In dialogue with the Winegrowers Feast
The year 2019 is marked in Vevey by an event unique in the world: the Feast of the Winegrowers (July 18 – August 11). Organized once a generation, registered by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, the show exalts the wine tradition of an entire region. Opening on the market square of Vevey, where the Feast of Winegrowers takes place, the Swiss Museum of the camera accompanies this colorful celebration. Precisely: it was not until the 1927 edition that the photographic processes could return the chromatic richness. A luster further amplified during the next edition (1955) by the democratization of the color film, as much for professional photographers as for amateurs. By presenting touching images, mostly unpublished, the museum pays homage both to the Fête des Vignerons and to the long conquest of color in photography.
From its origins in the first half of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth century, photography captured the Winegrowers’ Festival in black and white. The treatment is often superb, but it can not evoke one of the essential components of this solar show: its intense chromatic richness. Some black and white images are certainly colorized a posteriori by hand. They remain the exception, however. This monochrome reality endures until the Winegrowers’ Festival of 1905. Commercialized in 1907, the first industrial method of color photography – the autochrome – is thus used only on the occasion of the following edition of the Feast Winegrowers, in 1927.
Onerous and relatively delicate to use, the autochrome invented by the Lumière brothers in Lyon makes the event pictorialist. Its tinted potato starch process gives a pointillist look to positive images on glass plates. It is perfectly suited to the representation of the popular festival: its actors-extras in traditional dress, its scenography, its sets; especially its exuberance, emotion, and vitality.
The following edition, in 1955, marks the widespread use of color film in the general public and among professional photographers. Thanks to the films of Kodak, Agfa and their competitors, spectators can finally keep in color the memory of a demonstration that is held once a generation. On paper or slide, the color film is in solidarity with a decade and a popular festival characterized by optimism and faith in progress.
The transition from monochrome to polychrome in the photographic representation of the Feast of Winegrowers has other effects. Including the one, temporal, to bring together the festivals of yesteryear with our own time. Black and white refers far back to the past, the color a lot less. The color photo also reduces the distance that separates the image from reality: it adds veracity and resemblance. Not to mention the values of joy and tone associated with colors.
Unless otherwise stated, the autochromes presented in the exhibition were taken during the 1927 Winegrowers’ Festival by Charles Nicollier (1874-1963). Then director of the purchasing department of Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co., ancestor of the current Nestlé company, the Veveysan was a skilled amateur photographer, comfortable in particular in the genre of portraiture. He also photographed many mountains, glaciers, flora, Lake Geneva, the Vevey region and his own family.
Charles Nicollier had such a passion for autochrome that he used it until the late 1930s. Even though the process was subject to the law of Kodachrome and Agfacolor films and its development was no longer ensured by the laboratories of the Lumière brothers. He himself developed his autochromes in the dark room of his house in La Tour-de-Peilz.
Charles Nicollier also had a passion for mountain walking, sailing, rowing, watercolor and astronomy. He initiated his grandson Claude, who later became astrophysicist and astronaut. Charles Nicollier had married Marguerite Peter, daughter of Daniel Peter (inventor of milk chocolate) and granddaughter of François-Louis Cailler (founder of the chocolate factory Cailler). Charles Nicollier, whose maternal family worked the vineyard in Vevey, was a regular member of the guild of the Winegrowers. He took part in the editions of 1889, 1905, 1927 and 1955 of the Feast of Winegrowers.
His autochromes of the Feast of 1927 are conserved by the Brotherhood of the Winegrowers and by the Nicollier family.
1927 & 1955 – The first color photos of the Fête des Vignerons
April 4 to September 1, 2019
Swiss Museum of Photography
Grand Place 99 – CH-1800 Vevey