The Incredible World of Photography. Ruth and Peter Herzog Collection

Intro

The Incredible World of Photography The Ruth and Peter Herzog Collection 18.07. - 04.10.2020

A summer’s day on Coney Island in Brooklyn. Is this a snapshot of a private outing or a deliberate aesthetic arrangement? What at first seems spontaneous looks staged on closer inspection.

We don’t know very much about this picture. Who are the people in it, and what are they gazing at out in the distance? We can only guess the answers, just as we can only guess about the anonymous photographer.

Unknown, Bathers (Coney Island), 1950–60. Hand-colored silver gelatin print, 17.7 x 12.6 cm © as collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

The Coney Island image was colored by hand after it was taken. Its bright palette brings to mind the work of Andy Warhol. The American artist used photos as templates for his silkscreens. In this image of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, the unusual coloring transforms a familiar photo of the Communist Party chairman and makes it strange. Does the process turn the dictator into an icon of Pop Art? Or hold him up to ridicule?

Andy Warhol, Mao, 1972. 91.4 x 91.4 cm, Silkscreen, Kunstmuseum Basel © Pro Litteris.

When Pop Art began to emerge in the late 1950s, it drew on images from everyday life in order to transform them in radical ways. Artists used pictures of packaged food, beverages, cigarettes, cars, and other items of mass consumerism. They also drew visual material from advertising, the press, and cinema.

Pop artists experimented with new materials, loud colors, and serial repetition in order to give this imagery an overall effect of unfamiliarity. Their works comment ironically on the consumerism of postwar society. Andy Warhol was one of the movement’s best-known representatives.

The artist creates reality. The photographer sees it.

Karl Pawek, 1963 Cited after: Karl Pawek, Das optische Zeitalter (Olten/Freiburg im Breisgau, 1963), p. 58.

The Coney Island photograph is part of the Fotosammlung Ruth und Peter Herzog (photography collection), whereas Warhol’s portrait belongs to the Kunstmuseum Basel. The two pictures meet in the exhibition The Incredible World of Photography. Seeing the two collections in dialogue opens up new perspectives on the relationship between photography and the visual arts, vistas that are as electric as they are fertile.

The Photography Collection

The Photography Collection

Image: Unknown, Young girl with a Kodak Brownie camera, 1901. Silver gelatin POP, c. 12 x 9 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

Ruth and Peter Herzog have been acquiring photographs for over 45 years. Their collection extends from the medium’s beginnings in the 1840s to the 1970s, when the first digitization was underway. Since five years the Fotosammlung has been part of the Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett in Basel where it is inventoried and studied. The project is a mammoth one, as the collection has grown to over half a million images. And yet it all started with a coincidence.

Unknown, Spinners, c. 1900. Silver gelatin, 21.9 x 33 cm © Sammlung Ruth + Peter Herzog, Basel.

The little discovery that had such a big impact was an anonymous image that Ruth and Peter Herzog came across at a Zurich flea market in 1974. It shows a circle of women at their spinning wheels with a Spitz reclining at their feet. An elderly woman winds the yarn at the center. The scene reminded Peter Herzog of his own family history, but for both collectors it sparked the realization that photography had the potential to be both art and a historical document.

The Collection as Wunderkammer

The Herzogs’ passion for collecting seems to know no bounds. Today, the Fotosammlung is one of the world's largest groupings of photographs created by private individuals.

The purchase of the photo of the spinners awakened the Herzogs’ love of collecting. From the start, their criteria for selecting and arranging the photos were subjective. Thus over the years a collection was born whose structuring principle consisted of the apparently chaotic juxtaposition and interaction of diverse images. This deliberate disorder, echoing the idea of the world in a nutshell, connects the Fotosammlung with the early modern era’s cabinets of curiosities.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

As a precursor to the modern museum, the cabinet of curiosities – the Wunderkammer – has its origins in the 14th century, when princes and some wealthy burghers began assembling rarities and curiosities from around the world. Here natural phenomena such as sharks’ teeth were displayed alongside coins, astronomical instruments, and works of art, without separation. Each curiosity stood on equal footing.

The sheer variety of these objects showed the desire to bring together all the knowledge of the day, to contain the entire universe in a nutshell. There was insight to be gained through comparative observation. Even if the Fotosammlung Ruth und Peter Herzog is not a Wunderkammer in the strict sense, there are many parallels.

Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities, from Museum Wormianum, 1655. Etching.

Because they conceived of their collection as touching on all areas of modern humanity, the Herzogs deliberately chose to avoid such usual organizational principles as chronology and photographers’ names. Instead, they organized the photographs by subject (travel, countries) and in categories (portraits / family albums, nature, industry) that they determined themselves.

  • Portrait

    Unknown, Blind woman with braille typewriter, 1845–55. Daguerreotype, 9.2 x 8.2 x 1.8 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved. © als Sammlung by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    The woman only appears to gaze at the camera. But as her sunglasses and Braille typewriter make clear, this blind woman will never be able to see this portrait of herself. Daguerreotypes – the first form of photography – were mementos. It was claimed the popular medium would replace portrait painting.

  • Family

    Martin Hesse, Woman with child, 1940–50. Silver gelatin print, 17.9 x 12.9 cm © Martin Hesse Erben / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    Birth, childhood, travel, marriage, old age, death. Though the people we meet in these images are certainly individuals, seeing them in mass makes clear how standardized the depicted situations are. An image like this one – a wailing toddler – is rare indeed.

  • Technology

    Henri Dufaux, X-ray of Noémie Dufaux's hand, 1903. Silver gelatin print, 28.9 x 21 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    In 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen published the first x-ray image, using the Röntgen ray technology that he had just discovered. What was so fascinating about this process? It revealed the skeleton of a living human being — without the use of a scalpel.

  • Science

    Alphonse Bertillon, Anthropometric data sheet of Alphonse Bertillon, 1912. Albumen print, 14.7 x 14.6 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    In 1880 Alphonse Bertillon devised a system for identifying criminals. It involved cataloguing people according to 11 physical characteristics. The method of photographing a person en face and en profil is still used today. So is the notion that we can identify each individual face unequivocally.

  • History

    Graphopresse, Bruxelles: Storage of paintings by Lucas Cranach and Robert Camping during World War II, 1939–45. Silver gelatin print, 12.9 x 17.9 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    Photography’s promise – to show things as they are – quickly made it into the preferred medium for documenting significant events. This image, taken during World War II, shows museum staff in Belgium inspecting paintings in storage, where they were hidden for protection from the ravages of war.

  • Industry

    Unknown, Changing room in a mine, 1920–30. Silver gelatin print, 23.8 x 18 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    Labor and industry were photographed even from an early date. Most such pictures, however, focus on gleaming machines and unpeopled production spaces – rather than showing laborers, many of whom worked in precarious conditions. What were these images meant to convey, and who were the intended viewers?

  • War

    Detroit News, Munitions worker at Maxwell Motor Co. in Detroit, 1918. Silver gelatin print, 25.4 x 20.5 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    The camera was part of the equipment brought to the wartime front. Views taken from the air in particular revolutionized military campaigns. This propaganda image shows a “munitionette,” a woman working in a munitions factory during World War I.

  • Nature

    Unknown, Tomato and potato plant, 1906. Cyanotype photograms, 25.4 x 30.1 cm (object) © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    These plant studies are cyanotypes, an early process for developing photographs. Painters of the day were partial to such images of plants and animals. Many artists amassed large study collections so that they could incorporate motifs at any time from all areas of nature into their work.

  • Travel

    Giacomo Caneva, Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber river in Rome, 1845–55. Salted paper print, 24 x 33.1 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

    The Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome was a popular motif in 19th-century landscape painting. The camera would soon be a faithful traveling companion, as it became smaller, easier to handle, and less expensive toward the end of the 19th century.

From family scenes to images from the front, from sporting events to pornography – no motif photographed on a mass scale is absent from the collection. As Peter Herzog put it, its goal is to “depict in all its diversity human life in the industrial age.” This compass is what makes it so unique. Alongside individual images, the Herzogs also bought albums, boxes, the estates of other collectors, and entire photo archives.

Collecting Photographs

Photographs were collected in a variety of contexts from the start. Scientific collections served medicine and the natural sciences. Fine arts applications were numerous as well. The study collection built from 1850 to 1930 by what is now the Universität der Künste was recently exhibited in Berlin. In Munich, the society portrait painter Franz Lenbach had his subjects photographed before painting them. Other artists like the Swiss painter Frank Buchser collected photos as a study aide.

Photography was already collected as art in the 19th century, for example by Alfred Lichtwark when he directed the Hamburger Kunsthalle. It has meanwhile established itself as an important part of the international art market. Certainly, the genre has its big stars, artists whose work fetch high prices. While they are present in the Fotosammlung, the Herzogs also acquired outside of this category. This enabled them to build up holdings that now surpass 500,000 individual images.

The collection’s leitmotif is human life in the industrial age, and here we mean in all walks of life. The sheer variety of the collection allows us to get to the heart of the nature of photography and of humanity.

Peter Herzog, 2016 Oral History with Peter Herzog, 2016 © Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel .

A Collection of Collections

More than 3,000 photo albums from around the world are to be found in the Fotosammlung. Many of them have European subjects, but others show Africa, Asia, and America.

The market is more interested in breaking up albums and bundles of photos to sell them individually. But intact they convey a much broader picture; completely different information comes to light.

Peter Herzog, 2016 Oral History with Peter Herzog, 2016 © Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel .

The 19th-century photo album was above all a way of demonstrating the owner’s social position. In the 20th century, it became more a matter of expressing individuality. Nonetheless, many albums resemble each other in terms of what they show and how they show it.

This album is part of a series documenting the lives of Margrit and Ruth Isele, two girls from Zurich who were born 1915 and 1919 respectively.

Album of the Isele family, 1899–1923. Various techniques, 26 x 20 x 5.5 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

Most images are dated and captioned. Postcards are frequently pasted in as well. It was quite common at the time to incorporate small souvenirs of this sort. Family albums were sometimes partially decorated with elaborate illustrations as well.

Each cover of the Isele albums is different. The labels show the name of one of the girls and a number.

Unknown, Isele family and their dog, 1922. Silver gelatin prints, 26 x 20 cm (page) © als Sammlung by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

Meierli, the family dog, had pride of place and wore fancy dress for his album portrait.

Meierli’s successor was even allowed to take his naps in bed.

Other pictures document excursions to the bear enclosure in Bern and to Interlaken.

As we leaf through the albums, we can see the two Isele girls growing up. It gives us the impression of knowing them personally.

Each cover of the Isele albums is different. The labels show the name of one of the girls and a number.

Photo albums are intimate objects, telling the story of one individual or a group. They are full of moments that at first glance appear utterly unique. At the same time, they convey something about entire generations. Comparing numerous family albums reveals standardizations in how the individuality of different people is presented. We see the degree to which particular experiences resemble each other and the structures and patterns that affect our own lives.

The mass of family albums says something about the collective idea of family. The mass of war imagery brings home the idea of war as a 20th-century collective experience. Photos from the front may appear pasted into albums directly between wedding pictures and photos of vacations.

Heinz Fraede, Destructions in Hildesheim (Germany) after air raids, ca. 1945–47. Silver gelatin print, 24.1 x 17.6 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
Unknown (German), Eastern Front of World War II, 1941–42. Silver gelatin prints, 25 x 33.5 cm (page) © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

To people who did not experience the war, these private images can be intensely disconcerting. Grisliness is condensed here in the intimate format of a handy, neatly captioned album. What makes us feel uncomfortable was apparently considered a memorable enough moment to capture in a photo.

But how is it today? Do we consider pictures of past wars differently from the images coming to us today from Syria or Ukraine? Is the unease we feel connected to what is being depicted? Or to the role of the photographer — whose gaze we unavoidably share? Is that photographer an observer or a participant?

Hosam Katan, Light from a far, 2014. TECHNIQUE SIZE © Hosam Katan.

Although the camera is an observation station, the act of photographing is more than passive observing.... To take a picture is ... to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing ... another person’s pain or misfortune.

Susan Sontag, 1977 Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York, 1977), p. 12.

Collective Pictorial Memory

Photography changed reporting in profound ways. The camera accompanied history being made. From the 19th century, historical events found their way into the living room via the newspaper.

Thanks to live coverage and the ubiquitous presence of images in the media, millions around the world felt they were present at the Moon Landing. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, shown here, was the second human to set foot on the moon. As such, he never achieved quite the same fame as his colleague Neil Armstrong, who took this photograph. We see Armstrong’s image reflected in Aldrin’s helmet.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, 1969. Chromogenic print, 30 x 23.9 cm, Courtesy NASA, JPL-Caltech © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

The Moon Landing was conceived from the beginning as a media event. The mass circulation of spectacular images was part of the mission of putting the first man on the moon. Some of the photographs, including this image of Aldrin, became icons and found their way into our collective pictorial memory.

The sun will thus become the historiographer of the future, and in the fidelity of his pencil and the accuracy of his chronicle, truth itself will be embalmed and history cease to be fabulous.

David Brewster, 1856 David Brewster, The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction (London, 1856), p. 181.

Even people who are uninterested in art know the Mona Lisa and her mysterious smile. This photo shows a street hawker in Paris in August 1911. That day the only postcards he was selling were images of the Mona Lisa. For just a few days before, art thieves had stolen the famous painting from the Louvre in a spectacular heist. But the vender’s postcards were far more than mere reproductions! They were to have a decisive influence on the painting’s history.

Agence Meurisse, Parisian street vendor selling postcards, 1911. Silver gelatin print, 18 x 13 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

The Mona Lisa didn’t become irreplaceable until it vanished. Newspaper photographs of the empty wall in the Louvre on which it had hung made palpable the absence of the original. While postcards sent by the thousands helped the painting achieve world fame, photography was simultaneously posing a question: was the original actually necessary? For the art world, this was a veritable earthquake!

If you own a postcard of the Mona Lisa is it even important for the original to hang in the Louvre? After the painting was recovered, the Louvre answered this question by isolating it in its own special space – emphasizing its singular importance.

Photography and Art

Photography and Art

Sherrie Levine, L'Absinthe, 1995. Twelve Silver Prints, each 25.3 x 20.3 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Sherrie Levine, Courtesy of the Artist and David Zwirner.

Since its discovery, photography has fought to establish itself as a legitimate form of visual art. This tension is as old as the medium itself.

Photography polarized. Defenders and opponents had bitter debates, asking what the medium could accomplish. Its usefulness as a form of documentation was quickly recognized. But opinions about its artistic value diverged. Many found the idea of a picture formed through technical means to be too mechanical and not creative enough.

Certainly daguerreotype portraits reproduce each hair, each wart, but light as a material only recognizes a corpse; it is the artist’s intellectual gleam of insight that alone can capture what is wonderful in man, freeing his soul and making it visible.

Joseph Frei­herr von Eichen­dorff, 1857 Cited after: “Geschichte der poetischen Literatur Deutschlands,” in Joseph von Eichendorff, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Wolfram Mauser, vol. 9 (Regensburg, 1970) p. 477.

The Liberation of Painting

Like no other medium, photography marched triumphant into all spheres of human life. But this did not by any means bring about the end of art. Quite the contrary!

There is no better symbol of the 19th century’s faith in progress than the Eiffel Tower. Erected for the Paris World’s Fair of 1889, it was a celebration of all of the century’s technical accomplishments. And photography counted among these.

Illustrated newspapers created a constantly growing market for photographs and turned the picture into a mass medium par excellence. Karl Marx considered photography a symbol of progress alongside the railroad, steam power, telegraphy, and natural gas facilities.

Unknown, Eiffel Tower under construction, 1888. Albumen print, 18.1 x 12.9 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
Robert Delauney, La Tour Eiffel, 1910-11. Oil on canvas, 195.5 × 129 cm, Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel © Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation / © Image: Bisig & Bayer, Basel.

Robert Delaunay depicted this emblematic structure a total of thirty times. This painting is abstract, and yet the characteristic construction remains recognizable. The painting style, inspired by Cubism, breaks the tower – and the city – down to its individual facets, showing various perspectives simultaneously. It is said that photography prepared the way for modern painting, since art no longer had the task of depicting reality.

By the time Impressionism yields to Cubism, painting has created for itself a broader domain into which, for the time being, photography cannot follow.

Walter Benjamin, 1925 “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 3 1935–1938, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge (MA)/London, 2002), p.36.

Reproduction

There is only one Mona Lisa. But the painting exists in countless reproductions.

Photography incorporated reproductions of paintings into its offerings quite early. Studios specialized in photographing works of art were established in the 19th century, giving armchair travelers an inexpensive and comfortable way to visit the museums of the world.

Taken together, all of these modes make it possible to bring easily produced reproductions right into the farmer’s hut — unique artworks, hand-embroidered fabrics, what in former times only the rich man could possess.

Léon De Laborde, 1859 Cited after: Léon De Laborde, Die Revolution der Reproduktionsmittel, in: Wolfgang Kemp: Theorie der Fotografie I; 1839–1912 (Munich, 1980), p. 97.

The debate over how an original work of art relates to its copy became more urgent once photography had established itself as a truly mass medium after World War II. This tension between original and copy sparked contemporary art in important ways. What is so important about authenticity and originality anyway?

Sherrie Levine, L'Absinthe, 1995. Twelve Silver Prints, each 25.3 x 20.3 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel COPYRIGHT BEI DAVID ZWIRNER ANFRAGEN

Sherry Levine’s provocative oeuvre tears the idea of authorship from its moorings. As one of the key representatives of “Appropriation Art” she is known for taking over the works of male photographers and painters. With L’Absinthe, Levine brings us face to face with fundamental questions about the relationship between photography and painting; repetition, framing, and presentation within the museum grant the status of an artwork in its own right to the copy of a copy.

Color

Compared to art, 19th-century photography had a disadvantage: its color was considered to be unsatisfactory.

Photographers began quite early to experiment with color, either by means of special development processes (cyanotypes) or by coloring motifs by hand afterward. Each photographer used his or her own developer, which gave a special color to the prints.

Photographic Processes

Many of the historic photographic techniques to be found within the Fotosammlung have largely been forgotten. The collection’s significant diversity of materials bears witness to the medium’s dynamic development. The cyanotype (also called blueprint) process, for example, is one of the earliest, least expensive, and simplest photographic techniques. It was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. The paper, coated for sensitivity with a mixture of iron-based chemical solutions, is developed with sunlight. Placing an object or a negative directly onto the paper enables its depiction. The characteristic deep blue coloring comes from oxidation when the prints dry.

The very simplicity and dominant coloring of the cyanotype process made many artists skeptical about it. But the advent of the first hand-held cameras at the start of the 20th century brought the process back into fashion among amateur photographers, since it enabled prints to be produced simply and cheaply in large quantities.

With the autochrome process, realistic color rendering was already possible as early as 1903. Even then, color photography had a rather poor reputation, particularly among art photographers. Until the 1970s the black-and-white aesthetic prevailed as a way of emphasizing an image’s quality as art. Color for its part was associated with advertising and other products of mass culture.

There are four simple words which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar.

Walker Evans Cited in Mary Warner Marien, Photography: A Cultural History (London, 2006), p.357.
Ed Ruscha, Product Still Life, 1961/2009. Silver gelatine, 33.3 x 26.5 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Ed Ruscha.

Ed Ruscha’s Product Still Lifes of 1961 make advertising photography their point of reference.

Ed Ruscha, Product Still Life, 1961/2009. Silver gelatin, 33.3 x 26.5 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Ed Ruscha.

But rather than show us brightly designed packages, his images are in black and white.

Ed Ruscha, Product Still Life, 1961/2003. Silver gelatin, 33.7 x 26 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Ed Ruscha.

Ruscha also noticeably refrained from cropping the lower edges of the pictures.

Ed Ruscha, Product Still Life, 1961/2009. Silver gelatin, 33.3 x 26.3 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Ed Ruscha.

With his photographic product still lifes, Ruscha adheres to the visual language and iconography of Pop Art.

Ed Ruscha, Product Still Life, 1961/2009. Silver gelatin, 33.3 x 26.3 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel © Ed Ruscha.

However, he chooses a different approach than his artist colleague Andy Warhol, who placed products such as soup cans in bright colors on the canvas.

Ed Ruscha’s Product Still Lifes of 1961 make advertising photography their point of reference.

The Fotosammlung Ruth und Peter Herzog preserves the estate of Hans Hinz (1913–2008), including many popular advertising motifs from the 1950s and 1960s. The strong coloring is typical of the times. While Hinz was a pioneer of international advertising photography, his work is little known today. This is due partly to color photography’s poor reputation at the time. Moreover, Hinz was hired as a contractor and was not supposed to deliver his work in any signature style.

  • Hans Hinz, Advertisement for the cigarette brand Senoussi, 1952–64. Chromogenic diapositive, 23.7 x 17.7 cm © Hans Hinz / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
  • Hans Hinz, Abstract color study, ca. 1960. Chromogenic diapositive, 10 x 12.5 cm © Hans Hinz / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
  • Hans Hinz, Advertisement for Kraft Käse, 1960–76. Chromogenic diapositive, 9.9 x 12.5 cm © Hans Hinz / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
  • Hans Hinz, Advertisement for the cigarette brand Fox, 1952–64. Chromogenic diapositive, 23.7 x 17.7 cm © Hans Hinz / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.
  • Hans Hinz, Advertisement for Knorr, ca. 1960. Chromogenic diapositive, 23.7 x 17.7 cm © Hans Hinz / © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

Color was essential to Hinz’s photographic practice. His experiments made him an international leader in his field. After Kodak brought its new Ektachrome film to the market in 1948, he was the only photographer in Switzerland with the capacity to develop it in his own lab.

Hinz’s exceptional expertise with color qualified him to collaborate on George Bataille’s legendary book on the Lascaux Caves. Discovered in 1940, the paintings in the cave are considered humanity’s earliest masterpiece. With painstaking effort, Hinz succeeded in photographing them. Lascaux: Or the Birth of Art appeared in 1955 and was one of the first art books to contain color photographs.

Hans Hinz, Overview of the great hall, also called hall of the bulls, 1953. in: Georges Bataille: Lascaux oder die Geburt der Kunst, Genf 1955, p. 45 © Hans Hinz.

Photography Today

Like no other medium, photography changes the way we see and grasp the world around us. In the 180 years of its history, has it lost any of its contemporaneousness?

Photography’s boundaries cannot be foreseen. Everything is still so new that even the search is yielding creative results. The medium itself is a natural trailblazer for this. The illiterate of the future will not be the person who does not know how to read but the person who is ignorant of photography.

László Moholy-Nagy, 1925 Cited after: László Moholy-Nagy, Malerei. Fotografie. Film, Bauhaus Bücher, No. 8 (Munich, 1925).

No other visual medium and no other art form are as ubiquitous today as photography – whether in art, in reportage, in advertising, or on our smartphones. Most of us produce thousands of photos on our cellphones alone, sharing them with the entire world over social media.

There is not just one kind of photography. There is private photography; there is public photography; there are documentary, press, and advertising photography. And art photography. Ruth and Peter Herzog wanted to do justice to this diversity. But it is not enough to collect pictures. One has to be able to read them, too.

As we face the flood of images washing past us today, we need to be able to read pictures. We want to convey that here.

Peter Herzog, 2016 Oral History with Peter Herzog, 2016 © Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel.

Peter Herzog in an interview 2014. Oral History with Peter Herzog, 2014 © Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel.

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Ruth and Peter Herzog. right: © Julian Salinas / left: © Ricabeth Steiger.

Insider Tip

Insider Tip

The French photography pioneer Charles Nègre created this daguerreotype around 1845 with the aid of a "witches’ mirror" — a convex mirror with 11-parts in which his self-portrait appears. At the time of photography’s invention in the 1830s, the mirror quickly became a metaphor for the new medium. In this image, so singular in the history of photography, the mirror itself provides a striking subject.

With the experiment Nègre was making a statement: not only does the new technique hold up a mirror to reality. It is also an autonomous mode of expression.

Alongside this unique work in the exhibition, a witches’ mirror is also on hand, allowing visitors to observe its effect for themselves.

Charles Nègre, Autoportrait in a witch mirror, ca. 1845. Daguerreotype, 11 x 9 cm © as a collection by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. All rights reserved.

Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel

Since 2015 the Fotosammlung Ruth und Peter Herzog has been part of the Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel, where it is being stored, reviewed, and thoroughly researched. The Kabinett also initiated and has been overseeing the ongoing inventory project to catalogue and systematically digitize the entire collection and make it accessible to the public.

The aim is to keep the photography collection intact as a cultural asset and to convey it in its specificity. The initial comprehensive project of processing the collection was made possible through the financial support of major funding foundations: the Christoph Merian Stiftung, Swisslos-Fonds Basel-Stadt, the Ernst Göhner Foundation, Swisslos-Fonds Basel-Landschaft, the Sophie and Karl Binding Stiftung, the UBS Culture Foundation, as well as by an anonymous donor.

Despite extensive research efforts, the rights holder of the photographs could not be ascertained in all cases. Therefore justified claims will be settled as a matter of course within the framework of the customary agreements.