Recently, I was walking through Parc Bertrand in the Champel neighborhood of Geneva when I noticed something out of the ordinary: large displays spaced intermittently along the walking paths of the park. When I looked closer, I learned that the displays are part of a temporary photography exhibition in the park titled Exotic Types: Around the World in Photographs (1860-1900).
The exhibition includes photographs from the collection of the park’s namesake, Alfred Bertrand (1856-1924). Bertrand was an avid traveler who completed two around-the-world trips and amassed a photo collection numbering more than 1700 images. His photographs were donated to Geneva’s Museum of Ethnography by Bertrand’s widow in 1940, and were previously shown in 2007 at the museum.
Today, the photographs (most of which are from Bertrand’s collection, though others have been added and are credited where appropriate) have been enlarged, mounted on weather-proof structures, and installed throughout the park. Descriptions of each photo are provided in French and in English.
The exhibition centers on two questions: how did 19th century Europeans view the rest of the world? And, how did those views impact our present ways of looking at, and thinking about, the world? The exhibition encourages a critical examination of both questions with analysis, rich detail, and comparisons of the 19th century images to today. Related to the two guiding questions, the photographs are divided into four sections: Colonization, Exoticism, Typologies, and Photography, Art & Artifice.
You can see the entire exhibition online by clicking here, but I encourage you to visit the park and explore the exhibition in person. Every time I have walked through the park, there have been individuals and groups of people clustered around the photographs, reading about the topics and discussing their impressions with others. I feel that the park setting encourages these interactions, in French, English, and some mixture of the two, and that’s one of the things I like most about the exhibition.
Another aspect of the exhibition that I like is that the photographs are not arranged in any particular order. You can start from any part of the exhibition and explore at your own pace, discovering different panels as you stroll. I’ve been to the exhibition a few times since I first discovered it, and it seems as though I happen upon a new panel and a new series of thought-provoking questions on every visit.
The history of Parc Bertrand is tied to one of Geneva’s most prominent families. Several generations of the Bertrand family lived in Geneva; a day-care center now occupies the building that was once the Bertrand family home.
Alfred Bertrand’s widow donated property to the City of Geneva in 1933 which formed the original, smaller segment of the park; she donated the rest of the property for Parc Bertrand in 1940. Today, the park grounds include a playground, a children’s paddling pool, an off-leash area for dogs, large trees and flower gardens, and the day-care center.
The photo exhibition runs until 30th September 2013.
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