Posts Tagged ‘Ticino

07
Oct
21

Exhibition: ‘Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!’ at Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zürich

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 10th October 2021

Curators: Teresa Gruber and Katharina Rippstein

 

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) '"Bjesprisorni", Sleeping boy in Leningrad' 1932

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
“Bjesprisorni”, Sleeping boy in Leningrad
1932
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

 

An end of week posting before the exhibition closes.

Ernst A. Heiniger seems to have been a man of much learning and creativity … a polymath.

He belonged to the avant-garde of the Swiss “New Photography” movement in the 1930s; he was a retoucher by trade who taught himself the art of photography. He created one of the first photobooks in Switzerland; he created innovative designs combining photography and graphic design, photo | graphic design, “an entirely novel concept at the time.” He made posters. He started shooting short black and white promotional and documentary films. He taught himself the wide format of Cinemascope and Technicolor film – “previously untested creative tools for Heiniger” – and was hired by Walt Disney to shoot his “edutainment” films all over the world. He was commissioned to produce a 360 degree film for Expo 64 in Lausanne and produced the oldest panorama shots in Switzerland (see video below), and then went on to develop his own 360 degree recording and projection technology in 1965, which was ready for use under the name “Swissorama” at the beginning of the 1980s (see images and film below).

What an artist, what creativity, intelligence and drive. Was there nothing this man couldn’t do!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Bahnhofplatz, Zurich' 1933

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Bahnhofplatz, Zurich
1933
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Jumping over a crevasse, Bernese Oberland' 1933

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Jumping over a crevasse, Bernese Oberland
1933
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Grey and Brown, Puszta (Hungary)' 1936

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Grey and Brown, Puszta (Hungary)
1936
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'White wine star' 1939

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
White wine star
1939
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Rope team on the Bianco ridge, Grisons' 1941

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Rope team on the Bianco ridge, Grisons
1941
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Fitting' 1942

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Fitting
1942
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Water drop' 1943

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Water drop
1943
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (1909-1993) belonged to the avant-garde of the Swiss “New Photography” movement in the 1930s. A photo retoucher by trade, he taught himself the art of photography autodidactically. He quickly developed a keen sense for contemporary and modern aesthetics and soon became one of the first photographers to be admitted to the Swiss Werkbund (SWB). After this initial spark to his career, Heiniger constantly took on new challenges and continued to do pioneering work. In 1936 he created Puszta-Pferde (“Horses in Hungary”), one of the first modern photobooks in Switzerland. He worked with well-known graphic artists such as Heiri Steiner, Herbert Matter and Josef Müller-Brockmann and created innovative designs by combining photography and graphic design, an entirely novel concept at the time. In the 1950s, Heiniger travelled the world as a documentary filmmaker for Walt Disney – two of his short films were awarded an Oscar. He later created Switzerland’s first 360 degree film for Expo 64 in Lausanne.

Even though Ernst A. Heiniger’s visual worlds were admired by a broad public in his day, his name is still largely absent from the canon of Swiss photographic history. In 1986, he left Switzerland determined never to return and lived in Los Angeles until his death in 1993. Since then, the Fotostiftung Schweiz has sought to return his photographic estate to Switzerland – which it finally accomplished in 2014. The exploration and processing of his archive provide the basis for the first comprehensive retrospective of this creative visual designer. The exhibition Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World! shows object and nature photographs, photobooks, posters, films, making-of pictures and documentaries that situate his work within the history of photography. His 360 degree film Rund um Rad und Schiene (“Magic of the Rails”) – the SBB’s attraction at Expo 64 in Lausanne – has been recreated as an all-around projection. Ernst A. Heiniger’s diverse photographic and cinematic oeuvre was always at the cutting edge of technology and oscillates between cool perfection and sensual closeness to nature.

 

New Photography and the Swiss Werkbund

In 1929, at the age of twenty, Ernst A. Heiniger set up his own business as a positive retoucher. In the same year, the exhibition Film und Foto (FiFo) by the German Werkbund took place at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. The title of the exhibition was to be emblematic of Heiniger’s further career, as the two camera-based media, film and photography, defined his entire artistic output. At the time, the international touring exhibition was considered a manifesto for a modern visual aesthetic. The terms “Neues Sehen” (New Vision) and “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity) were used to describe those avant-garde tendencies that emphasised genuinely photographic means of design. The characteristics of the new aesthetic included sharpness of image, attention to detail, unusual perspectives such as high and low angle shots, (abstracting) close-ups or multiple exposures. The precise capture of structures and forms was also one of the typical qualities of this “New Photography”, as it became known in Switzerland. After only a short period as a self-employed retoucher, Ernst A. Heiniger decided to learn how to take photographs himself. He made his customers an offer: for the same price, they would receive a new, better photograph instead of a retouched one. Inspired by visits to exhibitions and publications such as Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (“Here Comes the New Photographer”, 1929), he adapted the aesthetics of the international avant-garde and became one of the pioneers of New Photography in Switzerland. His achievements as a photographer did not go unnoticed by the Swiss Werkbund (SWB), which campaigned for the advancement of “New Photography in Switzerland” and organised an exhibition with this title in 1932. Heiniger was represented with several pictures at the exhibition and was one of the first photographers to be admitted to the SWB Zurich in 1933.

 

Ernst A. Heiniger book covers

 

Ernst A. Heiniger book covers

 

 

Photobooks

In 1936, Ernst A. Heiniger ventured into a new medium – the photobook. For his first essayistic photobook Puszta-Pferde (“Horses in Hungary”), he travelled to Hungary to take pictures of the wild horses of the Pannonian Steppe over the course of several weeks. While designing the book, he experimented freely with his photographic material and composed lively and varied photo pages. In 1937, the book was published in high-quality rotogravure by the Zurich publishing house Fretz & Wasmuth. With a total (German) print run of 23,000 copies, it was a great success and showed for the first time that Ernst A. Heiniger was not merely an aloof representative of avant-garde photography, but also had a talent for inspiring a wider audience with his pictures.

Heiniger was able to build on this success with his next two books Tessin (“Ticino”, 1941) and Viertausender (“Four-Thousanders”, 1942). Both were produced during the Second World War against the backdrop of closed borders and a revival of sentimental homeland imagery. In the context of “spiritual national defence”, the “Heimatbuch”, a genre of books painting an idealised image of Alpine nature and culture, was encouraged by the authorities as a means to inspire the moral uplift of a beleaguered nation. For Heiniger, however, high alpine landscape photography was also a fresh opportunity to translate a subject he was passionate about into book form. The overly romantic transfiguration of the local landscape was kept in check by the fact that he remained true to his detached, objective style. With a firm belief in the documentary power of photography, he wanted to convey the experience that was revealed to the alpinist upon reaching a mountain peak. The many enthusiastic book reviews give an indication of the entertaining, escapist potential of his books in an age when a destructive war was raging outside Switzerland’s borders.

 

Heiri Steiner (Swiss, 1906-1983) (designer) Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) (photographer) 'Grindewald poster' 1935

 

Heiri Steiner (Swiss, 1906-1983) (designer)
Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) (photographer)
Grindewald poster
1935

 

Heiri Steiner (Swiss, 1906-1983) (designer) Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) (photographer) 'Bally Shoes poster' 1936

 

Heiri Steiner (Swiss, 1906-1983) (designer)
Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) (photographer)
Bally Shoes poster
1936

 

'Telefon poster' (1942) (installation view)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!’ at Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zürich showing at right, Telefon poster (1942)

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Telefon poster' 1942

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Telefon poster
1942
Poster
128 x 90.5cm (50.4 x 35.6 in.)

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'World Exhibition of Photography Lucerne poster' 1952

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
World Exhibition of Photography Lucerne poster
1952

 

 

Photo|graphic design

The medium of photography experienced a boom in the 1930s in the form of printed images. The quality standards of the printing trade were high in Switzerland, and photography was increasingly used for magazine illustrations, poster designs and commercial art. Important innovators in typography and graphic design such as Max Bill, Anton Stankowski or Jan Tschichold resided in Zurich; Ernst A. Heiniger worked in a creative and innovative environment. Under the terms “Fotografik” or “Typofoto”, photography entered into a new kind of combination with graphic and typographic elements. The progressive, neo-objective aesthetics of New Photography was ideally suited to applications in the field of advertising. Heiniger supplied images for well-known graphic artists such as Herbert Matter, Richard Paul Lohse and Josef Müller-Brockmann and also practised graphic design himself. From 1934 to 1939, he managed a studio for photography and graphic art on St. Annagasse in Zurich together with Heiri Steiner. As a duo with Steiner, and later as a solo artist, he designed visionary posters that still have a timeless and modern effect today.

 

Ernst A. Heiniger. 'Das Buch vom Telephon'

 

Ernst A. Heiniger Das Buch vom Telephon book cover

 

 

“Pro Telephon” and first films

After parting company with Heiri Steiner, Ernst A. Heiniger was fortunate to have the opportunity to work for a loyal client that was open to modern advertising. The Swiss telecommunications company PTT had launched a campaign in 1927 to popularise the telephone in Switzerland. Heiniger worked for them as a photographer and graphic designer throughout the war and beyond. From 1942, he also started making his first short promotional films for “Pro Telephon”, and in 1946 he was behind the camera for the 20-minute documentary Sül Bernina (CH, 1948). The film uses impressive scenes and modernist imagery to show how the heavy telephone cable was joined together from the north and south at the Bernina Pass to replace the telephone poles that were susceptible to interference.

 

Ernst A. Heiniger. 'World Exhibition of Photography 1952 Lucern, Switzerland' catalogue

 

Ernst A. Heiniger World Exhibition of Photography 1952 Lucern, Switzerland catalogue

 

 

The World Exhibition of Photography in Lucerne

The year 1952 marked a turning point in Heiniger’s life and career. The World Exhibition of Photography was held in Lucerne – a universally oriented exhibition that aimed to show the medium’s areas of application as comprehensively as possible. Heiniger was involved in the major event in various capacities: as a graphic designer, he won the competition for the poster design, and as an expert in the field of object photography, he was entrusted with the curatorial task of organising the “Sachwiedergabe” (“object reproduction”) section. His own pictures were omnipresent at the exhibition. A prominent visitor recognised Heiniger’s talent, and in the summer of 1952 he and Walt Disney met for the first time at the Hotel Palace in Lucerne. Disney cut right to the chase and offered Heiniger a job as a cameraman for his planned documentary film about Switzerland. While working with the American media company, Ernst A. Heiniger met his future wife Jean Feaster. After their marriage in 1953, the two became an inseparable team, not only in private but also professionally.

 

Ernst A. Heiniger. 'Masterpieces of Photography' 1952

 

Ernst A. Heiniger Masterpieces of Photography 1952

 

 

Masterpieces

In addition to the platform offered to Ernst A. Heiniger at the Lucerne exhibition, he produced an illustrated book in the same year to draw attention to his photographic work. He edited a portfolio of sorts comprising 52 of his best independent and applied works that he had produced since the 1930s. The publication appeared in two languages; he called the German edition Das Jahr des Fotografen (“The Year of the Photographer”). On each double-page spread he arranged two pictures that are characterised by contrasts in form or content, but have something in common in their juxtaposition, which the lyricist Albert Ehrismann pondered in the captions. The English edition contains picture commentary by the British writer R.A. Langford and bears the self-confident title Masterpieces of Photography. The estate includes almost all the original prints of these Masterpieces, which were used as print templates at the time. The objects laminated on photo mounting board form the core of the exhibition and provide an insight into Heiniger’s appraisal of his own work as the focus of his activity began to shift from the static to the moving image.

 

Films for Walt Disney

In the early 1950s, Walt Disney launched the documentary film series People & Places for the supporting programme of his animated films – an anthology of half-hour short films designed to introduce foreign countries and peoples to American audiences. One of these countries was Switzerland. While searching for a suitable cameraman, Disney became aware of Ernst A. Heiniger. Switzerland (CH, 1955) was to be the third film in the series and also the first to be shot in Cinemascope. The pronounced wide format of Cinemascope and Technicolor film were new, previously untested creative tools for Heiniger. But he never shied away from a challenge and quickly learned to work with the format and colour, and so he was immediately rehired for further films by Walt Disney Productions. From 1955 to 1957, Jean and Ernst A. Heiniger travelled extensively in Asia. They shot two new People & Places films in Japan: Ama Girls (USA, 1958) follows the lives of a fishing family from Inatori with a special focus on the unusual profession of the 18-year-old daughter, who earns her living as a seaweed diver. For the second film Japan (USA, 1960), the Heinigers documented Japanese festivals, traditional crafts and a Shinto wedding. Disney’s so-called “edutainment” films were designed to inform and entertain a broad cinema audience. Although Walt Disney gave the camera teams travelling all over the world for him a great deal of creative freedom, the films were eventually edited according to commercial criteria under the supervision of his producer Ben Sharpsteen. In 1958, the Heinigers spent another whole year in the Colorado River area for the film project Grand Canyon (USA, 1958), a film adaptation of the extremely popular suite of the same name by the composer Ferde Grofé. The short film was shown in 1959 as a supporting film for Sleeping Beauty. In the same year, the two films Ama Girls and Grand Canyon both won an Academy Award (“Oscar”) – one for Best Documentary (Short Subject), the other for Best Live Action Short Film.

The Ernst A. Heiniger Archive contains numerous slides that document the filming of Disney productions or can also be described as stills. The films Ama Girls, Japan, Grand Canyon and the German version of Switzerland were made available for viewing thanks to digital copies from film archives and are also part of the exhibition.

 

360 degree cinema

After film was plunged into crisis by the spread of television, the industry steadily introduced new film formats to enhance the viewing experience at the cinema. Following the various widescreen formats, Disney’s patented “Circarama” technology set new standards in the 1950s. The system, consisting of a camera and projection display, enabled the capture and reproduction of a full 360 degree angle. In the early 1960s, Ernst A. Heiniger was commissioned by the SBB to produce a 360 degree film for Expo 64 in Lausanne. He was not only responsible for the production, cinematography and direction of the project, but also developed the script for Rund um Rad und Schiene (“Magic of the Rails”, CH, 1964) in cooperation with the client. The 20-minute film was shown every half hour at the Expo in a round auditorium with a diameter of 26.5 metres and a capacity of 1500 people. Around 4 million people had seen the film by the end of the Expo. The Fotostiftung Schweiz is showing this first Swiss 360-degree film, which was restored and digitised in 2014 as part of a Memoriav project, on a smaller scale as a walk-in circular projection.

Despite the success of Magic of the Rails, Heiniger was only partially satisfied with the result; he was bothered by the technical shortcomings of the Circarama system, which did not allow seamless projection. He therefore began developing his own 360 degree recording and projection technology in 1965, which was ready for use under the name “Swissorama” at the beginning of the 1980s. From 1982 to 1984, he used his system to produce the film Impressions of Switzerland (CH, 1984), a total image of Switzerland, which was shown continuously from 1984 to 2002 at the Museum of Transport in Lucerne in a custom-built auditorium.

The exhibition was curated by Teresa Gruber and Katharina Rippstein. The publication Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World! accompanying the exhibition is available from Scheidegger & Spiess. The Ernst A. Heiniger Archive, which is maintained by the Fotostiftung Schweiz, has been comprehensively indexed and digitised and is accessible to the public via an online database: fss.e-pics.ethz.ch.

Press release from the Fotostiftung Schweiz website

 

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Poster "so telephonieren"' 1950

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Poster “so telephonieren”
1950
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Self-portrait' around 1950

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Self-portrait
around 1950
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Ernst A. Heiniger and his wife Jean were inseparable: here they traveled to Japan for a Cinemascope film' around 1956

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Ernst A. Heiniger and his wife Jean were inseparable: here they traveled to Japan for a Cinemascope film
around 1956
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Seaweed diver, film scene from 'Ama Girls' (USA, 1958)' around 1956

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Seaweed diver, film scene from ‘Ama Girls’ (USA, 1958)
around 1956
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

 

A day’s trip west of Tokyo, Ernst A. Heiniger found a place that he imagined: the archaic-looking fishing village of Inatori. He selected a few villagers, arranged them into a family and let them play their “authentic” everyday life. Yukiko – an 18-year-old hairdresser in real life – is one of those divers with special skills in the film. They stay under water for minutes to harvest the coveted seaweed.

The 30-minute film “Ama Girls” won an Oscar in 1959 and spurred Heiniger’s further career. Numerous photographs were taken on the set between filming, such as this shot of the alleged diver who had just emerged from the sea. As a kind of mermaid, she embodies a phantasm: beautiful, mysterious, exotic and aloof.

Fotostiftung Schweiz. “Die Bildkritik – Perlen der Fotostiftung Schweiz,” on the NZZ website 8/9/2021 [Online] Cited 13/09/2021. Translated from the German.

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Women at a festival, Japan' around 1956

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Women at a festival, Japan
around 1956
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Jean and Ernst A. Heiniger during the shooting of the Cinemasope film "Grand Canyon" (USA, 1958)' 1958

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Jean and Ernst A. Heiniger during the shooting of the Cinemasope film “Grand Canyon” (USA, 1958)
1958
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Ernst A. Heiniger with his wife Jean while shooting a Cinemascope film' Nd

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Ernst A. Heiniger with his wife Jean while shooting a Cinemascope film
Nd
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Karl Wolf. 'Shooting of the Circarama film "Rund um Rad und Schiene"' 1963

 

Karl Wolf
Shooting of the Circarama film “Rund um Rad und Schiene”
1963
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

 

Echorama in 360°: Eine Schweizer Zeitreise in die 60er-Jahre und zurück
Echorama in 360 °: A Swiss journey through time to the 1960s and back

 

 

The oldest panorama shots in Switzerland come from the film “All about wheel and rail” by Ernst A. Heiniger. The recordings amazed the visitors of Expo 64. Discover scenes from the crowd puller here: take a look around Bern’s old town, a dining car with neatly dressed people or a construction site from the 1960s. Recordings from the present also show how cityscapes, technologies and worldviews have changed. With headphones you can dive deeper into the pictures, which are underlaid with news articles from the respective time.

 

Karl Wolf. 'The 9-camera system on Heiniger's Chevrolet: the filmmaker worked hard for the Expo film' around 1963

 

Karl Wolf
The 9-camera system on Heiniger’s Chevrolet: the filmmaker worked hard for the Expo film
around 1963
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

The 9-camera system outdoors

 

The 9-camera system outdoors

 

Vicky Schoch. 'Ernst A. Heiniger showed Walt Disney the site of Expo 64. The two were close friends' 1964

 

Vicky Schoch
Ernst A. Heiniger showed Walt Disney the site of Expo 64. The two were close friends
1964
SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen

 

Anonymous. 'The Circarama Circular Theatre of the SBB at Expo 64 in Lausanne' 1964

 

Anonymous
The Circarama Circular Theatre of the SBB at Expo 64 in Lausanne
1964
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Anonymous. 'The Circarama Circular Theatre of the SBB at Expo 64 in Lausanne' 1964

 

Anonymous
The Circarama Circular Theatre of the SBB at Expo 64 in Lausanne
1964
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

 

The 360 pioneer

Heiniger, who had a passion for technology, was very much involved in the development of Disney’s “Circarama” system. Creating a circular movie theatre that screened 360° films became one of his dreams. He was able to realise this dream when the Swiss Federal Railways commissioned him to shoot a movie in this format for the Expo 64 in Lausanne. The film All About Wheels and Rails was a huge success. It is allegedly one of Switzerland’s most watched films with almost four million viewers.

Heiniger continued to develop the 360° technology until the end of the 1980s when he launched “Swissorama”, a new-and-improved cylindrical 360° film system. Europeans were sceptical of the system, and when Heiniger moved to Los Angeles with his wife in 1986, he sold it to a US company which marketed it under the new name “Imagine 360”.

His last wide-screen film, Destination Berlin, was due to be screened in a dome cinema near West Berlin’s tourist district, the Ku’damm, but historic events shuttered his project. With German reunification, half of the city, namely East Berlin, was missing from the movie. Audiences stayed away and the film never reached the expected success.

 

Heiniger’s death

The money he made with the sale of “Swissorama” enabled him to buy a house in the Hollywood Hills, where he lived for the remainder of his life. His death in 1993 went unnoticed in Switzerland where he is still relatively unknown, even though several exhibitions and events have been dedicated to him.

In 1997 the newly established Swiss Photo Foundation organised an exhibition of his work at the Zurich Art Museum, and one of his wide-screen films was shown at the Transportation Museum in Lucerne until 2002. When the Swissorama closed that year, this kind of film disappeared, dashing his dream of creating a worldwide network of 360° cinemas.

Anonymous. “On the trail of photographer and Oscar winner Ernst A. Heiniger,” on the Swissinfo website August 2, 2021 [Online] Cited 13/09/2021.

 

Books

  • Puszta horses (Zurich 1936)
  • The Photo Book of the National Exhibition (Zurich 1939)
  • Ticino (Zurich 1941)
  • Four-thousanders. A picture book of the beauty of our Alps (Zurich 1942)
  • The Year of the Photographer (Zurich 1952)
  • Grand Canyon, nature and wildlife in 157 colour photos. Kümmerly & Frey Geographischer Verlag, Bern 1971
  • The Great Book of Jewels (Lausanne 1974)

 

Filmography

  • 1942: The telephone cable
  • 1943: The telephone set
  • 1944: From wire to cable
  • 1945: The telephone exchange
  • 1948: On the Bernina
  • 1954: Switzerland
  • 1957: Japan
  • 1956-1957: Ama Girls (TV series in 13 parts)
  • 1958: Grand Canyon
  • 1965-1967: Switzerland
  • 1964: All about wheels and rails
  • 1984: Impressions of Switzerland
  • 1988: Shikoku Alive
  • 1989: Destination Berlin

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993) 'Self-portrait' 1960s

 

Ernst A. Heiniger (Swiss, 1909-1993)
Self-portrait
1960s
© Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

'Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!' book cover

 

Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World! book cover

 

'Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!' book pages

'Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!' book pages

'Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!' book pages

'Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World!' book pages

 

Ernst A. Heiniger – Good Morning, World! book pages

 

 

Fotostiftung Schweiz
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CH-8400 Winterthur (Zürich)
Phone: +41 52 234 10 30

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Wednesday 11am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays

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28
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘Roberto Donetta Photographer and Seed Salesman from Bleniotal’ at Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 4th September 2016

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma, Dangio-Torre' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma, Dangio-Torre
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

 

I have found a hidden gem in Roberto Donetta. He has become one of my favourite photographers, this seed salesman from Bleniotal, who died in obscurity and poverty in 1932.

His photographs are like no other that I have seen. There is a directness to his photographs that is deceptively disarming, and humour as well. His theatre is the the theatre of life: the archaic life of his compatriots in the Blenio Valley. If you look at his work on the Roberto Donetta Archive website the landscapes and ambiguous object photographs are interesting, but it is in the genre of portrait photography that he really excels. This was his passion, photographing people.

Somehow, it seems as if the person being photographed has forgotten that the camera was there, as though it has disappeared from view. As the press release observes, “the people did not dissimulate [to disguise or conceal under a false appearance], indeed it’s almost as if they forgot that someone with a camera was watching, so self-engrossed do they look, serious, at one with themselves.” At one with themselves but also at one with being photographed, which is very unusual. There is little affectation here.

The details of the photographs are fascinating. The placement of the figures in Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma for example, where the left two sitting figures have their legs crossed in the opposite direction while both rest their face in their hands, a central figure, and then two figures interlocked as in an infinity symbol looking at each other. The ‘line’ of the photograph changes from one height to another. We observe that Donetta stages his photographs with infinite care, even when there is a blank wall behind the sitter. In Family Portrait, Bleniotal there is a gorgeous touch, as the mother holds the arm of the boy on the left hand side and gently rests two fingers on his other hand. Donetta’s photographs are full of these familial and human observations.

In Group of musicians in front of a building all the men have cigarettes hanging from their mouths, even as they stare directly, unflinchingly into the camera lens. In Humoristic scene, Bleniotal the man holding the tongs can hardly suppress laughing as the theatrical photograph is being taken. Kittens or toys are held in hands while protective arms wrap around shoulders. Here are the precursors to the work of Diane Arbus, in their honesty and straight forwardness: in its modernity Children with Toys, Bleniotal even reminds me a little of Arbus’ Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967. And then there is the use of temporary backdrops, to imitate the upmarket studios of larger towns: “Donetta did imitate the decorative aesthetic of the late 19th century professional studios: he transformed interior or outdoor spaces into improvised studios by, for example, hanging up fabrics or carpets as backdrops and placing objects like chairs or tables with vases of flowers in the foreground. His portraits are carefully composed and arranged, look uncontrived, calm and archaic.”

Despite their deceptively simple nature, there is a mysterious quality to Donetta’s photographs which is enhanced through the use of these portable backdrops. The fabric backdrop and sheet to the left in A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth obscures a rock wall; the idyllic scene behind the boy in Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal hides an earthy, rudimentary stone wall (and note the figure at the top of the image, holding the backdrop up); in Family Portrait, Bleniotal the hastily hung sheet has been decorated with leaves and branches; and in Untitled [Portrait of a women] a plain concrete wall acts as the backdrop even as a) the women looks out of the image not towards the camera; b) the eye can escape down the left hand side of the image and c) there is a ghost-like figure at the very right hand side of the image standing in what I presume is a doorway. The frontality of his photographs is also very powerful: in Untitled [Portrait of a man] the man looks like he is wearing his Sunday best jacket replete with bow tie. His legs are spread on the chair, the jacket looks to big for him, is stiff and unforgiving, his workers hands rest in his lap and he stares quizzically out of the image: calm, accepting, himself. In Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal we (again) notice the textures in the image – the stipple, the concrete, the rocks – and then Cesarina’s stubby, dark hands clutching a bunch of flowers and a book, reminiscent of the dirt under the finger nails and dark features of the peasant boys that appear in the work of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden.

Above all these are honest, direct and engaging photographs. You can think of Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and all the FSA photographers, Diane Arbus and others, and yet they don’t come close to the modern/archaic aesthetic of this man. These photographs are a pilgrimage into a past that has long disappeared. But these faces, these people and their lives, still resonate long after they have passed. I was so moved by these photographs I was in tears the other night when I was constructing this posting, studying the intimate details of these images. That means a lot to me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I usually don’t publish photographs without title and date but in this instance, to gather together as many Donetta images as possible, I have published them when I have found good quality images on the internet. I believe that in this instance it is very worth while.

.
Many thankx to Fotostiftung Schweiz for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'In Sonntagsgewand: men in the Torre village come together for bowling' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
In Sonntagsgewand: men in the Torre village come together for bowling
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Basket maker], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Basket maker], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Group Portrait], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Group Portrait], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Group of musicians in front of a building, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Group of musicians in front of a building, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Group of men], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Group of men], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Three girls in the break from work in the fields under a tree' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Three girls in the break from work in the fields under a tree
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Humoristic scene, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Humoristic scene, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Humoristic scene, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Humoristic scene, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

 

Roberto Donetta (1865-1932) from Ticino is one of Swiss photography’s great outsiders. He managed to survive as a travelling photographer and seed salesman, and upon his death left almost 5,000 glass plates which were preserved merely by chance. These capture the archaic life of his compatriots in the Blenio Valley, which at the time was totally isolated, and the gradual advent of modern times in a precise and sensitive way. Over a period of 30 years and in an era of great change, Donetta became a unique chronicler. At the same time, he saw himself as an artist who – self-taught – experimented freely and knew how to master his medium. His pictures are penetrating and humorous, cheerful and deadly serious – be they of children, families, wedding couples, professional people, the harsh everyday-life of women and men, or of the photographer himself. The Blenio Valley as a microcosm: with Donetta the mountain valley becomes the stage for a great Theater of the World. The exhibition will display about 120 works from the Donetta Archive, many of them on show to the public for the first time ever.

Roberto Donetta was born in Biasca on 6 June 1865. It is not known where he spent his youth. Towards the late 1870s his family most probably moved to Castro in the Blenio Valley, as his father had got a job there as a military functionary. An official register entry on the occasion of his marriage to Teodolinda Tinetti indicates that Roberto Donetta certainly lived in the valley as of 1886. He is registered there as “contadino”, a farmer, which he most likely never was. In 1892 he opened a small grocery shop in Corzoneso, but he had it for only six months. In 1894 he went to London to work as a waiter, returning just 15 months later, sick and exhausted. He then became a hawker and travelled into the most remote corners of the whole valley selling vegetable and flower seeds. As of 1900 he lived in the “Casa Rotonda” in Casserio, part of the Corzoneso municipality. He and Teodolinda meantime had seven children, one of whom died at the age of one. It was around that time that Donetta began to be involved with photography. Apparently Dionigi Sorgesa, a sculptor from Corzoneso, introduced him to the profession and also rented him a camera. Now Donetta was not only a seed merchant but also the valley’s photographer.

 

A Constant traveller

After turbulent quarrels about the use of their sparse income, he and his family separated in 1912: his wife and children left him in the direction of Bellinzona in search of more lucrative work. Only the youngest son, Saul, remained with his father. On 6 June 1913, his 48th birthday, some of Donetta’s belongings were seized and, for a couple of months, he had no camera, which was a great worry to him: “Not to be able to work for a period of nine months – that severed my connection with my art and made me totally destitute.” Donetta spent the years after the First World War in great solitude, constantly on the road throughout the valley. From 1927 onwards, some of his photographs were published in one of Switzerland’s first illustrated journals, L’Illustré, issued by Ringier.

On the morning of 6 September 1932, Roberto Donetta was found dead in his home. All his photographic equipment was confiscated and auctioned so as to pay off his debts to the municipality. The glass plates, however, were all left untouched. In the mid-1980s Mariarosa Bozzini rediscovered them in Corzoneso.

 

Between tradition and modernity

Donetta’s personality was full of contradictions. On the one hand, he expressed considerable interest in all the phenomena associated with the advent of modern achievements, such as photography. On the other hand, he was decidedly conservative when it came to the cohesion of the family or his close links with nature. The latter prevented him from leaving the valley to look for more secure work in town. He lamented the constant changes associated with road building and new railway lines, which he did not see as a blessing for the valley. In his capacity as a photographer he succumbed to the fascination of the modern, yet at the same time he expressed a deep respect for long-standing traditions and rituals.

Roberto Donetta’s passion was undoubtedly for portrait photography. The self-taught photographer not only exhibited an astonishing technical mastery in portraying people, but was also able to give free rein to his creativity – despite the fact that this particular field of photography was strongly influenced by the conventions and expectations of his clients. His numerous portraits of children are remarkable. With children he was well able to live out his delight in composing, his talent in staging small scenes. He took the young people seriously, and they in turn were his accomplices, becoming involved in his idiosyncratic ideas.

 

The chronicler and his style

Throughout his life Donetta accompanied life in the valley, taking commissioned photographs of the inhabitants and the representatives of the different professions, as well as of various events: a visit by a bishop, the arrival of a carousel, a flood, a fire, the construction of a railway line or a bell tower. He was also present at life’s rituals, the transitions from one age group to another, from one social group to the next, or else the prominent fixed points in the year’s cycle, be they secular or ecclesiastical: festivals, weddings, funerals, processions, outdoor church services, these were inconceivable without “il fotografo”. Donetta made photography an important part of those rituals, and over the course of time the photographer was as much a part of the valley as the parson was of the church. This is surely the source of the quality of his photographs: the people did not dissimulate, indeed it’s almost as if they forgot that someone with a camera was watching, so self-engrossed do they look, serious, at one with themselves.

 

The improvised studio

As Donetta did not have a studio of his own, he travelled the whole valley to take his portraits and produced only small modest prints in postcard format (ie. 7 x 11 cm), which he occasionally stamped with his initials. Often the only ornamentation was an oval vignetting or rounded edges. He regularly delivered the commissioned photographs late because, in order to save chemicals, he only developed his films infrequently. After his rounds as a seed merchant, he then struggled with his business correspondence late into the evening. His works differ greatly from the elegant, classic, gold-edged cards that people could have done those days in the city studios without long waiting periods.

Yet in his own way Donetta did imitate the decorative aesthetic of the late 19th century professional studios: he transformed interior or outdoor spaces into improvised studios by, for example, hanging up fabrics or carpets as backdrops and placing objects like chairs or tables with vases of flowers in the foreground. His portraits are carefully composed and arranged, look uncontrived, calm and archaic. Because of the long exposure times, he was concerned to eliminate chance and spontaneity as far as possible.

In addition to this, he also experimented, or simply took photographs for himself: still life, stormy scenes, cloud formations, strangely shaped cliff or tree outlines. These photographs impress us by their modernity and originality and testify to an inquisitive man with an interest in aesthetic issues.

Press release from Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Roberto Donetta. 'For the photographer, he briefly interrupts his work: A chef in Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
For the photographer, he briefly interrupts his work: A chef in Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Boy and girl]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Boy and girl]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Children with Toys, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Children with Toys, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle' 1905-1910

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle
1905-1910
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle' (detail) 1905-1910

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle (detail)
1905-1910
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Killing of a pig, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Killing of a pig, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Portrait of a women]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Portrait of a women]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Portrait of a man]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Untitled [Portrait of a man]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta with hat and a photo album in hand, in front of a wall, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta (Swiss, 1865-1932)
Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta with hat and a photo album in hand, in front of a wall, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

 

Fotostiftung Schweiz
Grüzenstrasse 45
CH-8400 Winterthur (Zürich)
Phone: +41 52 234 10 30

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am to 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am to 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

Roberto Donetta Archive website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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