Fundacion Mapfre Opens Gotthard Schuh Exhibition

FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE is presenting for the first time in Spain the work of the Swiss photographer Gotthard Schuh (Berlin-Schönberg, 1897 – Küsnacht, Switzerland, 1969). The exhibition has been organised in close collaboration with the Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur, from where the works have been borrowed, and is curated by its director Peter Pfrunder. On view 14 December 2011–19 February 2012.

The exhibition is presented in five different sections and includes 113 photographs, ninety-three by Gotthard Schuh dating between 1929 and 1956, and twenty additional images by Robert Frank, Werner Bischof, Jakob Tuggener and René Groebli.

Gotthard Schuh was one of the most important Swiss photographers of the 20th century. In 1930 he interrupted a promising career as a painter to devote himself fully to photography. Schuh enthusiastically participated in the aesthetic revolution that took place in the world of photography in the late 1920s and which championed a “new vision”. The flourishing field of photojournalism offered him an opportunity to express his visual ideas, with the magazine Zürcher Illustrierte setting the standards within Switzerland. Alongside his activities as a reporter, Schuh always aimed to escape from everyday reality. In the early 1930s he spent various periods in Paris where the ideas of the “new vision” prevailed and where he developed a style that could be described as “poetic realism” focusing on people as a subject. The atmosphere of particular places and lyrical expressivity became the motor of his work. He also explored Zurich at this period where he lived and worked for most of his life. In 1935 the city became the subject of his first book of photographs, a work that goes far beyond a merely touristic or documentary record.

In March 1938 Schuh left for Singapore, Java, Sumatra and Bali on a trip that lasted eleven months. On his return he published the book Inseln der Götter [Islands of the Gods] in 1941 revealing itself on closer examination to be a subjective travel account. Inseln der Götter is one of the best-known and most successful books of Swiss photography, which was published during World War II.

Schuh’s most important publication of the 50s was Begegnungen [Encounters] in which he combined old and recent photographs in a work of free association that is both innovative and self-contained. Its images focus on the theme of the encounter: between a man and a woman looking for each other (or separating), or between the photographer and people, landscapes and things. Through his overtly subjective gaze on these encounters, Schuh became an important influence for young Swiss photographers.

In 1950 Schuh co-founded the Kollegium Schweizerischer Photographen association together with the photographers Werner Bischof, Paul Senn, Jakob Tuggener and Walter Läubli. It brought together eminent photographers and promoted original photography with artistic aspirations. They attributed great importance to individual and subjective expression and to photographs that achieved a powerful effect but were devoid of a particular purpose. The last section of this exhibition is the result of presenting Gotthard Schuh alongside the most important Swiss photographers of his day, all members of the College of Swiss Photographers (Kollegium Schweizer Photographen) in the 1950s (René Groebli, Jakob Tuggener, Werner Bischof and Robert Frank).

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