Old photos reveal secrets of Geneva countryside

Geneva Museum of Art and History

For the next five months, the people of Geneva will have the chance to re-acquaint themselves with a little-known part of their canton - the countryside - thanks to an exhibition of old photographs at the city's Maison Tavel.

This content was published on September 15, 2000 minutes

The exhibition is part of a series, begun in 1996, entitled "Quartiers de Mémoire", or Districts of the Memory. Each year, a different part of the city - or in this case, the canton - is highlighted.

"The main aim of the exhibition is to allow as wide a public as possible to see the collections kept in the public archives, to which they would not normally have access," says Livio Fornara, curator of the exhibition.

These pictures are normally only consulted by specialists, such as historians and architects. But the museum authorities realised they were a rich resource that many members of the public would appreciate seeing.

"The other exhibitions in this series have provoked a lot of interest. People want to re-acquaint themselves with places they've known," Fornara told swissinfo.

"But it's not just an exhibition for local people who've lived here for many years. It's also for those who've moved here recently, and who don't know the places shown in the pictures."

The 170 black and white photos are from a variety of sources. Some are images of old farmhouses taken for a study of rural architecture. Others were pictures for newspapers and magazines. Several are by amateurs who merely wanted a souvenir of a family outing.

"Their principal purpose is documentation. Some of these pictures are very beautiful. Others are not beautiful from a photographic point of view, but they are very interesting because of the subject matter," Fornara says.

The images show that not only did the Geneva countryside help to feed the city, it was also an important source of recreation.

People regularly went a few kilometres out of the city to go cycling, fishing, swimming or hunting. Indeed, people still do, although the rural lifestyle portrayed in many of the photos has long since disappeared.

Fornara says he wants the exhibition to be an interactive experience: "People react immediately to these photos. We present these pictures and the visitors fill in the gaps by telling their stories. We encourage people to come in groups, because that way they talk about the pictures and it gives the exhibition life."

The Quartiers de Mémoire exhibition is at the Maison Tavel museum in Geneva until January 21.

by Roy Probert

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