The topographic approach and the photograph collections
While the connection with the Musée enriched the collections with pieces that partly overlap the Bibliothèque’s own collections—the oldest view of Geneva conserved in the collections of the Centre d’iconographie genevoise, a pen-and-ink drawing that can be dated to the 1540s, was purchased by the Musée in 1992—archeology and more importantly architecture are Old Geneva’s strong suit. In 1907, with the advent of the official separation of Church and State, the Saint-Pierre collection was formed, bringing together ground plans and iconographic items from Geneva’s cathedral. The department quickly assembled a body of documents on both the old and the modern city that is without equal, conserved in a picture library that continues to grow. The classification system is completely dominated by the topographical approach common to archeological and architectural studies, and allows users to quickly find items pertaining to a single building and its evolution over time.
In the tradition of Demole’s museum, photography continues to play a central role in the growth of collections. Until the postwar period, the department followed a targeted policy of documenting buildings that were being torn down. Starting in the 1950s, however, acquiring collections that were already formed became the department’s main approach. The collections comprise for the most part stores of documents provided by photographers’ studios, the press, and businesses (portrait photographers, publishers of postcards, newspapers and press agencies). They bear witness to a golden age of photography when the number of active professionals in the city was significant, in particular because of Geneva’s standing internationally in the 1920s. These collections of rare photographs notably include the archives of Genevan photographers, which often have only been partly conserved. The photographers’ names make for an impressive list: Charles Edouard Boesch, Jean-Guillaume Cadoux, Mick Desarzens, Louis Dumas, Charles-Gustave and Pierre-Charles George, the Albert Grivel Studio, Agence Interpresse, the publishers Jaeger and Jullien Frères, Frank-Henri Jullien, André Kern, Max Kettel, Valentine Mallet, Victor-Louis Neri, Jean Netuschil, Le Pool Photos, Jacques Thévoz, Maurice Wassermann, and Joseph Zimmer-Meylan. To their photo archives we can add the rich bodies of work that various businesses amassed, notably Cuénod, Sécheron and the Services industriels de Genève (SIG).