According to an Italian proverb, “To him that watches, everything is revealed”. For Richard de Tscharner, this could not be more true. Whether on adventures in the Swiss Alps with his father, working at a private bank in Geneva or touring the globe in a single-engine aeroplane, de Tscharner has been observing the world for most of his life.
The life-setting event
Sometimes an event so seemingly unimportant, so ordinary and commonplace that it hardly seems like an event at all, can influence the decisions you make for the rest of your life.
When Richard de Tscharner was a teenager, he accompanied his mother to Lombard Odier & Co. (now known as Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch &Co.), a private bank based in Geneva. There was nothing particularly special about the outing.
There was nothing unusual or out-of-the-ordinary about it. It was, quite simply, a trip to the bank. And yet, looking back on it, de Tscharner says it had a profound impact on his life.
“I realized immediately that Lombard Odier & Co. was going to be the place where I wanted to position myself for the future,” he recalls, adding that he immediately felt at ease in the environment and with the people working there. As a result, he turned to his mother and said: “This is where I want to work one day.”
After graduating from the faculty of Economics and Sociology at the University of Geneva, de Tscharner started his career at Lombard Odier & Co, one of Switzerland’s leading private banks, in 1972. Seventeen years later, in what he describes as a major milestone in his life, he was invited to become a managing partner.
“I have always been extremely grateful for that intuitive feeling I had when I was 16 because looking back,” de Tscharner says, taking a minute to enjoy the memories, “I don’t think I could have been happier than I was at Lombard Odier & Co., nor could I have made a better contribution in business than I did as a portfolio manager and private banker.”
Living all the dreams
De Tscharner says ever since he was young, he wanted to experience five lives: his own, that of a mountaineer, that of a musician, that of a pastor and, finally, that of a simple man.
“Simple, I think, I have always been and will always be,” he says. “My life, obviously, is my life. The other three – nature, music and spirituality – are three things which I like enormously and which are important aspects of my personality.”
In order to realize his dream of experiencing these five lives, de Tscharner left Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Co. at the end of 2006.
“I always kept in the back of my mind the fact that life is a one-way street and that it’s a short one-way street,” he explains. “As a result, I never imagined, or thought that it was reasonable, to stay in business your entire life up to the bitter end.”
Rather than retreat to the comforts of his lakeside home in Coppet, like the many explorers long since relegated to the pages of history books and childhood fantasies, de Tscharner sought adventure and a new challenge.
“I was aware that when you approach the age of 60, you are still fit and you still have the energy that is required to envisage another avenue,” he explains. “The next five to six years, if I had stayed in business, would probably have cost me more than five to six years in terms of energy and would probably not have allowed me to look at the next step of my life with the same degree of freshness.”
And with that – after 35 years in finance – de Tscharner left Lombard Odier & Co. to travel, become a professional photographer and set up a non-profit Foundation in Zermatt.
Capturing the world
While having lunch with his friend Jacques Lemaigre du Breuil, an experienced pilot and founder of JetFly, de Tscharner suggested they should tour the world in a single-engine airplane. Unlike those people who often talk and dream of doing such things but never actually do, de Tscharner planned and plotted – and a year and a half later climbed into a Pilatus PC 12 and set off on a 108-day tour of the world.
Joined by friends Jacques Lemaigre du Breuil and Mario Julen, de Tscharner flew to 16 countries and visited places such as Shibam in Yemen (often referred to as “the Manhattan of the desert”), Lalibela, one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, and Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, which is where, according to Incan mythology, the creator god, Viracoca, rose up to create the sun, the moon, the stars and the first human beings.
The one place that really stood out for de Tscharner, however, was Salar de Uyuni, a salt lake located in the south of Bolivia. According to Aymara legend, the mountains that surround the Salar – Tunupa, Kusku and Kusina – were once giant people. Although Kusku married Tunupa, he left her for Kusina. Grief stricken, Tunupa started crying one day while breastfeeding her son and when her tears mixed with the milk, the Salar was formed.
“It’s magical there,” says de Tscharner. “And it’s so white that when you first get out of the car you think you’re walking on snow. You walk slowly and with extra care because you think that at any moment you’re going to slip and fall.” He laughs at the memory. “It’s really a spectacular place,” he says, regaining his composure. “It’s a place of silence and peace.” And for a brief moment, de Tscharner is lost in thought.
“We really discovered the beauties of this world,” he says, looking up again. “When you watch TV and when you read papers, you easily have the feeling that the world is in shambles. When you travel, though, especially outside of the cities, you realize how absolutely gorgeous and fantastic and beautiful this world is.”
Having said this, the trip – which is officially known as the “Wings and Bridges Tour” – was more than just a holiday. For de Tscharner, it was an exciting opportunity to learn about other countries’ traditions, beliefs and histories. It was also a unique opportunity to make a positive contribution to other peoples’ lives by doing something he loves: taking photographs.
Fulfilling a responsibility
Although de Tscharner travelled to some of the world’s most beautiful places, he also travelled to some of its poorest.
“We could not imagine travelling all around the planet without ever stopping to wonder how to give some help to a village with no resources, to fields lacking water, to mothers with no means to heal their children or to children without the privilege of going to school,” de Tscharner explains. “The more one travels around the world, the more one is led to wonder how to contribute to its betterment.”
With this in mind, de Tscharner established the Carène Foundation (www.fondationcarene.org), a non-profit charitable organization, at the beginning of 2008. The aim of the Foundation is to financially assist organizations around the world – particularly those in low-income countries – that assist disadvantaged children while promoting the importance of education and tradition. The Foundation is financed by the profits made from the sale of de Tscharner’s photographs, many of which were taken during the Wings and Bridges Tour, as well as from the sale of his first book, Our World.
Since its formation, the Carène Foundation has made donations to Krousar Thmey, a foundation aimed at helping underprivileged children in Cambodia and Karuna Shechen, a non-profit organization that builds and ensures the running of schools in Tibet.
The world revealed – a moment of being
When you look at a Richard de Tscharner photograph, the first thing you notice is its simplicity: the clean lines, the elegant composition, the perfect balance between black and white.
But the more you look at it, the more you see and feel, and the more you believe you were there when it was taken, because when you look at a Richard de Tscharner photograph, you’re not just looking at a picture, you’re experiencing a moment in time, a moment of life, a moment of being in harmony in this complicated, beautiful, surprising world.
Article by Alinka Brutsch