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Fotomosaik Schweiz / Photo Mosaic Switzerland : Das Archiv der Presse-bildagentur Comet Photo AG / The
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Comet Photo AG was founded in Zürich 1952 by Swiss photographers Hans Gerber (1917–2009), Björn Eric Lindroos (1919–1984), and Jack Metzger (1918–1999). All three were trained photographers and had been working free-lance as well as for various Swiss agencies before establishing their own business. Initially Comet Photo had its focus on the city of Zürich, documenting changes of its life and look, growth and building activity, but soon the agency extended its reach to all of Switzerland. Besides of supplying images to local and, increasingly, national media, Comet’s photographers also did commissions and continued to pursue also free-lance work, some of which they were able to sell through the agency. Comet Photo quickly built a reputation for the quality of their images, with the 1950s and 1960s arguably marking the culmination their aesthetic, artistic achievements.
Commercially, Comet Photo’s heyday were the 1960s and 1970s. When newspapers began to cut their spending for images in the 1980s, and with speed in supply increasingly prevailing over quality of the image, their business came under pressure. Also, Comet Photo missed developments, both in their customers’ demand and in technology. This eventually lead to the company’s bankruptcy in 1999 and subsequent sale of its assets.
Comet Photo’s vast legacy of high quality press images is now kept at ETH Zürich’s Image Archive. The entire collection comprises around 1m images, approx. 100,000 of which are aerial photographs.
The new book Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the Image Archive, ETH Bibliothek series, features some 200 images from the Comet Photo collection. An emphasis of the selection is on the rapid changes Switzerland underwent in many ways during the agency’s activity. The book shows a variety of public images of Switzerland through pictures supplied by Comet Photo (hence the title of the introductory essay: “Which Image With What Images?”).
The plates are arranged in seven sections: rapid change (modernization), industry, agriculture, things vanishing and vanished (from our view), things traditional and timeless (and still present), celebrities and glamour, and major events. The introductory essay by Swiss historian and scholar Georg Kreis tells the story of Comet Photo AG and its work and legacy, places the firm among its competitors national and international, and contextualizes the Comet Photo collection at ETH Zürich with comparable Swiss collections and publications. Moreover, Kreis looks at Switzerland’s history in the 20th century’s later decades and explains the selection of images for the new book.