For the first time, the Swiss National Museum
in Zurich presents its extensive archive of press photographs. The exhibition looks at recent Swiss history from
the perspective of the press photographer and reveals how, in the second half of the 20th century, press photography developed into the photojournalism we know today.
Housed in three original pavilions by the designer and engineer Jean Prouvé from the 1940s, «Cest la vie» includes meticulously composed photographs depicting political events, episodes from everyday life, unforgettable moments, candid pictures of well-known personalities and portraits of everyday heroes. It also shows how the extensive photo reportages of the early years were superseded by individual snapshots initially still in black and white, then in colour. New methods of image transfer and printing technologies enabled ever-increasing numbers of up-to-the-minute photos to appear in the daily press. From the 1960s onwards, the illustrated weekly press went into decline. The exhibition illustrates this process by juxtaposing an analogue picture agency from the 1940s with its present-day digital counterpart.
In 2006 the Swiss National Museum acquired the archives of the press photo agencies Presse Diffusion Lausanne and Actualité Suisse Lausanne, which together comprise millions of negatives, paper prints and transparencies from 1940 (foundation of PDL) to 2000 (closure of ASL).
The archives are an ideal complement to the photographs taken by private individuals that previously formed the core of the Swiss National Museums photography collection. An examination of the archives soon revealed a wealth of treasures. The diversity, breadth and aesthetic quality of the photographic material are remarkable and exceptional. The new holdings will also be an invaluable source of visual material for the Swiss National Museums research activities.