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Lausanne exhibition sheds light on the city's past

Lausanne’s exhibition and congress centre, the Comptoir Suisse, in 1935 (picture: A.Kern)

Lausanne's history museum in is continuing its photographic journey through the city's past with an exhibition of pictures taken during the first 40 years of the 20th century.

Previous exhibitions have covered the pioneering days of photography in the 19th century, using material from the museum's extensive archives. The latest one provides a sweeping glance at a period, which saw the transformation of the city into a modern-day metropolis.

Its starting point is a time when 80 per cent of children in Lausanne suffered from malnutrition and - although a cantonal capital - the city was of relatively modest proportions.

The 550 photographs include images of the gradual disappearance of vineyards from the Flon valley, which was "reclaimed" for development as an industrial zone by filling it with soil, stones and household rubbish.

Bleak warehouses sprung up, and it was not until the later years of the 20th century that they were transformed into apartments, artisans' workshops and artists' studios.

Photographers captured the process of installing modern day water supplies and electricity, and making the road network suitable for the advent of automobile traffic.

"Lausanne experienced a growth in three dimensions," says Sylvain Malfoy, a historian in the architectural department of the city's federal institute of technology. "Its centre, its empty outskirts and higher areas linked by bridges gave it a distinctive and interesting look."

That look, added Malfoy, aided by the steep hills which are very much part of the city's character, made it a photogenic subject for the people whose works are featured in the exhibition.

As for its inhabitants, one of the many highlights of the exhibition is a photograph of the composer and conductor Gustav Doret, posing with two friends around a piano in 1910.

The picture is in stark contrast with others, including one taken in a field, of ill-clad young children picking potatoes - a picture which was perhaps more representative of everyday life in the Lausanne of the early 20th century.

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