The World Photography Exhibition took place in the summer of 1952 in Lucerne, Switzerland. Muriel Willi’s article looks at its historical section and shows how the exhibition played a crucial role in the mediation of the history of photography. This section was the outcome of a groundbreaking collaboration between two highly reputed collectors, Helmut Gernsheim and Erich Stenger. It brought together a host of rare items and provided not only a sound platform for the institutionalisation of photography in Europe, but also a venue for a standoff between clashing conceptions of the discipline’s history. The layout of the space dedicated to the pioneers – including Nicéphore Niépce, whose “first” photograph had been recently rediscovered – serves as an exemplary illustration of the divergent interpretations involved in the writing of history as well as the nationalist spirit which, until the postwar period, had motivated the historiographical debate regarding the medium’s inventors.
Muriel Willi studied art history at the University of Zurich, with a major in theory and history of photography. Since January 2015, she has been a doctoral student taking part in the Swiss National Science Foundation project “Photography and Exhibition in Switzerland, 1920–1970” at the Center of History of Culture at the University of Lausanne. Her doctoral thesis examines the World Exhibition of Photography of 1952 in Lucerne.
Keywords: World Photography Exhibition, history of photography, photography museum, Nicéphore Niépce, Erich Stenger, Helmut Gernsheim