Finding the Photography Museum in Vevey, Switzerland, was an unexpected treat while we were over in nearby Montreux recently. It is devoted to the history of photographic equipment and processes rather than photographs, but as I’m happy with either it proved to be well worth a visit, although their fully functioning 1970s darkroom was quite a shock; of course it is largely history now but considering the amount of time I have spent in rooms just like it over the years, seeing it laid out and interpreted for school children was a little strange. I half wanted to walk in and get printing.
One of my favourite exhibits was a wonderful Fifties photo booth, rescued from a local station. The booth itself is very eye-catching, lots of colour, a few spacey graphics, and a curved end, part decorated with lots of sample photo strips, and text in French and German. A real contrast to the dull functional booths around today. And better quality prints by the looks of it too. I like to think of someone spotting that it was about the be consigned to a skip and managing to save it. And their partner saying ‘where do you think you’re going to put that?’
The other area which held my attention for ages was a reconstructed Victorian photo studio. The big canvas painted backdrops which appear in photo studio portraits from the late 1800s right through to the Fifties cannot survive in huge numbers, and they had an original hung up on display. Not only that but they even had a sample portrait from the time taken against the very backdrop.
Painted in monochrome, it looks very ghostly today, especially with the iron clamps which held people’s heads in position for the long exposure times. I presume there would have been specialists painting these backdrops for sale and they were probably quite an investment for studio owners. Today the craze in the high-street studios (which seem to be hanging on thanks to the market for high quality but informal family photographs) appears to be for everything to be shot against a white background.
Well worth a visit then, but do your research. It took us ages to find it due to inept signage as we came from the ‘wrong direction’ of town! Let’s hope the Swiss don’t rob it out for their national museum as the Science Museum here would no doubt do.