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The Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla collection Straight, curved, abstract – shooting iconic lines

The Beauty of Lines exhibition at the Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne features 120 photographs from a rich private collection belonging to Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla - widely recognised as one of the world’s top photo collections.

Over the past four decades, the couple has collected over 1,500 original signed prints by some of the greatest photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries which cover the walls of their five-story New York apartment and house in Georgia.

The Lausanne exhibitionexternal link features a cast list of 72 iconic artists, including Robert Doisneau, Robert Mapplethorpe, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Frank and Nan Goldin. This is the first time their collection has been shown in Europe. 

“This is not just any old photo collection – it’s one of the top five collections in the world,” Tatyana Franck, director of the Musee de l'Elysee, told reporters on Tuesday. Over 40 days, she and her team were given free rein to create a tailormade exhibition for Lausanne built around the themes of straight lines, curves and abstract images.

“They came up with the theme of line which we'd never thought of. It's totally original. Looking at the collection, we see the photographs totally differently,” Sondra Gilman told swissinfo.ch. 

The Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla collection began life back in the 1970s, when Gilman bought three photographs taken by Eugène Atget each costing $250 (CHF233) – a tidy sum at that time.

“My parents told me I was crazy, but I told them I’ve just bought a Rembrandt. That started me on a road on which I’ve never stopped which has given me great joy in life,” she commented. 

Shared vision

What is the couple’s shared vision and the underlying principles behind their collecting?  “We buy photos as we love them - it's a heart issue. It's what we agree on,” said Gilman.

But all the photographs must be vintage – that is printed within five years of the image being taken.

“The reason we buy vintage is because we are purists,” she explained. “We want to have the photographers original thought... we are interested in what paper existed at that time and we want it to be a true reflection of the moment when he had the inspiration.”

Out of their entire collection of over 1,500 photographs by 262 different photographers, only two were purchased without their other half seeing it before.

“He's more cerebral and will look at form, etc. But if my stomach doesn't jump then I'm not interested,” said Gilman.

The couple are planning to create a non-profit foundation to oversee their rich collection, which will be run by their son who has inherited their passion for photography. 

The Beauty of Lines exhibition at Lausanne’s Musee de l'Elyseeexternal link runs from January 31 – May 6, 2018.