimes ask if we can do a quick stop for photos. If there’s time, I’m happy to oblige, it gives them a lot of pleasure.” All in all, work balances leisure for Marcel. Driving a postal bus requires respect for others, understanding, patience and a sense of responsibility – the same skills he needs as a wildlife photographer.
In the Aletsch forest, Marcel Grichting can spend hours waiting for deer, totally still under his camouflage poncho – sometimes in vain. At such times this amateur wildlife and nature photographer – a postal bus driver by profession – blends completely into the landscape.
Animals can hear a camera’s shutter release from 60 or 70 metres, so Marcel Grichting’s is totally silent.
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Text: Monique Ryser
Photographs: Pascal Gertschen
Published: Septembre 2021