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Geneva exhibition reveals hidden talent

For over 30 years, Waldemar Deonna was director of the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. A distinguished archaeologist, sociologist and university lecturer he was also a prolific writer.

But there was yet another aspect of his life which even his family knew nothing about and that is now the subject of an exhibition at the museum he directed. The family learned that Deonna, who died in 1959, had also been a gifted photographer when it was contacted out of the blue by the museum's archaeological department.

"Until then," said his grand-daughter, Laurence, "we knew he had taken photographs during his numerous trips to the Mediterranean Basin between 1903 and 1939, but we thought these were just to help him remember the sites he described in his books. We never knew he had such a talent."

The exhibition features 150 photographs taken by Deonna, who had bequeathed over 3,500 negatives to the museum. For years they were kept in storage and forgotten, until it was realised by museum officials that their vaults contained a photographic record of countries around the Mediterranean - especially Greece and Turkey - which amounted to a treasure trove.

They include pictures of idyllic landscapes as well as archaeological views and shots of people at work and enjoying their leisure in villages and towns.

"Many of them were taken nearly a century ago," said Laurence Deonna, "and looking at them now you realise how the Mediterranean world has been ruined and disfigured in the past few decades. It's an exhibition which manages to be both beautiful and sad."

by Richard Dawson


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