Im quartier, vom quartier, fürs quartier

Kultur Stadt Bern


 in offspace viktoria

Bern, Switzerland


Monday November 14, 2022 18-20h

Opening Times Tue-Sat. 17-19h


Sunday November 20, 2022 : 14-17h

The photographer will be present at the Vernissage and during the week of the exhibition and portraits of volunteers will be taken with the 8x10in Sinar Norma.

Impressions from the actual exhibition can be found on the gallery’s website HERE.

Nina Blumer, social worker and Leihbar volunteer

The idea of this portrait series was to photograph the fellow members of the collective Feuerwehr Viktoria in Bern, where I have my music practice room and photo studio, and to exhibit the work around the building to make its members more visible to the community they come from and serve. 

The Feuerwehr Viktoria is a cooperative that administers the space of the former fire station built in the 1930s and in recent years repurposed as a community building housing over 30 projects. It promotes cultural, sustainable, communal, non-profit, socially mixed and ecological forms of working and living.

The collective consists of a very diverse group of people. Their projects range from urban gardening to audio and video production, from a boxing and a circus school to radio production for the visually impaired.  Among the many projects there is a repair shop, a second-hand shop, a bicycle shop, a communal carpenter’s atelier, an organic market on Thursdays, a raw food shop and Gastwerk, a takeaway that offers work experience to migrants and fresh international cuisine to the public and people of the neighbourhood.

What unites all these people is idealism, a pioneer spirit and a strong sense of belonging and serving their community.  They want to work in the neighbourhood, with the neighbourhood and for the neighbourhood of Breitenrain in Bern.

Sinar Norma made in the 1950s in Schaffhausen

I wanted to take up the ideas of belonging to, and creating from within a community and reflect them in the way of making the portraits. I chose to make the portraits completely on site and with as many local tools and materials as possible. To that purpose I asked the community to let me use one of the toilets in the 2UG, next door to my music and photo studio, as a darkroom to develop and print the portraits. In the cellar of the Swiss Institute of Art Research in Zürich I found, bought and then restored, an 8x10in Sinar Norma, a camera made in Schaffhausen in the 1950s. This camera was used there to reproduce and archive works of art until the digital age made it obsolete. The enlarger is an Italian Durst 138s from the 1960s that I found in a second hand shop in Rüegsau near Bern.  It belong to a technical school were it was heavily used by students and had to be restored and altered to take the 8×10 negatives. The studio lights I used were made by Elinchrom, also a Swiss company, based in Renens.  For the rest I had to expand the “community” outside Switzerland but managed to stay within Europe. The lens was a German Schneider-Kreuznach, the film was Fomapan from the Czech Republic, and the photographic paper and chemicals are Ilford from Great Britain and Adox from Germany.  

I decided to work with the traditional formal portrait on black-and-white analogue film.  I chose the 8×10 format for its generosity and truthful rendering and made the portraits in the darkroom printing with the use of traditional chemicals.Being what they called a “digital native” this process was new to me and I had to learn it along the way. The cameras in this format are large, heavy and everything is manual. Composing, focusing and setting up takes time. A long time, especially in the eyes of our digital generation. I call the process the “opposite of the  iPhone”, because it almost completely lacks spontaneity and there is no such a thing as instant gratification.  Patience and craftsmanship are the very important in this process. The sitter has to sit still for three to five minutes before I take one photograph. The photos cannot be seen or proofed until the negatives have been developed, dried and printed. There’s plenty of room for errors in this long process, and errors did happen in almost every step of the way.  But when everything works the results from this slow and old method of photographing are fascinating, intriguing, nostalgic and… All Made in Feuerwehr.

I would like to thank the Genossenschaft Feuerwehr Viktoria for providing funding for the film material and allowing me to convert the bathroom in the 2UG. Also thanks to the Culture Administration of the City of Bern and the Canton of Bern for covering  the costs of the exhibition, to Werner Brück for showing me the basics of split grade printing and darkroom practices and to Konstantin Nazlamov for the invaluable guidance and assistance through every step of this long journey.  Last but definitely not least, I want to thank my wife Simone von Büren who stayed home countless nights with the children while I was in the darkroom developing and enlarging (I calculated an average of 5 hours for each portrait!) more than 40 portraits.

My darkroom is a converted man's toilet two floors underground in a former "Zivilschutz" or bunker from 1938.
The enlarging process requires three chemicals baths before the image is fixed on the paper. Then comes a short water rinse an overnight dry.
For this project I had to take the wall between the toilets to be able to load the 8x10in enlarger. The enlarger is in the back of the photo.
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