Departure without Destination. Annemarie Schwarzenbach as Photographer

Annemarie Schwarzenbach as Photographer

18.09.2020 - 03.01.2021

Author, journalist, photographer and traveller: Annemarie Schwarzenbach is one of the most colourful figures in Swiss modern cultural history. For the first time in Switzerland an exhibition is being dedicated exclusively to her photographic work, comprising around 4,000 pictures taken on her extensive trips through Europe, Asia, Africa and America. The dialogue that unfolds between Schwarzenbach's texts and photographs opens our eyes to the upheavals and conflicts of the 1930s. At the same time, Schwarzenbach's documentary viewpoint explores themes in a poetic and astonishingly contemporary way.

The title 'Departure without Destination' refers to the life of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, which was characterised by a great restlessness. Homelessness, deracination, departure and a search for hope in foreign countries are themes that run like a thread through her writings and her photographic work, and connect it with the literary tradition of the modern age.

Schwarzenbach was born in 1908 into the affluent Schwarzenbach-Wille family of Zurich industrialists, and graduated in history in Zurich and Paris. Because of her political and sexual orientation she turned her back on her conservative family and established connections with the German literary diaspora, particularly with the siblings Klaus and Erika Mann. From 1931 she lived at first in Berlin, before moving, after the National Socialist seizure of power, to Spain, Russia and Iran, where she published prose and journalistic writings.

'Annemarie Schwarzenbach was multi-talented - as a writer, journalist and photographer. Specifically, the juxtaposition of text and image reveals Schwarzenbach’s precise observational gift with regard to the conflict-ridden period of the 1930s.’ Martin Waldmeier, Curator

In spite of her years-long struggle against drug dependency, over the course of the 1930s she professionalised herself as a travel and features journalist, and on joint trips with women writers and photographers such as Ella Maillart, Marianne Breslauer and Erika Mann she turned her attention to social and political subjects, including the rise of National Socialism, the workers' movement in the United States, the consequences of modernisation and the role of women in society. But her photographs also reveal a longing for foreign lands and the poetry of travel.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach saw herself as a writer. But she was also a pioneer of photo-journalism in Switzerland. Her photographic work was produced in direct conjunction with her journalistic texts. Some 300 articles by her were published in Swiss magazines and newspapers in her lifetime. From 1933 these were increasingly accompanied by her own pictures. Most of Schwarzenbach's photographs remained unpublished before her death. The exhibition 'Departure without Destination' makes the quality and range of Schwarzenbach's photographic work apparent for the first time. In particular and for the first time, there will be a greater focus on the intersection between texts and images.

The exhibition is divided into six chapters arranged around a reading lounge with listening stations featuring Schwarzenbach's reports. The first chapter, Love of Europe, addresses Annemarie Schwarzenbach's first years as a photo-journalist and her travels through Europe. In it, Schwarzenbach's cosmopolitan attitude is clearly revealed.

'Annemarie Schwarzenbach saw herself as a European. In the face of National Socialism she feared for Europe’s cultural and intellectual legacy - the legacy of humanism, of intellectual tolerance - which she was convinced was unique.’ Martin Waldmeier, Curator.

Using numerous portrait photographs, the chapter Small Encounters tells the story of people that she met on her travels, and also provides Schwarzenbach's personal view of her circle of friends. The 'New Earth’ addresses the relationship between nature and culture in the context of mechanisation and industrialisation, about which Schwarzenbach was ambivalent. Beyond New York deals with her travels in the United States in 1936-1938. There, Schwarzenbach engaged intensely with a new understanding of politically committed photography, and encountered a society that was in many places still deeply marked by the economic crisis after 1929. Unemployment, poverty droughts, the decline of the cotton industry - her attention is focused on the losers of the American system, and explores the differences between rich and poor, but also the widespread misery of the African-American population in the southern states. The Happy Valley follows Schwarzenbach's famous car journeys through the Middle East and Central Asia. She made four trips to Turkey, to Palestine and Syria, to Iraq and Iran and as far as Afghanistan and India. She wrote her best-known literary work The Happy Valley in Iran. In the last chapter, Between the Continents, intermediate places such as streets, harbours or ships' decks become the sites of a temporary community, the settings for farewells and new beginnings.

‘In line with the multi-disciplinary orientation of the Zentrum Paul Klee it is a pleasure to be able to place Schwarzen- bach’s expressive forms as a writer, photographer and journalist in relation to one another. At the same time her work addresses such vexed topics as Switzerland’s relations with the world, sexual identity, the globalism of the modern age and the simultaneity of social progress and regression that are still current today.’

Nina Zimmer, Director, Kunstmuseum Bern - Zentrum Paul Klee

Martin Waldmeier, born in Basel in 1984, studied art history and art education in Bern and Chicago, and obtained his doctorate in 2016 from the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in London. He has been a curator at the Zentrum Paul Klee since 2018.

Aufbruch ohne Ziel. Annemarie Schwarzenbach als Fotografin. Hrsg. v. Nina Zimmer, Martin Waldmeier, Zentrum Paul Klee. Mit Essays von Katharina Sykora, Martin Waldmeier, Barbara Wiegand-Stempel. 144 Seiten, 66 Abb., Softcover, Lars MQller Publishers, ISBN 978-3-03778-651-2, German.

The exhibition is supported by
Kanton Bern, Dr. Georg und Josi Guggenheim-Stiftung, Volkart Stiftung, Ruth & Arthur Scherbarth Stiftung

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