Born in Bern in 1925, Kurt Ammann is one of the great exponents of Swiss auteur photography. His images are characterized by a clean and essential style, formal elegance and compositional rigor that represent a masterful example of Straight Photography. Ammann has followed the path of those who have made a profession out of journalistic photography: as a reporter, he has published in prestigious international publications, portrayed celebrities and travelled the world. At the same time he cultivated his personal research, and it is to this that we owe his most beautiful images.
Kurt Ammann began shooting with his father’s Leica from the age of fourteen, documenting family moments and childhood experiences. He soon manifested his intention to turn this passion into a profession; he therefore began an apprenticeship at Jakob Lauri’s store. To train in darkroom work he also spent several months with the well-known producer Hans Steiner. At the age of eighteen Ammann is called to military service: at the height of World War II, Switzerland, surrounded by the Germans, appears to him as a “little prison”. In fact, the young photographer is eager to travel and discover the world.
The first trip to Paris
In 1945 Kurt is finally able to leave for Paris. Of his time in the French capital Ammann recalls: “There wasn’t much to eat, but the atmosphere at that time was fabulous. I had a room in a hotel behind the de Flore. Avant-garde artists lived in Paris. Many became my friends”. Initially hired as an interpreter by the Americans, Ammann soon began working as a photographer for Parisian fashion couturiers.
Discovering the world
Back in Switzerland, Ammann took part in the activities of the Swiss Photographers College and participated in the exhibition “Photography As Expression” in 1955. That same year he traveled to Brazil at the invitation of writer Maurice Sandoz to make a reportage for the book “Un Peu du Brésil”. With the money he earned, he bought a Volkswagen convertible and left with some friends for Turkey, crossing Yugoslavia and Greece. “The trip was an adventure. The roads were unpaved and difficult to navigate. Once I got stuck and had to look for a makeshift mechanic. I took many photographs. It was an incredible experience” Ammann says.
Working for the UN
Driven by a desire to learn about new places, Ammann volunteered as a Swiss officer with the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea. From 1956 to 1957 he served for the UN, taking the opportunity to visit South Korea, North Korea and Japan. His return trip took him to Toronto, Canada, where he held a solo exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. The exhibition then travelled in major cities in North America to promote Switzerland’s photography.
Photographer and editor
Throughout his career Kurt Ammann has worked for several international publications, including Weltwoche, Du, Schöner Wohnen, Grazia, Time and Life. For many years he worked with Annabelle magazine, which once sent him to Ghana for a fashion shoot. For the publishing house Berlitz he produced travel guides on Sicily, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii. For eleven years he worked as a photographer and editor for the Bulletin of the Swiss Credit Institute. One special event he remembers fondly: in 1967 the House of Liechtenstein commissioned him to photograph the splendid wedding of Prince Hans-Adam II to Princess Marie.
A private passion
Asked about his relationship with photography, Ammann says: “For me, photography was first and foremost a great passion. Wherever I went, I always had a camera with me. A Rolleiflex 6×6 or a Leica. I photographed the world I encountered. I started in Bern and then, four years later, I was in Zurich working for some newspapers. But my photography was the one I made for myself, during my travels. And for a long time my photography remained private”. In recent years Kurt Ammann’s images have been featured in exhibitions in Milan and Venice.