Michael von Graffenried

Michael von Graffenried (born 1957) is a Swiss photographer living and working between Paris, Brooklyn and Switzerland.

Michael von Graffenried
Michael von Graffenried on January 24, 2014 giving a TED Talk in the Museum of Modern Art MAMA in Algiers.
Born (1957-05-07) May 7, 1957
Known forPhotography
Notable work
Inside Algeria

He started working as a photojournalist in 1978,[1] travelling the world for numerous publications. Today he works on long-term projects using different kinds of media to showcase his artwork, such as open-air campaigns on public billboards and films. His work has appeared in numerous international magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Life, Paris Match, Le Monde, Geo, Stern and El Paìs. With his films, videos, photos, and also as a guest, he has contributed to many television programs in Europe. He has exhibited widely in Switzerland and France, as well as in New York City, Algiers, Hong Kong and Beirut.

Life and work

He first became known in Switzerland for work focused on his hometown, including the Swiss Parliament, where his pictures of members of parliament looking sleepy, or caught in unflattering poses, assured him a reputation for insolcite ence. The American photography critic Vicki Goldberg wrote about his use of humor in the New York Times and drew comparisons with Robert Frank and René Burri.[2]

It was his work on Algeria, which made his reputation internationally. For ten years, he regularly traveled the country, which was plagued by civil war, and took pictures with an old panoramic camera held at waist height, operating it without using the viewfinder.[3] His panoramic work, which has become his signature, has been the subject of several books and an exhibition at La Villette in Paris in 1998, before being presented in Algiers in 2000. He also produced the movie War Without Images - Algeria, I Know That You Know, with the director Mohammed Soudani. The documentary film sees him go in search of Algerians he had photographed during the civil war. In 2002, the film was presented at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Michael von Graffenried originally worked for the printed press, where he was able to have strong control over the use of his pictures. In order to justify the trust placed in him by his photographic subjects and to maintain his independence and integrity, he has always refused to join a news agency or publishing company.

He then shifted to a more conceptual approach to his photography, erecting large format, panoramic versions of his work on billboards in major Swiss cities: CocaineLove on (illegal) drugs, and Eye on Africa (Cameroon). The curator and interviewer Hans-Ulrich Obrist commented on Graffenried's method of working with the old panoramic Widelux, saying that his body becomes the camera and that his photographs do not have an Inside or Outside anymore. The viewer is Immersed.[4]

Graffenried does not hesitate to use his fame to express his political views. He was an outspoken supporter of the "NO" vote during the Swiss minaret referendum, the popular initiative approved by a majority of voters on November 29, 2009. The minaret ban is now part of the Constitution.

In 2014, he joined the team who created sept.info, a Swiss online news site. Here, he instigated the publication of a weekly printed magazine, cut in the exact shape of an iPad. This allowed readers to place the magazine inside their iPad, where they could then choose to either read their printed copy or the sept.info online content on screen. He was the art director of sept.info until 2015. Many of his photographer friends participated in this publishing experience.


Selected documentary films

Selected books

  • 1989 Swiss image, Bern : Benteli, OCLC 23925554
  • 1991 Swiss people, Le Mont-sur-Lausanne : J. Genoud, OCLC 80809652
  • 1995 Sudan, a forgotten war, Bern : Benteli, OCLC 75557675
  • 1997 Naked in Paradise, Stockport : Dewi Levis, ISBN 1-899235-85-X
  • 1998 Inside Algeria, New York: Aperture, (Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 98-85810)
  • 1998 Algérie, photographies d'une guerre sans images, Paris : Hazan, OCLC 40760017
  • 2005 The Eye of Switzerland : 15 years of Swiss Press Photo, Wabern-Bern : Benteli, OCLC 71255254
  • 2005 Cocaine Love, Benteli, Wabern, OCLC 58602649
  • 2009 Eye on Africa, Basel, Schwabe Verlag, ISBN 9783796525827
  • 2010 Outing, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Conversation avec Hans Ulrich Obrist à Londres
  • 2014 Bierfest, Göttingen, Steidl, ISBN 9783869306803
  • 2016 Changing Rio, Zurich, Offizin, OCLC 934152966

Selected exhibitions (one man shows)

  • 2016 Changing Rio, Maison de France, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 2014 Bierfest, Esther Wordehoff Gallery, Paris [5]
  • 2012 On the Edge (on public billboards), Varanasi, India
  • 2012 Shoreditch Stories, London
  • 2012 Inside Cairo, Parker's Box Gallery, Brooklyn NY [6]
  • 2012 35 mm Film, Leica Gallery, New York
  • 2010 Eye on Africa, Esther Wordehoff Gallery, Paris
  • 2010 Outing, Retrospective, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris
  • 2009 Eye on Africa, Paul Klee Zentrum, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2008 War without images - Algeria, Hangar - UMAM, Beirut, Lebanon
  • 2007 Our Town, Kornhausforum Museum Bern, Switzerland
  • 2007 Inside Cairo, On the rooftop in Downtown Cairo, photography installation, Egypt
  • 2006 Graffenried in page, Esther Woerdehoff Gallery, Paris - Month of Photography
  • 2006 Our Town, Bank of the Arts, New Bern, North Carolina, United States
  • 2005 Rosanna, Astrid, Peter and the others, Swiss National Museum, Zurich
  • 2003 Michael von Graffenried – World Panorama, Library of the city of Bordeaux, France
  • 2003 Museum of Fine arts Bern, Switzerland (Curated by Harald Szeemann)
  • 2002 Helveticum 02, Museum of Art, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • 2000 Algérie, photographies d’une guerre sans images, National Library El Hamma, Algiers
  • 1999 World Panorama, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland
  • 1998 Algérie, photographies d’une guerre sans images, Paris - Month of Photography, Pavillon Delouvrier, Parc de la Villette, Paris
  • 1997 Naked in Paradise, Witkin Gallery, New York
  • 1997 Naked in Paradise, Galerie Scalo, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1997 Sudan, Museum Zündorfer Wehrturm, Cologne, Germany
  • 1997 Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris


Michael von Graffenrieds photographs are in the permanent collections of the Swiss Foundation for Photography in Winterthur, Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and The Pilara Foundation in San Francisco, USA.


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