American writer Henry James once described it as “the big brown flood, of uncertain temper, which has never taken time to forget that it is a child of the mountain and the glacier.” The mighty Rhône River, which begins in the glaciers of the Swiss Alps and ends in the south of France, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea, is a natural, scenic course through some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes and one of the continent’s great cruising routes. It carves through deep valleys and rolling meadows, famous vineyards and verdant forests, and villages great and small. People flock to its banks to swim, boat, and fish. It is a vital source of water for crops and animals, and energy for nuclear plants. Over the centuries, the Rhône has come to be considered as much a symbol of nature’s power as it is a symbol of life itself.
Photographer Bertrand Stofleth spent seven years documenting the Rhône for his new book, Rhodanie, which explores how life along the river is as varied as the mountain and coastal landscapes it courses through. Each of his images conveys the river’s hugeness as well as the unique role it plays in the lives that feed off of it.
“During my childhood, I was envious of people who seemed to live a quiet existence along the riverside,” Stofleth says. One of the project’s bigger challenges—and rewards—was waiting for chance encounters. He once idled for two days by a nuclear power plant to get the perfect shot when a Jet Ski, horse, and car showed up at once. “All the elements were assembled to create a meeting point between nature and culture.”
Take a look at some of his powerful images. The full portfolio can be seen in Stofleth’s book of photographs, Rhodanie, available at artbook.com.