Museum Rietberg presents the exhibition “Iran – Portrait of a Country” in the Park-Villa Rieter, celebrating the work of the photographer Antoin Sevruguin (1851–1933).

Antoin Sevruguin was born in 1851 to Armenian parents in Iran, he grew up in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Georgia, and later worked in Tehran. Today, we would call him a “Secondo” (an expression used for and by “second-generation” immigrants in Switzerland); for a long time, he referred to himself as a “Russian photographer.” He spoke Persian, Armenian, Georgian, and probably Azeri (a Turkic language) and advertised himself in French as a “photographe artistique,” but he saw himself as an Iranian.

His goal was to make a portrait of his native country that was as comprehensive as possible. His oeuvre included around 7,000 photographs. During his lifetime, his photographs were already being published in European books; he was awarded gold medals in Brussels and Paris and in 1900 raised to the nobility by the shah in 1900. Artists in Iran still relate to him today.

For many international and Iranian experts, however, Antoin Sevruguin is still a “foreigner,” someone who photographed the country and the people with a “foreign eye.” But is that correct? How can we recognize today whether Sevruguin’s photographs are “exotic,” “oriental,” “ethnographic,” or “Iranian”? Moreover, how did his contemporaries regard his photographs?

Today these photographs tell a story from another time, reporting on splendour and misery, of modernity and poverty, of beauty and wildness—moving, alienating, cheering, and astonishing. But the images also teach us that many can be understood only after taking a second or third look.

The exhibition features 63 photographs from the collection of Museum Rietberg and is accompanied by a brochure in German, French and English.




Parkvilla Rieter


CHF 18 / CHF 14 reduced

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Exhibition brochure