After Nature. Swiss Photography in the 19th century
Notecard with envelope 17.5x12.5 cm
After Nature Swiss Photography in the 19th Century
MASI Lugano presents “After Nature. Swiss Photography in the 19th Century”. The exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of the initial fifty years of photography in Switzerland, and boasts a number of historic works that have never been exhibited, such as the first ever photograph of the Matterhorn and the oldest photos taken in the Canton of Ticino. The show documents the spread of photography in Switzerland in detail, offering a fascinating and very engaging journey through over 400 images dating from 1839 to the 1890s – many of which have never been presented to the public – from more than 60 public and private collections.
The opening sections of the exhibition are devoted to the early days of photography and therefore the daguerreotype, introducing us to Swiss masters of this art such as the Geneva banker, diplomat and hobby photographer Jean-Gabriel Eynard, and the etcher Johann Baptist Isenring, famous for his "life-size" daguerreotypes. It is evident that in Switzerland too, in terms of the choice of subjects, compositional principles and way it was used, early photography was still closely linked with other arts, and painting in particular, to which it gradually came to represent a valid, cheaper alternative for portraiture. Not to mention the graphic arts, which it came to serve. Indeed it was Isenring who popularized the use in Switzerland of photographs as a model for etchings, a technique also used by the first female photographer, Franziska Möllinger, in her Swiss views published as lithographs from 1844 onwards. This section includes one of the few known daguerreotypes of Ticino, which dates to 1842: the portrait of an elegantly dressed young man (name unknown) – a shining example of the rising bourgeoisie – taken in Lugano. The gaze of outsiders, visiting travellers, led to the grandeur of the Swiss landscape and its mountains being immortalized using the new medium. The incredibly modern angle of the spectacular daguerreotypes by the English artist John Ruskin, who took the first photographs of Ticino, including one of a rocky promontory by Castelgrande in Bellinzona (1858) and the first ever image of the Matterhorn, in 1849. Photography was soon set to become a very powerful vehicle for promoting tourism, an activity also favoured by the developing transport infrastructures. And in this period the photographic process was getting simpler, with the use of glass negatives and albumin prints. This led to the rise of popular images of tourist "destinations", such as the Staubbach waterfall in the Lauterbrunnen valley, immortalized by the English photographer Francis Frith in 1863. Dating from the following year is a breathtaking image by the famous French photographer Adolphe Braun, which captures the endless expanse of the Rhône glacier being crossed by a group of climbers, one of whom is a woman.
The exhibition is co-produced with Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur and Photo Elysée, Lausanne and it is presented in the LAC venue of MASI Lugano.