24 November 2007 - 30 March 2008, Heleneum - Lugano
In 1930, Bosshard was sent by the Dephot agency to India to document the general agitation against the British presence and the rising movement for independence that was emerging before the eyes of an international pubic.
It is precisely on this occasion that Bosshard met Gandhi and photographed him in his everyday life with that simple yet authoritative solemnity which has since become one of the stereotypes of Mahatma’s public iconography. This well-known reportage makes Bosshard one of the greatest photographers of that time. He portrays the excitement of a world on the edge of a epoch-making change, suspended between the legacy of a past, evident in the cultural architectures and shapes, and the civil commitment which transforms the masses into the narrating subject of the immense luministic spaces of the Indian sub-continent. Bosshard's lens reports live reality, with just enough liberty for personal interpretation. His photography is free from symbolisms and specific artistic references. His style is engendered by the immediate occasion, with its freight of meanings, and informs the viewer in a fully heterogeneous fashion.
The 38 exhibits have all been reproduced from Bosshard’s negatives stored at the Swiss Foundation of Photography in Winterthur. Titles of the works have been translated from the original German versions, which can be found in Bosshard's publications, in the captions of short manuscripts and on the paper sleeves of the negatives. The present exhibition suggests a series of interpretation levels according to the unraveling of Bosshard’s visual discoveries. This may also be deduced from the analysis of over two thousand surviving pictures and from his manuscript entitled ‘Indien Kämpft’.
The first photographs introduce India at the time where British goods were being boycotted, which was in fact the original cause for his reportage.There are also several famous portraits of Gandhi in his house. These are followed by a group of images of crowds which highlight the historical experience of the Salt March and the more general theme of pilgrimage. The March itself is not merely seen from the exterior,but rather becomes the central thread for the discovery of some cultural features belonging to traditional India. This happens through the individuals who embody its values and meanings, and become the main characters of some great portraits. The exhibition ends with an image of Sheikh Abu Bacar in front of the walls of the old fort of Parana Kila (Delhi), which summarises the theme conveyed in these works of great artistic and narrative value.
Bosshard was born on the 8th of November 1892 in Zurich. In 1912, he enrolled at the University of Zurich where he studied Pedagogy and History of Art. He found work as a commercial agent in the Far East. His numerous interests allowed him to travel extensively. He cultivated a strong interest for photography, which derived from his desire to visually document his journeys and which pushed him, in the mid-1920s, to improve his technical photography skills.
Bosshard had an important opportunity to work on his photography thanks to a lucky encounter with German geographer Emil Trinkler in Peshawar (now part of Pakistan). At that time Trinkler was preparing an expedition to the Tibetan Plateau and the Tarim Basin. Bosshard was able to join the group as the logistics manager of the caravan and was assigned to photograph and document the group's work. At the end of the trip Bosshard resided for 4 months in Kashgar, an ancient caravan along the Silk Road, and organised the numerous photographs. Many photographs focus on the cultural traits and faces of the people he met on the way. The photographer's distinguishing approach is already visible in his early work.
At the beginning of the 1930s, he became one of the most requested reporters for German-language newspapers. He worked many years with some of them, such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It was precisely during those years that he went to India to report on the famous Salt March and the non-violent protest against the British monopoly of goods.
During his life as a photographer-reporter he went on countless trips. He visited various countries such as China, Siam, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Egypt and documented the Sino-Japanese War from Manchuria and Shanghai. It is important to mention the one his most relevant reportages about the famous dirigible Zeppelin LZ127, which successfully crossed the Arctic between 24th and the 31st of July 1931.
He worked for various photographic agencies and scientific magazines: Black Star (founded in New York) Life, Atlantis, Vu, Berliener Illustrierte Zeitung, Schweizer Illustrierte Zeitung, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and National Geographic.
The last fifteen years of his life were spent in Switzerland and Spain. Between 1959 and 1962 he recollected his "memories" and wrote two books. Walter Bosshard passed away in Torremolinos on the 18th of November 1975, ten days after his eighty-third birthday.