"Aussereuropäische Kulturen in Reisefotografien und Dokumentarfilmen des deutschsprachigen Raums, 1924–1986" (Non-European cultures in the travel photography and documentary films of the German-speaking region, 1924–1986)

Research project 2011–2014, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Travel photography and films showing people from foreign countries and their "exotic" living environments enjoyed huge popularity in the German-speaking region throughout the 20th century. For decades, images from Africa, Asia and Latin America were shown in magazines, books, cinemas, schools, and on television, providing people at home with a supposedly authentic depiction of foreign cultures, and strongly influencing perceptions of colonial and post-colonial realities, without them necessarily being aware of it.

This research project focuses on eight influential travel photographers and documentary film makers from Switzerland whose visual works permeated the entire German-speaking region. For more than 60 years, they travelled to parts of the world that were still inaccessible to most of their contemporaries. The project investigates the context in which the images were produced, distributed and received against a backdrop of changing media systems. The role of people and institutions involved in the various processes is as interesting as the function and significance of the images themselves. The photographs and films are viewed as constructed public images of non-European cultures, but they also allow a self-image to come to the fore. Taking a long-term perspective, the project sets out to investigate continuity and changes in viewing habits, and in the conventions of perception. On the other hand, the project also adopts the latest approach in visual history and investigates the performative role of images in shaping the conventions of perception, and their function as the starting point for action as a direct result of being exposed to the images.

By honing in on historical and cultural elements, the project aims to close a substantial research gap that exists at the interface between the historical iconography of post-colonial studies and the investigation of media practices in the German-speaking region.