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Swiss photobooks in Moscow

«Swiss Photobook Today» © The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

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The Moscow Photobook Festival is a platform for contemporary international photography and a gala for photobooks. Switzerland, too, was represented in Russia this year with an exhibition entitled «Swiss Photobook Today: from the Amazon to the Vienna Ball».

This year’s Moscow Photobook Festival ran from 20 April to 3 June. One of the main subjects explored at the event was the potential of photobooks as an independent art form. Switzerland’s contribution consisted of the exhibition «Swiss Photobook Today: from the Amazon to the Vienna ball», comprising a selection of 20 photobooks whose production had been supported by Pro Helvetia. They included international publications such as «Le Livre de la Jungle : Histoires contemporaines de l’Amazonie et de ses périphéries» by Yann Gross (Actes Sud, Arles, 2016), «Kodak City» by Catherine Leutenegger (Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2014) and «Continental Drift» by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs (Edition Patrick Frey, Zürich, 2017). Equally important and no less representative of present-day photobook creation in Switzerland are the publications issued either by independent publishers («Withheld due to:» by Christof Nüssli, cpress, Zürich, 2016) or published by the authors themselves («Ramsdorf» by Tiphanie Mall, Selbstverlag, 2015).

In collaboration with the festival, Pro Helvetia’s liaison office in Moscow organised various public events from 11 to 13 May. Participants included Nathalie Herschdorfer, conservator, historian of photography and director of the Musée des beaux-arts in Locle; Laurence Rasti, photographer and author of the book «There are no Homosexuals in Iran», and Andreas Koller, publisher at Edition Patrick Frei. Nathalie Herschdorfer and Laurence Rasti share impressions of their Moscow experiences in the interview below.

Since 2013, Pro Helvetia has been supporting the publication of photobooks by Swiss photographers produced in collaboration with national and international publishing houses. All the photobooks sponsored by Pro Helvetia are listed here and are now regularly supplemented by accompanying texts.

Interview

How did the «Swiss Photobook Today» exhibition fit in at the festival?

Nathalie Herschdorfer: The growing appeal of photobooks nowadays is an international phenomenon. In such an environment, it was interesting to be able to show how the culture of one’s country favours this type of publication. Nevertheless, the books on display were aimed at an international audience and it was possible to appreciate them without reference to their country of origin. The diversity of the Swiss publications on show did, however, demonstrate the wide range of approaches applied in photobook creation in Switzerland.

Laurence Rasti: The festival presented several exhibitions focusing on photobooks. One room was dedicated to the exhibition Looking for Lenin by Niels Ackermann and Sébastien Gobert, another to the winner of the photobook 2017 contest, Ikuru Kuvajima, with his exhibition I, Oblomov. Be it for Swiss Photobook Today or I, Oblomov. the scenography was designed so as to encourage visitors to stop and browse through the books.

Is it possible to pinpoint some specific characteristics of the Swiss photobooks on display that distinguished them from other projects presented at the festival?

N.H.: A high level of printing know-how coupled with first-rate editorial and graphical quality. Photobooks by Swiss artists are of high quality and are produced under optimal conditions. Of course, prime quality is not a uniquely Swiss characteristic; many photobooks from other countries reveal a top production standard as well.

L.R.: I got the impression that Russia does not have a photobook culture comparable to Switzerland’s. Here in Switzerland, graphical and photographic creation is generally held in high esteem. I’m not saying that Russian photographers aren’t very committed to their work and interested in that of others. On the contrary – there was vivid interest shown in the Swiss Photobook Today exhibition. Conversations with participants revealed that it is more a question of raising public awareness of photobooks as an art form.

What kind of people visited the exhibition? Professionals, the general public, collectors, potential buyers …?

N.H.: My impression was that audiences consisted mainly of photographers and historians of photography.

L.R.: The public events I attended attracted mostly photographers, other photography professionals and students.

What kind of conversations did you have at the festival? How did visitors react to your intervention?

N.H.: Very good conversations. Most of the people I talked to were artists. Their questions revealed a lot of curiosity and above all a desire to work under conditions such as we enjoy in Switzerland.

L.R.: The welcome we received at the festival was fantastic. I was impressed by their organisational talent and their hospitality. The intimate setting of the panel discussion after my presentation enabled a genuine exchange with the audience. It led to numerous contacts with people I hope to stay in touch with.