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Peter Dammann Pictures of youth define Swiss photographer's legacy

Photos of Russian cadets brought Swiss photographer Peter Dammann acclaim in 1998. Now, a book and an exhibition in Switzerland look back at the extensive work he left behind. 

Dammann, who was awarded a lead prize with his portrait of a Russian military cadet for the 1998 World Press Photo Contest, was a social critic who formed a bond with the people at the centre of his photography. Children and young people were the focus of Dammann’s images.

Whether they lived on the streets, in orphanages or in psychiatric institutions, he gave these people a face and captured their personalities. His photographs serve as a record of the injustices and daily struggles faced by the children he met in Russia.

In the 1990s when Dammann visited St Petersburg, the streets were home to thousands of orphans or abandoned children who had fled their homes to live among the city ruins and train stations. Dammann took their photos to raise awareness of their plight and would try to find places for the children to sleep without fear of the authorities taking them away. 

During his travels in the 1990s to Kronstadt - a Russian island with a naval base - Dammann photographed cadets who came from underprivileged backgrounds. In St Petersburg he took photos of cadets from families with a long history of soldiers over many generations. His photographic report on the cadets for the German magazine ‘Mare’, gained him wide recognition and his awardexternal link.

Using culture where politics failed

Dammann also took photos of the Youth Orchestra in Ramallah. The Palestinian ensemble was set up by the conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said. Dammann was fascinated by the idea of using culture to achieve something where politics had failed - in creating peace - he told ‘Stern’ magazine in an interview at the time.

After his marriage to the Swiss film director Gabriele Schärer in 1996, the German-born photographer became a Swiss citizen and adopted Bern as his home. He died in 2015, leaving behind an extensive body of work about people from many countries. Schärer edited a book of his work that was published at the end of 2019 - ‘The White Horseexternal link: Peter Dammann. Photography’.

The exhibition can be seen at the 'Kornhausforum'external link gallery in Bern, until March 7, 2020.

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