Who is René Groebli? He is a blind spot. Perhaps he is the proverbial blind spot, the “Missing Link” in the history of modern Swiss photography.
The first to notice him was the American photographer and curator Edward Steichen, the visionary Steichen who had towards the end of the 1940s established at the New York Museum of Modern Art the first photography department world-wide. For the museum’s collection he acquired Groebli’s image poem “Das Auge der Liebe” (They Eye of Love). The Swiss also formed part of the monumental MoMA exhibition «The Family of Man» (1955), the attempt at an all-encompassing portrait of humanity that until today travels around the world. Steichen’s successor John Szarkowski in turn integrated Groebli in his exhibition «The Photographer’s Eye» (1964) and afforded him a special place in the publication of the same name.
In Germany Otto Steinert, the important post-war photographer and professor at the Werkkunstschule Saarbrücken, member of the vanguard group «fotoform», recognised Groebli’s potential. He showed his movement studies in the exhibitions «subjektive fotografie» (1951/1954). The dancers in the Zurich Tresterclub (1947) embodied for Steinert the visionary possibilities of the medium, the State of the Art of progressive photography. Characteristic for this artist: he is an artist in motion. Movement is his inner nature. Therefore he never implemented the development of his art in a linear fashion, the single image as a static icon. On the contrary, he thinks the medium centrifugally, outwards from its centre. And this centre means movement, is dynamics. It is the archetype of creativity.
René Groebli is the missing link in the Swiss photographic history of the second half of the 20th century. He merges the romanticism in photography with the visions of the technician, the modernist. His decisive publications were made years before those by Robert Frank. In their power they are his equal, as to their impact the works of Groebli are yet to be discovered. Be prepared for surprises.
Text: Daniel Muscionico, from “The Free Handed Photographer” for the book “René Groebli – Early Work (1945-1955)”, published by Sturm & Drang, 2015
18 Mar – 14 May 2016