When Swiss photographer Vincent Levrat watched a news report in 2016 about radiosondes, it opened up a world that had so far had been unknown to him. This discovery and resulting research kick-started a project which led him 20,000 metres above the ground.
Radiosondes are instruments carried by balloons, to various levels of the atmosphere that transmit measurements by radio. They are sent up twice daily, all over the world, in order to collect the necessary data enabling us to predict weather forecasts. The radiosonde takes its measurement during the ascent sending it live to meteorological institutions via radio waves until the balloon explodes. It then slowly returns to ground with the help of a parachute, often landing hundreds of miles from its point of origin.
However, it is not just meteorological institutions that are reading the radio waves: a small community of elderly enthusiasts exists who, with the help of DIY technology, track and locate the radiosonde probes. Vincent’s series Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating documentation of this exciting hunt, consisting of a back and forth between a protagonist – Rolland – and the probe itself, “each of them moving through its own field, and therefore, creating a new narrative.”
Currently in his third year of the bachelor of photography at ECAL in Lausanne, Vincent’s work often stems from a precise news story or fact that allows him to later shape a fiction or narrative. “The topics that interest me the most often have some absurd or futile characteristic in that they might appear meaningless or very naïve at first sight,” Vincent tells It’s Nice That. For example, when first working on Catch Me If You Can, he was initially researching a radio amateur who was building a huge antenna on the roof of their house. However, this quickly diverted when he discovered the world of the radiosondes hunters.
He began by getting in contact with MeteoSuisse – the meteorological institution of Switzerland who put him in contact with the hunters and specifically Roland. Having started alongside a friend in 2006, Roland became obsessed with “the hunt” and is credited with inventing the pastime. Vincent worked alongside Roland for a total of eight months creating a series which highlights the enthusiasm of someone dedicated to what could be considered a meaningless activity.
The images in Catch Me If You Can are fascinating in their obscurity. Roland’s distinctive and characteristic face is the perfect subject for a series which, if you didn’t know better, could appear altogether fabricated. It’s the images of the world captured from above which are particularly striking, however.
When working on the project, Vincent decided he wanted to attach a camera to one of the probes and send it 20,000 metres into the atmosphere with the help of MeteoSuisse and Roland. “The major difficulty was finding a day where everyone was available but, most importantly, one where the weather/wind conditions were perfect since I had to get the camera back,” he explains. With the strength of high altitude winds, balloons can often be led 400km away from their take-off spot.
Vincent recalls how “when we released the balloon, the hunt was on. This was really exciting and nerve-wracking but everyone was 200% on it. The prevision of the landing zone was pretty optimistic and we soon understood the probe wouldn’t go as far as expected. It ended up falling into a lake. Therefore, we had to find someone with a boat, which we did. Eventually, we finally got it back and enjoyed a well-deserved beer altogether.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.