“Genevan imagery has its palace,” ran the headline in May 1993, when the Journal de Genève hailed the inauguration of the Centre d’iconographie genevoise (now the Centre d’iconographie). The building, bringing together under one roof the picture collections of the Musée and the Bibliothèque respectively, was located at the head of a new construction (Jacques Schaer, architect) raised by the City of Geneva along Boulevard du Pont-d’Arve. Yet physically uniting these groups of visual documents in one place did not entail an immediate fusion of administrations as well; that only came about in 2008 and the two Genevan documentary picture collections became the sole responsibility of the Bibliothèque de Genève. This simplification of the system for managing the collections did not require their reorganization since the Centre d’iconographie did not inherit the collections of folk and art objects, and was free of the continual upkeep of an exhibition venue.
A more rational management of the city’s collections of documentary images is all the more necessary today in that the study, treatment, cataloguing, and digitizing of these images now take place on a much different scale and mobilize significant human and material resources. Since the close of the 20th century, the Centre d’iconographie, like most institutions of this kind, has found itself confronting a massive influx of photographs that has only increased over the past few years. The interest of these images documenting the history of the city is beyond dispute. Their very widespread circulation in publications says as much. Nevertheless, managing these vast quantities of incoming images – they number in the dozens, even hundreds of thousands of individual pictures per year, mostly conserved on fragile supports, and often in color – treating them, and making them available to the public is a major challenge for the institution. Since 2008 alone, the Centre d’iconographie has seen its stores of photographs swell with the collections of César Bergholz, the Boissonnas studio, Freddy Bertrand, the Coloris studio, Christian Murat, Donald Stämpfli, Gertrude Trepper, and Daniel Winteregg, and the archives of the Journal de Genève, Nouveau Quotidien and La Suisse. Only a few of those collections contain digital images, a medium that remains quantitatively in its earliest stages in the Centre d’iconographie collections.
These acquisitions have strongly reinforced the character of the Centre d’iconographie as a visual archive. The collections of businesses and photographers have considerably expanded the notion of Genevan iconography, which has been crucial in its collections to date. With globalization, the special relationship of local photographers with their native country has slackened at a time when the photographic eye is often focused on distant things. Conserving the collection of a Genevan photographer today means taking in images from around the world. It is a phenomenon of internationalization, which was already on display in the work of Frédéric Boissonnas (1858-1946), who brought into the collections remarkable images shot in the Balkans, Greece, and North Africa.