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Musee de l'Elysee Opens Photographic Exhibition from the Scene of the Crime
Rodolphe A. Reiss, Dariste affair, arson attempt, inside shop, Nyon, March 13, 1905.

LAUSANNE.- Scientific police photographs are very rarely presented to the public, remaining stored for many years in confidential files because they transgress taboos when their subjects are violent death and crime. These pictures, taken almost a hundred years ago by Rodolphe Archibald Reiss, founder of the l’Institut de police scientifique of the Université de Lausanne, reveal their entire aesthetic dimension while retaining their intense emotional strength. As a forensic science pioneer, Reiss shows photographic skills which are unequalled in this field.

As the investigators’ artificial memory, the photographs were taken in a very formal style to document crime scenes and clues discovered as unemotionally as possible. They are all associated with Reiss’s teaching or expert evaluations. They allow us to see unusual sites and environments and, paradoxically, are often formally very abstract.

The boundary between reality and the imaginary remains unbroken here. Situated between the acts and their representation, these photographs are filled with unusual emotion due to the dramatic circumstances which they retrace.

120 pictures are presented in this exhibit, produced in collaboration with the l’Institut de police scientifique of the Université de Lausanne, which is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its creation by Rodolphe Archibald Reiss.

Rodolphe Archibald Reiss (1875-1929)
Issue of a German family and naturalized as a citizen of the Canton of Vaud in 1901, Rodolphe Archibald Reiss was born on July 8th, 1875 in Gut-Hechtsberg in the Black Forest (Baden). After studying chemistry at the Université de Lausanne since 1895, he obtained his doctoral degree in sciences in 1898. As a member of the students’ society “Stella”, he and Isaac Rouge created the Journal suisse des photographes.

As first assistant to the chemistry professor Heinrich Brunner at the Université de Lausanne in 1898, he became the head of photography at the same university in 1899 and, in this context, was required to collaborate with parties involved in several disciplines. In 1900, he installed an X-ray service at the Hôpital cantonal de Lausanne. As of 1901, named Privat-Docent of Photography in the science faculty, he taught photography and became chief editor of the Revue Suisse de photographie, activity which he continued until 1906. In 1901, he became a citizen of the City of Lausanne, the Canton of Vaud and of Switzerland.

In 1902, Reiss taught investigative photography. In 1903, he organized the International Union of Photography Congress in Lausanne, with the participation of the most famous names in scientific, documentary and artistic photography of the newborn twentieth century. He also published La photographie judiciaire in the same year, in Paris.

His Manuel du portrait parlé, published in 1905 and directly inspired by his work with Alphonse Bertillon in Paris, preceded his nomination in 1906 as extraordinary professor of Police scientifique. In 1909, he founded the l’Institut de police scientifique of the Université de Lausanne, which he supervised until his resignation in 1919.

From 1910 onwards, he accepted several mandates in other countries. In 1910, he created a Scientific Police Service in Saint-Petersburg, and in 1911 and 1912 was entrusted with the technical education of the personnel managing judicial expertise laboratories. He also supervised the organization of technical services in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

His Manuel de police scientifique was edited in 1911 and remains a historical work of reference for all forensic scientists. In 1914, he served as president and vice-president of numerous photography, criminal anthropology and investigative police congresses. During the same year, he published his last forensic science work, Contribution à la reorganisation de la police. From 1914 onwards, he also became the Official Investigator for the Serbian government concerning the atrocities committed by the German and Austrian armies.

Reiss resigned from his functions at the Université de Lausanne in 1919 and settled permanently in Belgrade, where he died on August 8th, 1929.

Musee de l'Elysee | Rodolphe Archibald Reiss | scientific | police | photographs | Lausanne | Baden |

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