‘Once upon a time, there was a Swiss policeman named Arnold Odermatt, whose photographs long went unnoticed, but who then achieved international recognition when the photographer himself was past retirement age. Born into a family of eleven children in the canton of Nidwalden in 1925 – his father was a forester – Arnold Odermatt initially apprenticed as a baker and pastry cook. He was forced to leave that profession, however, because of an allergy, and by chance he ended up joining the cantonal police, where he spent the next forty years. He was responsible in particular for road safety in this little canton isolated in the middle of Switzerland, hemmed in by the Alps and Lake Lucerne.
‘At the age of ten, Arnold Odermatt won a camera in a competition and taught himself how to use it, which grew into what can only be called a passion for photography. He took his twin-lens Rolleiflex with him wherever he went, photographing the people and landscapes of the region and later his wife and children. He also incorporated photography into his day-to-day work, using it to document traffic accidents, which were quite common at the time.
‘However, Odermatt’s hobby was met with indifference by those around him, and for fifty years he captured tens of thousands of images which, carefully stored and organized, languished in his attic, until one day in the early 1990s, his son, Urs Odermatt, himself a director and filmmaker, came upon them. The retired policeman’s photographs were published in a book edited by his son, and recognition for the work grew steadily. Exhibited in 1998 at police headquarters in Frankfurt am Main during the Frankfurt Book Fair, the black and white images of vehicles damaged in accidents caught the attention of the celebrated curator Harald Szeemann, who showed them at the Venice Biennale in 2001. From that point on, the Swiss policeman’s photographs were internationally acclaimed. Three books were published by Steidl, one of the most prominent publishers in the photography world, and his images were exhibited by numerous museums and galleries in Europe and the United States.
‘All of the prerequisites were in place for the creation of an ‘Odermatt legend’ that would be especially attractive to the contemporary art world. Like Eugène Atget, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, and Miroslav Tichý, Odermatt belongs to that special category of ‘outsiders’ discovered late in life, cut off from the art world and unconcerned with concepts or declarations of intent. As a figure of ‘artistic innocence,’ he compels us to question the shifting boundaries between art and non-art, between art and art brut or ‘outsider art.’ Arnold Odermatt’s work is difficult to categorize because it seems to include both applied professional photography when he is ‘on duty’ as well as amateur photography when he is ‘off duty.’ What is certain is that the power and originality of his images, in contrast with his complete absence of formal artistic training and his long isolation, problematize what may be called ‘artistic intention’ and its role in the quality of the images produced. Is a self-taught photographer with no formal training who has never called his images ‘art’ therefore devoid of Kunstwollen? Because it is so difficult to make assumptions about intentions that are not expressed as a conceptualized and verbalized desire to ‘make art,’ I will consider the unrecognized character of Arnold Odermatt’s practice, but will do so without using terms like ‘naïve’ or ‘outsider,’ which are too fraught with connotations and too reductive. In what follows, I will suggest that these belatedly recognized artists be referred to as unsanctioned artists (artistes non-homologués). This term is an indirect reference to one of Dubuffet’s earliest essays on art brut; it makes it possible to group together the various ‘irregular’6 practices by virtue of their contrast with official art world channels, without, however, stigmatizing them by setting up a dualism in which art is opposed to non-art. The term ‘sanction’ signals official recognition, but does it alter the nature of what it consecrates?
‘The contrast between images that satisfy the art world’s expectations in terms of their quality and a photographer who stubbornly refused to seek any kind of critical recognition for his work seems to endow Odermatt’s practice with an obvious appeal as something ‘instinctive’ and ‘authentic.’’ — Caroline Recher
Arnold Odermatt – Die Ästhetik der Karambolage
Arnold Odermatt – Rasthaus
Arnold Odermatt und John Waters – Fotomuseum Winterthur
Trailer: ‘Crash Course: The Accidental Art of Arnold Odermatt’
‘Arnold Odermatt the Nidwalden Police in 1948. He was forced to give up his original career as a bakery and pastry chef on health grounds. As the policeman Arnold Odermatt first appeared with his Rolleiflex at the scene of an accident – to provide photos to complement the police report, people found this rather disconcerting. At that time, photography was anything other than an independent means of providing the police with evidence.
‘A colleague observed Arnold Odermatt as he took pictures for the force and was suspicious. He was ordered to report to his commander immediately. Odermatt managed to convince his superiors of the pioneering work he was doing. They allowed him to convert an old toilet in an observation post in Stans into a makeshift dark room. When the observation post was moved into another building several years later, Switzerland’s first police photographer was given his own laboratory.
‘Arnold Odermatt’s biggest role model was the famous Magnum photographer Werner Bischof. He met him once by chance, as he was on security duty on the Bürgenstock and wanted to photograph Charlie Chaplin. Odermatt’s own style was characterised by sobriety and authenticity. The spartan linguistic expression of his police reports can also be found in Odermatt’s images. His craftsmanship is beyond question, nothing of note is missed by his photographic eye. In KARAMBOLAGE, his most famous series of work, you can’t see the maimed victims but you do see the ethereal, surreal sculptures of scrap metal. With the softness and melancholy of Jacques Tati, he looks at the consequences of speed and the hectic nature of modern times.
‘For 40 years, Arnold Odermatt captured the daily work of the Nidwalden police force. It was only rarely that the local press, the court or an insurance company were interested in his photos. It was only when his son, the film and theatre director Urs Odermatt, showed the photos in for the first time at a solo exhibition in Frankfurt am Main that the art scene first became interested in his work. After the inspiring exhibition, the photo book Meine Welt followed. Suddenly the everyday observations from the central Swiss province had gained the same status as those of his well-travelled predecessor, Werner Bischof.
‘At an early stage in his police career, when Arnold used the camera to catalogue traffic accidents, this was a revolutionary innovation in the Swiss police. If Arnold Odermatt were to turn up at a crime scene with his camera today, he could expect to be told that photography was not for him, but was instead the job of a specially trained police photographer.’ — collaged
Arnold Odermatt – Prominenz auf dem Bürgenstock.
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi. For absolute sure. Mm, yeah, beneficial depending, I guess. Not in my current circumstance which is just a lesson unnecessarily re-re-learned. I saw that ‘Thor’ on a plane. I was, like, pleasured by it. I don’t remember it hardly at all. I think it was ‘funnier’ intentionally than the previous two? I’m so ignorant on comic book-related stuff that I can’t tell Marvel movies from DC movies. Have not seen ‘Unsane’, want to. I love Wes Anderson. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers. Jay Wright … doesn’t ring a bell. I’ll check. Okey-doke, great, and thanks for the tip on that poetry book. That sounds really good. I’ll hop at it. That was pretty good news, actually, all in all. Well, good to read, rangy and detailed where it mattered, good combo. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Huh, never heard of that phenom movie. I’ll at least give it a solid beginner look. Cliff DeYoung! Before he was a character actor, he was the lead singer of one of the great, under-sung LA 60s psychedelic bands, Clear Light. ** Steve Erickson, No, it didn’t sound like that. Well, yeah, snap judgements based on third hand blah-blah is practically the oxygen a ton of people breathe these days. I heard the Arctic Monkeys single. It was a surprise. I might go further. I’ve always hoped to try to figure out why there’s a reasonably sizeable contingent that thinks Alex Turner is some kind of genius because I’ve never heard any evidence pointing in that direction. ** Jamie, Wassup, bud. I’m tired too. My body clock is in one of its fascist phases where it wakes me up between 6 and 6:30 am no matter what time I go to sleep the night before, and the little daily nips at my sleep cycle have started to add up this morning. Oh, that’s cool about the ladder. Like minds. Dig. The producer shit is just … yeah. But the good thing is that not a half-hour ago we finally, finally submitted the finish TV series script and Note of Intention to her. Now we’ll have to harass her to send it on to ARTE and not diddle about giving us her useless feedback. Anyway, we’re almost out of her frying pan and into ARTE’s fire! And now Zac and I get to go back to finishing our film script, which is pretty much all I think about and want to do. I hope your Friday hits you like a giant snort of crystal meth without the meth. Pandemic love, Dennis. ** Damien Ark, Hi, Damien, always good to see you, sir. Dude, gigantic congrats on finishing the final draft! That’s mega, the most mega! I’ve never used a grammar correction function. I don’t think I knew that there was such a thing. Weird. I hope it works. Yeah, I think people want to get things in Word. I’m not sure if I even have OpenOffice. I think not? Let me see if anyone has any thoughts/advice. Everyone, Here’s the fine writer and guy Damien Ark with a shout out for advice from anyone who might have some re: sending out fiction re: apps. Help him? Damien: ‘I don’t even really know what a story is supposed to look like when you send it to someone either, so that’s a barrier. I’m more comfortable with OpenOffice, but I imagine everyone likes Word (so un-aesthetically pleasing). If anyone else has advice or ideas, please help!!! AHHHHH!!!!!’ Thanks about the new gif book. It’s not a novel, it’s a book of stories. Ha ha, ‘Bioshock with emo twinks’ it isn’t, I fear, bit that’s giving me ideas. Maybe a film. Oooh. ** Wolf, Sup is sup, and you? Oh, oops, space out: you haven’t moved yet, duh, sorry. Put all that stuff up, all of it, it sounds dreamy. You can turn your new apt. into the London satellite of Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature! Hardly anything on my walls. I’ve been meaning/planning to go to the store for weeks to buy frames so I can put up the posters for ‘PGL’ and ‘LCTG’. Right now, let’s see, I only have a photo by Gisele of a boy mannequin/star of ‘Kindertotenlieder’ that she based on George Miles and a small photo by the artist Frances Stark consisting of an image of her and Charles Ray. Maybe I’ll finally buy those frames today. Yeah, maybe really I will. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. How’s every old and new thing? ** Misanthrope, Hey. Early heads up, but you should plan to go back to NYC in around mid-September for reasons I can not explain yet but will soon. Yeah, looking forward to meeting the legendary LPS in June. Me too, I’m tired today. It’s going to be a long day. Bleah. I don’t think my today will be a beast, but you really never know, do you? I’ll take along my beastliness geiger counter. Yours too. Really big beast of a day. ** Bill, Me too, coincidentally or not. If you ever get the chance to see the Katsune Miku vocaloid opera ‘The End’, absolutely drop everything else and do so. It was easily one of the most insane things I have ever seen, and I’ve seen my fair share of performative insanity. I say poke. ** Okay. Gosh, I don’t know, I semi-randomly thought I would throw this post out at you today and see what interest it accrues. See you tomorrow.