René Groebli (b 1927) is a Swiss street photographer with a romantic bent. Like many well known photographers of the time, he worked for Life, Picture Post and other popular publications in the 1950s and 1960s. But while his peers focussed on the gritty aspect of people’s lives with unflinching realism, Groebli’s lens depicted the softer side of the everyday. His first book of photos, Magie der Schiene (The Magic of Rail) published when he was just 22, show that from the beginning of his career, Groebli’s portraits have an otherworldly quality, which makes the subjects seem like imagined characters in a story rather than the actual railway workers or passengers he was photographing.
His eye goes for texture and shape, he tries to evoke rather than describe his subjects; and the filter is a rosy one (even in black and white!). Nowhere is this more evident than in the small book Das Auge der Liebe (The Eye of Love) which documents his own honeymoon in Paris in 1954. In our room this week, we’ve featured a photo taken from the book. It shows his new wife insouciantly taking off her clothes on a hotel room bed. Groebli explains “I tried to convey the typical atmosphere of French hotel rooms. There were so many impressions: the poor-looking furniture in a cheap hotel, the word ‘Amors’ embroidered on the curtains. And I was in love with the girl, the girl who was my wife. I think a series of photographs should be compared with a novel or even a poem rather than a painting: let us tell something!”