Kurt Wyss – Encounters

14 February – 29 April 2007

Following his training as a photographer in Fribourg and Berne, and after a few years as a freelance photographer, Kurt Wyss (*Basel, 1936) held the position of photographic editor of the National-Zeitung since the mid-Sixties and subsequently, until he retired, that of editor and photographer of the Basler Zeitung.
As a newspaper reporter, Kurt Wyss photographed ordinary, daily occurrences as well as out-of-the-ordinary events. But further to his activity as a press photographer, he manifested a great interest in artists and their world – amongst them Jean Dubuffet and Jean Tinguely, Josef Beuys or Mark Tobey – and writers such as Urs Widmer and Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Kurt Wyss rightfully is recognised as a chronicler, a witness of his day and age, the portrayer of occurrences and living conditions, events, encounters; he is an intrinsic part of the local history of a small big cultural and industrial city of the second half of the 20th century. A politically engaged photographer, he undertook missions to Biafra, to Nicaragua but also photographed Swiss mountain peasants; despite this he remained faithfully bound – attracted even in a love-hate relationship – to Basel.
His photographic chronicles on various subjects, such as immigration in Switzerland, appear in various books and anthologies.

Photographers are often depicted as hasty, inconsiderate, brash, at the best as an unconcerned eye-witnesses. Kurt Wyss, the man, incorporates the very opposite: humility, understatement to the point of modesty and objectivity are what characterise him. Behind this so gentleman-like appearance though hides an often ironical, witty, playful spirit. When Kurt Wyss, with a light step, embarks on a very high class intellectual ping pong, we discover a superior and very fine sense of humour.

The often hidden qualities of the photographer Wyss then suddenly come to light: a peculiar and unique subtlety, an ambivalence of esteem and nonchalance, at times a bizarre originality. Not only is he gifted with a balanced and subtle sense of observation, a prerequisite for all good photographers, but moreover, his shots betray a controlling eye that borders on the infallibility. Why, could one ask, was the chronicler attracted to artists, and to such an extent, with such verve and passion? Did their universe mean to him a different paradise, free of functionality, a form of fulfilment? This must have been so, or something similar. Otherwise, how would he have managed to approach so easily Picasso or Beuys, Tobey, Warhol or Tinguely, and then carry back his trophies home to the Nadelberg? Dubuffet’s words of praise are justified: “A wonderful photographer”.
Wyss, the knowing photographer-companion, is an ideal cast member, an unassuming observer, countering vanity with a lack of vanity, composed, sometimes ironical, always on his guard and in top shape. Photography has also been termed an act of “capturing the instant”, and this transpires in his figurative language, despite his undisguised sympathy for the subject. Respect yes – empathy never. Thus his photographic portraits of artists are clear and sharp “to the quick”, distances are correct, even in a figurative sense. The camera is his instrument, he plays it like a clarinet, he uses it as a foil.

The exhibition at the Museum Tinguely presents milestones in the œuvre of Kurt Wyss, portraits of artists, authors, Picasso, Beuys, Tobey. 54 photographs draw up a chronicle spanning 54 years, and illustrate the photographer’s personal evolution, as well as the development of contemporary (press) photography.

The Christoph Merian Verlag has published an illustrated book to accompany the exhibition,
<Kurt Wyss – Begegnungen>, with contributions by Annemarie Monteil, Georg Kreis, Hans-Peter Platz and Reinhardt Stumm (CHF 38).