Henriette Grindat - Méditerranées

29 November 2008 to 15 February 2009


Luxor, 1958-59
© Fotostiftung Schweiz / ProLitteris

Elche, 1964
© Fotostiftung Schweiz / ProLitteris

Venice, 1954-57
© Fotostiftung Schweiz / ProLitteris

In 20th century Swiss photography there were only a few women who used the medium primarily as a means of artistic expression. One of the first to develop an independent visual language was the Lausanne photographer Henriette Grindat (1923-1986). She may be counted among the photographers of the period directly following World War II who was neither documentary nor advertising photographers but who claimed for photography the status of an autonomous artistic medium and whose ranks included representatives of «subjective photography» in Germany and members of the «Academy of Swiss Photographers» such as Werner Bischof, Gotthard Schuh and Jakob Tuggener, who devoted themselves exclusively to «photography as a means of expression».

After training with Gertrude Fehr in Lausanne and Vevey, Henriette Grindat quickly attracted attention with complex, surrealism-inspired images, for which she frequently made use of techniques such as collage, montage, the photogram, multi-exposures and solarisation. In Paris, where she lived at the end of the 1940s, her subjective photographic poetry attracted considerable attention in artistic circles and impressed men of letters such as René Char and Albert Camus. Grindat gained inspiration from literary texts, and thus during her whole career she produced images with a connection to writers and poets such as may be seen from publications with Henri Noverraz, Albert Camus, Philippe Jaccottet, Henry Bauchau, Pierre Chappuis and others.

The painter Lélo Fiaux, Grindat's friend of many years, had travelled widely in the Mediterranean countries since the 1930s, and it was not long before she inspired Grindat with the same enthusiasm for these climes. Her encounter with Camus and his texts also reinforced her interest in the towns and landscapes around the sea that connected people of different cultures and parts of the world and had laid the foundations of their history for centuries. After exploring the southern French region around L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in connection with a project for a book with Char and Camus (La Postérité du Soleil), Grindat embarked on a journey to Algeria. There, on the North African coast, she was fascinated by the glistening light "so radiant that everything was turned to black and white" (Camus). She subsequently travelled to Spain, Italy - time after time to Venice - and Egypt, where she journeyed down the Nile all the way to Somalia. And although her photographs of these numerous travels were published in magazines, the journalistic reportage was never her objective. She was less interested in historical facts than in the secrets of matter and light - and particularly in all the sensuous and metaphorical qualities of water, and she produced beguiling photographic poetry that has the character of a quest for existential qualities.

The exhibition «Méditerranées» is devoted to a central aspect of Grindat's work, which was also published in three photographic volumes edited by the Lausanne book guild «La Guilde du Livre» Algérie (1956), Méditerranée (1957) and Le Nil (1960). Founded by the Gutenberg book guild as a branch in French-speaking Switzerland, the Guild du Livre developed quickly under the direction of Albert Mermoud and became independent of its mother house in only a few years. In addition to books devoted to French literature and translations of books in foreign languages that were being offered to the members at reasonable prices, the Guild du Livre launched a series of carefully produced photographic volumes printed in gravure at the end of the 1940s. During the 1950s, before this costly printing process was replaced by the cheaper offset printing, the series reached its pinnacle in terms of quality and circulation. In addition to photographic volumes by Henriette Grindat, volumes of work by Robert Doisneau, Izis, Paul Strand and Swiss photographers Gotthard Schuh, Yvan Dalain and Henry Brandt were among the best-know and most successful publications.

In the series of exhibitions dedicated to aspects of the collection of the Fotostiftung Schweiz, «Henriette Grindat - Méditerranées» presents a first showing of many original photographs from the photographer's estate. In addition, the focus of the exhibition will fall on the Guilde du Livre's large-scale edition project that represented a platform for numerous post-war photographers, thereby providing a reminder of Switzerland's outstanding post-war publishing activities in the area of photography and art books.

Sylvie Henguely

With the support of the Sandoz Family Foundation and the Oertli Foundation


Ibiza, 1964
© Fotostiftung Schweiz / ProLitteris

Peniscola, 1961
© Fotostiftung Schweiz / ProLitteris

Publication accompanying the exhibition:
Henriette Grindat - Méditerranées. Ed. Sylvie Henguely and Martin Gasser / Fotostiftung Schweiz. With contributions by Sylvie Henguely and Charles-Henri Favrod (in German), Limmat Verlag, Zurich 2008. CHF 34.-

On the occasion of the exhibition "Henriette Grindat - Méditerranées", the Fotostiftung Schweiz is producing an edition of five selected photographs by Henriette Grindat (baryte prints from the original negatives from the archive, format 24X30cm, edition of 10 copies, numbered and stamped), at a cost of CHF 950.- (1150.- with frame). Information from the reception desk of the Centre for Photography.