Les Troglodytes Boissonnas, Fred  (Swiss, 1858–1946)

François Frédéric Boissonnas (1858-1946), known as Fred, was born in Geneva on 18 June 1858 into a family of professional photographers. His father, Henri-Antoine Boissonnas (1833‒1889), had turned to photography to escape an economic crisis in watch-making during the 1850s and had set up his Geneva studio in 1860.

Fred’s younger brother, Edmond-Victor (1862‒1890), was a talented chemist who gained recognition for his orthochromatic plate system at the Vienna World Fair of 1882. Fred himself was awarded a Gold Medal at the Paris World Fair of 1900 for his technically advanced photographs of Mont Blanc.

Professional photography in the 19th century was a difficult business, constantly dependent on balancing expense and evolving technical demands with the whims of the client. Both strands of activity were subject to constant change. Despite such challenges, the Boissonnas family business established an international reputation,opening studios in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Reims and St Petersburg.

Brought up within the stricter conventions of 19th-century commercial photography and with the need to appeal to local clientele for the survival of the family business, Fred Boissonnas had to balance the complicated demands of exhibition work and publishing projects. It was to be in travel and in capturing the sense of place that he found his true métier. This was first visible in his exploration of the Swiss alpine landscape (a subject complemented by his love of climbing) and later, with explorations further afield, in Greece and the Balkans.

In the collections of photographs and descriptive texts emerging from these projects, there runs a recurring fascination with the ways in which the past can be manifested in contemporary life, with the contrast between the ephemeral and the eternal, the modern and the ancient.



Crawford, William. The Keepers of Light. Dobbs Ferry: Morgan and Morgan, 1979. p. 14-15

Literatur: Nicolas Bouvier. Boissonnas a Dynasty of Photographers 1864-1983. Lausanne 1983.