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Apr
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Exhibition: ‘C’est la vie. Press photography since 1940’ at the Swiss National Museum, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 22nd March 2012

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Another fascinating, quirky photography exhibition. The photographs from the 1940s are poignant, especially when we remember what was happening in the rest of Europe at this time. Contrary to popular opinion, the Swiss did not have an easy time of it during the Second World War: threatened with invasion by Hitler on one the hand, this landlocked country relied heavily on imports to survive. Many of its citizens were near starvation during the course of the war but they became more self sufficient, growing their own food. They also built up their military (ironically using pre-war German assembled Messerschmitt planes as a basis for their air force). The Germans knew that Switzerland would be a hard country to conquer so they did not force the issue. For an in depth look at the fate of neutral countries during the Second World War see the excellent book The Neutrals by Denis J. Fodor (Volume 35 of World War Two: Time-Life Books, 1982) which includes “chapters on Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Turkey, and others including their success or lack of success in maintaining their neutrality.” (Neal A. Wellons) There is also a picture essay on Switzerland. An absorbing read.

The photograph Swimming lessons for schoolchildren at the Wollishofen lakeside swimming area, Zurich (1943, below) is especially foreboding of the conflict that was swirling around Switzerland in 1943, the child’s heads in a noose as he tries to stay afloat a metaphor for the conflagration that was occurring all around. One slip for Switzerland, and the world, and it was over. Chilling.

Many thankx to the Swiss National Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Anon
Frozen Lake Biel
1941
© Swiss National Museum

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Anon
Using boats to transport wood and stone on Lake Lugano
1940
© Swiss National Museum

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Anon
Swimming lessons for schoolchildren at the Wollishofen lakeside swimming area, Zurich
1943
© Swiss National Museum

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Anon
Walter Diggelmann repairs a tyre during the Tour de Suisse
1950
© Swiss National Museum

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“For the first time, the Swiss National Museum in Zurich presents its extensive archive of press photographs. The exhibition looks at recent Swiss history from the perspective of the press photographer and reveals how, in the second half of the 20th century, press photography developed into the photojournalism we know today.

Housed in three original pavilions by the designer and engineer Jean Prouvé from the 1940s, C’est la vie includes meticulously composed photographs depicting political events, episodes from everyday life, unforgettable moments, candid pictures of well-known personalities and portraits of everyday heroes. It also shows how the extensive photo reportages of the early years were superseded by individual snapshots – initially still in black and white, then in colour. New methods of image transfer and printing technologies enabled ever-increasing numbers of up-to-the-minute photos to appear in the daily press. From the 1960s onwards, the illustrated weekly press went into decline. The exhibition illustrates this process by juxtaposing an analogue picture agency from the 1940s with its present-day digital counterpart.

In 2006 the Swiss National Museum acquired the archives of the press photo agencies Presse Diffusion Lausanne and Actualité Suisse Lausanne, which together comprise millions of negatives, paper prints and transparencies from 1940 (foundation of PDL) to 2000 (closure of ASL). The archives are an ideal complement to the photographs taken by private individuals that previously formed the core of the Swiss National Museum’s photography collection. An examination of the archives soon revealed a wealth of treasures. The diversity, breadth and aesthetic quality of the photographic material are remarkable and exceptional. The new holdings will also be an invaluable source of visual material for the Swiss National Museum’s research activities.”

Press release from the Swiss National Museum website

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Two brothers in the Rhine harbour at Kleinhüningen, Basel
c. 1939
© Swiss National Museum

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Passenger in the dining car of the “Compagnie Suisse des Wagons-Restaurants”‘
c. 1940
© Swiss National Museum

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Elderly lady in a restaurant, Lausanne
1959
© Swiss National Museum

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Italian guest workers arriving in Switzerland
1956
© Swiss National Museum

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Swiss National Museum
Landesmuseum Zürich
Museumstrasse 2
8021 Zurich
T:  +41 (0)44 218 65 11

Opening hours:
Tue – Sun 10 am – 5 pm
On Thursdays the museum is open until 7 pm.

Swiss National Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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