Jakob Tuggener: Ball Nights

27 November 2004 to 2 March 2005


Jakob Tuggener, who was born in Zurich in 1904, was a photographer, filmmaker and painter at one and the same time. Above all, however, he regarded himself as an artist. Influenced by the German expressionist films from the 1920s, he developed a strongly expressive poetic style that became a model for many young photographers after World War II. Tuggener's main themes during his lifetime were work in the factory, the simple life in the country, and glamorous social events such as the New Year's Balls in the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, which he attended year after year.

The basis for the excellent reputation as a photographer that Tuggener enjoys today was his book Fabrik: a unique photographic essay on man's relationship with the increasingly threatening world of machines, published in 1943. This "visual epos of technology", as Tuggener called it, is an important milestone in the history of the photographic book, comparable with, for example, Brassaï's Paris de nuit (1933) and Bill Brandt's The English at Home (1936). Tuggener wanted to publish a book on the life of farmers and peasants in the country, a theme to which he had devoted himself intensively during the war years, at almost the same time as Fabrik, but his search for a publisher for this "Farmers' book" was unsuccessful.

To Tuggener, the balls in the Palace and other Swiss grand hotels represented the finest and most fascinating occasions that life could offer. Irresistibly attracted by the glamour of fur and champagne glasses and the bejewelled décolletés and delicate skin of beautiful women, he preferred immersing himself with his Leica in this world of luxury to even the factory world or the simple life in the country. Usually unnoticed by the illustrious guests, he snatched details and moments, facial expressions and gestures, which he then condensed into numerous cinematographically conceived picture series and book maquettes: intensive mood pictures between eroticism and boredom, liveliness and exhaustion, craziness and dream.

But even Tuggener's photographs of balls were never published during his lifetime. The fact that the people who feared exposure were opposed to it was only one reason. Another was without doubt Tuggener's self-important and uncompromising attitude with which he encountered interested publishers and others. It is only now, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, exactly 35 years after the first comprehensive presentation of his ball photographs in Munich (in the exhibition "Feine Feste”, Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum für angewandte Kunst) that Tuggener's book maquette "Ballnächte 1934-1950” is being published in an unaltered original edition - just as Tuggener had always wanted: as a series of photographs without any text at all. In this almost musically composed work, the viewer is led, as in a silent film, through a glittering, seemingly endless ball night - Tuggener's dream world from which one does not awake until the first light of dawn.

Jakob Tuggener was a visual poet - the "Roman number I photographic poet", as he called himself, a visually orientated person with an eye for the inconspicuous, the apparently trivial. He had an unerring feeling for the poetry of everyday life and was entirely wrapped up in his "experiences". He never took photographs, painted or filmed with the aim of merely portraying reality, for he wanted to express reality and, through his own inner reality transformed by his subjective perception, to offer the viewer a new
and individual experience.

Martin Gasser

Fotostiftung Schweiz

The exhibition Jakob Tuggener: Ball Nights is presented in collaboration with the Jakob Tuggener Foundation and the Fotografische Sammlung, Museum Folkwang, Essen, where it will be shown from 16 April to 12 June 2005.

The exhibited black-and-white prints consist exclusively of original prints made by Jakob Tuggener himself and originate from the artist's estate, which is looked after by the Jakob Tuggener Fondation. A small number of the photographs are new Ilfochrome prints from the original slides, also from the estate of the artist.

The book accompanying the exhibition:
Ball Nights 1934-1950 with photographs by Jakob Tuggener, 144 pages, 127 illustrations, unaltered original edition, Scalo Verlag (Zurich/Berlin/New York), Duplex print, hard cover. There is also an illustrated catalogue brochure with texts by Ute Eskildsen and Martin Gasser, 32 pages.

The exhibition poster with the photograph "Palace Hotel, St. Moritz, New Year's Eve 1985/59” is designed by the Atelier Robert & Durrer, Zurich, and is available from the shop. Silk-screen printing, three colours, world format; offset, format A3.

Events: two film evenings of short films by Jakob Tuggener will be held on Wednesday 12 January and 9 February.

Photographs by Max Wydler

The Fotostiftung Schweiz will show a selection of photographs in the Passage on the themes of Swiss country life and military service during the war years by Max Wydler (1898-1991). Wydler was a close friend of Tuggener's and co-author of a series of short films (e.g. "Rosmarie”,1942 and "Die Seemühle”, 1944). The exhibited photographs are original prints from the photographic estate of Max Wydler, donated to the Fotostiftung in 2000.