by Haeberlin, Peter W
Zurich: Manesse, 1956. 1st Edition. 83pp. Quarto with black cloth boards and white lettering to spine. Black endpapers and decorated with B&W photos. Haeberlin's first edition, published before the American English edition in German. A photographic essay about a Northern African tribe, with text by Paul Bowles.
26 OCTOBER 2012 - 10 MARCH 2013, VILLA CIANI - LUGANO
Sahara. Peter W. Häberlin. Photographies 1949-1952
The mysterious life of a great Swiss photographer who died before his time is recounted through his work and travels in the mythical Saharan desert.
100 years after his birth, Switzerland rediscovers Peter W. Häberlin.
The exhibition entitled SAHARA is dedicated to the Swiss photographer WERNER HÄBERLIN (1912 - 1953) and is the seventh project of the “Esovisioni” exhibition cycle. This cycle is a long-term project of the Museo delle Culture in Lugano and has the objective to define a sort of “map” describing how the West has viewed (and judged) the Others. During their research, the museum staff unearthed the traces of Häberlin’s life through the diaries and accounts of his friends, travelling companions and remaining relatives. It was a fascinating and adventurous project which now allows the visitor to discover the work of one of the greatest Swiss photographers of the past century. After two years of intense collaboration with the Swiss Foundation of Photography in Winterthur, the exhibition presents a rich selection of first prints, which were developed from the negatives conserved at the aforementioned Foundation.
His passion for the African continent might be seen as his own personal reaction to the dramatic war years, and as a yearning for an uncontaminated place which was not yet traumatised by conflict. A continent with the possibility of an ideal society; where man maintains an authentic relationship with nature. His photographs portray the African people in a sort of timeless dimension, and the documentary intention is replaced by observation and contemplation. His ethnographic subjects are projected into a philosophical and symbolic environment, and the photographer’s search for beauty reveals his own inner spiritual quest. Häberlin travelled between 1949 and 1952. These were slow journeys, without any haste. A sort of personal exploration of the world, in which real facts are eclipsed by a poetical disenchantment. His photographs are exposed to such direct light, that the portraits resemble carvings that leave no room for shadows. Some of his photographs were published posthumously in 1956 in the book Yallah, with a foreword by the American author Paul Bowles. One of the most famous American weekly magazines, The New Yorker, reported that it was the work “of one of the great photographers of our times, capable of showing, as only art can, what would otherwise have remained hidden”. The book was completed by Häberlin’s father with the help of Paul Bowles, and Häberlin’s photographs seem to be the photographic evidence of the descriptions in Bowles own masterpiece, The Sheltering Sky, which was made into a film by Bernardo Bertolucci. However, most of Häberlin’s photographs have remained unpublished to this present day, and this explains our desire to rediscover his work a centenary after his birth.
The Museo delle Culture presents 128 photographs that are displayed according to the various characteristics that portray Häberlin’s view of the world. They are displayed for the first time to a general public and were specifically developed for this exhibition from the negatives which are conserved by the Swiss Foundation of Photography in Winterthur. The exhibition is enriched by a selection of exhibits from the Tuareg material culture, on loan from the collections of the Museo nazionale di antropologia ed etnologia dell'Università degli studi di Firenze. The exhibition itself is a “journey within a journey”, following the same steps that Häberlin took over sixty years ago. Each of the exhibition sections - «Il viaggio», «L’assoluto», «Geometrie», «Il villaggio», «Le forme del quotidiano», «La memoria»; «Il mondo interiore» - are introduced by an extract from the letters that Peter W. Häberlin wrote to his wife during his first Saharan journey in 1949.
PETER WERNER HÄBERLIN
Häberlin made his trans-Saharan reportage between 1949 and 1952: a vast series of photographs from four journeys, where he followed the ancient caravan routes from Algiers, crossing the Saharan desert until he reached the North of Cameroon. Shortly after returning from his last trip, Häberlin died in a tragic accident in 1953, in the midst of his preparations for a new voyage to Mexico. Häberlin’s biography still remains a mystery today. Although challenging, it was very exciting to retrace his existential and professional steps in order to outline his travels, acquaintances and worldviews. He was born in 1912 in the rural village of Oberaach in Switzerland (canton of Thurgau) and his wanderlust was undeniable from the very beginning. He seemed to have used photography to accompany his slow travels, always respecting his own time rather than that of our fast-paced world.
The Swiss nomad
An exhibition at Villa Ciani recounts the work of Swiss photographer Peter W. Häberlin, which would never have come to light had it not been for the photographic book Yallah, with texts by Paul Bowles.
Art / Laura Bossi
In 1933, a 21-year-old Swiss man set off from his home in Canton Thurgau to walk to Africa. He passed through mainland Italy, stopping at Capri and Positano, before proceeding on to Palermo, where he embarked on a ship to Tunis. Walking and hitching lifts in lorries, he travelled from Tunisia to Morocco. In Algeria, he saw the desert and stopped at the oasis of Biskra before heading farther south to the city of Touggourt. During this journey — followed by another four between 1949 and 1952 — he created a reportage of outstanding beauty and his pictures are currently on display at Lugano's Villa Ciani.
Peter W. Häberlin (1912-1953) was an unusual man. Family duty initially pushed him into an apprenticeship as a pastry maker but, after doing his military service, he realised that his homeland, Switzerland, was too small for him and photography became his future.
After returning home following his first trip, Häberlin studied sculpture and photography in Hamburg before World War II forced him to move to Zurich and its applied arts school. There, he studied under Hans Finsler, who organised the Zurich school's photography course in 1932 and ran it until 1957.
After leaving the school, Häberlin started contributing to Zurich-based magazine Du, which at the time was publishing photographs by Werner Bischof, René Groebli and Otto Pfenniger. Although marked by prolonged absences, this job is the only one that has left specific traces in his archives — an indication of his restlessness.
Only in the travel dimension did Häberlin feel complete and, as Alessia Borellini explains in one of the exhibition's catalogue essays, his nomadic existence has a dual significance: "There is, of course, the physical journey that prompted Häberlin to travel the routes in the Algerian desert at least five times during his lifetime, but there is also his inner journey on which he sometimes followed similar trajectories, sometimes advancing and then going back over experiences, feelings and thoughts — because an inner journey is, by definition, free from constraints of time and space."
As you can imagine, this Swiss photographer had little interest in the systematic pursuit of professional success, at least as it is normally seen by many. Häberlin's work would never have come to light had Yallah not been published in 1956, three years after his premature death at just 41 years of age. This photographic essay of pictures taken on his African travels contained a text by the American writer Paul Bowles, author of The Sheltering Sky . The New Yorker published a review of Yallah in 1957, remarking how these were the images of a Swiss man who had died in 1953 at the age of 41 and who was undoubtedly one of the great photographers of his time.
This Swiss photographer had little interest in the systematic pursuit of professional success, at least as it is normally seen by many
The Sahara. Peter W. Häberlin. Fotografie 1949-1952 exhibition pays tribute to the concept of the journey and should not to be missed, featuring 128 unique B/W pictures that combine views of the Sahara desert with villages in northern Cameroon and domed tombs in central Algeria. Häberlin's most intense images, however, are the portraits of children and young women. Laura Bossi
Through 10 March 2013
Sahara. Peter W. Häberlin. Fotografie 1949-1952
Villa Ciani, Parco Civico
Road sign at Colomb-Béchar (now Béchar), northern Algeria. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Girls at the entrance to an Arab cafe, El Golea (today El Menia), central-northern Algeria. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Portrait of a young woman. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
A Tuareg camp near the Hoggar mountains. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Village chief, a region of French Sudan (now Mali). Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Arab girl in a courtyard , In Salah, central Algeria. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Arab child, northern Sahara. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
The marketplace , Ghardaia, northern Algeria. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
A marabout’s domed tomb, Ghardaia cemetery, northern Algeria. Peter W. Häberlin, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur
Häberlin, Peter Werner
* 25.5.1912, † 9.7.1953
Aufgewachsen in Kreuzlingen und Singen D. Berufslehre als Konditor in Berneck SG 1928-1931. Nach der Rekrutenschule Fussreise von der Schweiz über Italien nach Tunesien und Algerien 1932-1934. In Constantine arbeitete Häberlin in der Pâtisserie Viennoise, um seine Reisekasse zu füllen. Rückkehr über Marokko und Gibraltar. Weitere Reisen in Europa. Studium der Bildhauerei und Fotografie an der Hansischen Hochschule Hamburg 1938/39. Fotoklasse an der Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich 1940-1943. Veröffentlichungen in Atlantis und Du. Heirat mit der amerikanischen Studentin Jolita Coughlin 1948. Vier grosse Nordafrika-Reisen 1949-1952 auf den etablierten Karawanenrouten, zu Fuss, per Fahrrad und als Mitfahrer. Am Vorabend einer Reise nach Mexiko kam Häberlin bei einem Unfall in Zürich ums Leben. Als Fotograf war Häberlin kein Fotojournalist mit einem Auge für die Aktualität, ihn interessierten Menschen und Alltag in den Wüsten und Steppen Nordafrikas. Der Nachlass liegt bei der Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur.
«Yallah» (Text Paul Bowles), Manesse, Zürich 1956; «Yallah» (Text Paul Bowles), McDowell, Obolensky, New York 1957; «Peter W. Häberlin. Sahara. Fotografie 1949-1952», Giunti, Florenz 2012.
«Frauen aus aller Welt», Bertelsmann, Güersloh 1958; François Vergnaud, «Sahara», Editions du Seuil, Paris 1959; «Photographie in der Schweiz von 1840 bis heute», Niggli, Teufen 1974; «Photographie in der Schweiz von 1840 bis heute», Benteli, Bern 1992; «Vergessen & verkannt. Sieben Positionen aus der Sammlung der Fotostiftung Schweiz» (Kat.), Limmat, Zürich 2006; «Hans Finsler und die Schweizer Fotokultur. Werk - Fotoklasse - Moderne Gestaltung 1932-1960» (Kat.), gta Verlag, Zürich 2006.
Museo delle Culture, Lugano 2012/13 («Peter W. Häberlin. Sahara. Fotografie 1949-1952», Wanderausstellung).
Schweizerische Stiftung für die Photographie, Zürich 1974 («Photographie in der Schweiz von 1840 bis heute», Wanderausstellung); Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur 2006 («Vergessen & verkannt. Sieben Positionen aus der Sammlung der Fotostiftung Schweiz»).