In 1903, the photographer Fred Boissonnas made his first trip to Greece with his frequent collaborator, the writer and art historian Daniel Baud-Bovy. This marked the start of a succession of fruitful expeditions – continuing up until the 1930s – to photograph the sites and scenery of Greece, often for publication in photographic artbooks. Such work earned him the attention of the Greek government, which commissioned photography for a touring exhibition of Images of Greece, and of King Fuad I of Egypt, who saw the value in having this photographer present images of his country too.
Born in Geneva in 1858 to a family of photographers, Boissonnas trained in Stuttgart and Budapest before running the family studio from 1887. He expanded the business, taking over Nadar’s studio in Marseille and setting up studios in Lyons, Reims, Paris, and St Petersburg. Boissonnas also developed the keen passion for landscape photography that first brought him to Greece.
A few years later, Boissonnas headed to Athens and worked to photograph the monuments of the Acropolis, a subject he returned to several times. These photographic campaigns at the Parthenon involved vertiginous ascents up a ladder, as shown right (Photographic Mission on the Parthenon in Athens, 1907), and produced images such as Parthenon after the Storm (1907), which, with surrounding mountains visible in the background, plants growing between the slabs, and marble soaked with rain, reflects his interest in the mingling of nature and the built world. Though others had already photographed this paragon of classical architecture, it was Boissannas’ contemporary views of the Parthenon that were used among the illustrations in the key text of early 20th-century architecture, Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture (1923).
Boissonnas’ travels in Greece also took him to the Cyclades with Baud-Bovy. The photographs he took on these islands were exhibited at the Musée Rath (where Baud-Bovy was curator) in his hometown. Now, mainly using images acquired by the City of Geneva in 2011, the same museum is staging another exhibition on the photographer, which charts his prolific work in the Mediterranean, from his quest to follow the route of Homeric hero Odysseus to his major commission from King Fuad I to photograph the heritage and landscapes of Egypt.
Fred Boissonnas and the Mediterranean: a photographic odyssey runs at the Musée Rath in Geneva until 31 January 2021. For more information, visit http://institutions.ville-geneve.ch/fr/mah/.
IMAGES: © Collection N Crispini; © Bibliothèque de Genève