From shooting James Bond milking a Swiss cow to snapping former Swiss president Adolf Ogi standing on his head, Siegfried Kuhn has had an extremely varied career as a press photographer. His new book tells the stories behind the photos that graced Swiss magazines and newspapers for years.
This content was published on October 9, 2022 – 10:00
Thomas Kern was born in Switzerland in 1965. Trained as a photographer in Zürich, he started working as a photojournalist in 1989. He was a founder of the Swiss photographers agency Lookat Photos in 1990. Thomas Kern has won twice a World Press Award and has been awarded several Swiss national scholarships. His work has been widely exhibited and it is represented in various collections.
Bilder und Texte von Siegfried Kuhn, Thomas Kern Bildredaktion
Photographers take pictures. But sometimes they write too – for example, when they provide the photos and the texts for their features, or, like Siegfried Kuhn, they commit their experiences and adventures to paper at the end of their careers.
His recent book, “Siegfried Kuhn Press Photographer 1959-1995”, includes photos, features and other documents, as well as 140 long and short stories that he wrote as the man behind the camera. Kuhn worked for the Swiss publishing house Ringier for 33 years.
The publication is an amazing experience for viewers and readers alike, as well as being a photographic chronicle of an era. It’s also a refreshingly different kind of autobiography that gives an insight into how press photographs are created, and how they make their way into illustrated magazines.
Kuhn recalls his beginnings: “About ten years before I was born, my parents, Alfred and Alice Kuhn-Bodmer, both trained professionals, bought Roman Hohl’s photography business in Lyss. With a mobile studio camera, they began photographing family groups, wedding couples and crying, naked babies on sheepskins in a glass-roofed studio. Everyone lined up to be photographed for portraits, passport photos and mementos in front of a painted background showing the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.”
Dream job: press photographer
He continues: “My mother set me on the path to becoming a press photographer. I had just returned from a trip when she showed me an advertisement posted by A.T.P. Bilderdienst in Zurich in the magazine Photo-Rundschau, the publication which at the time served the Swiss photography industry. The job advert was for a reporter, not in Zurich but in the Bern office. I took immediate action, applied and was hired straight away — with one condition: I should learn to drive as soon as possible.”
“My dream job began prosaically. At the A.T.P. headquarters of in Zurich, my colleagues introduced me to the life of a reporter. Once I was sent out to wander the streets of Zurich to photograph striking and remarkable subjects. Only with hindsight did I realise that I had blindly walked past Hans Krüsi, a painter who later became a friend, at the flower stall.”
James Bond in the cowshed
“While on a big story about James Bond – Roger Moore – in Gstaad, I was unsatisfied with the pictures I had taken and wanted to try something different with this world-famous star. I asked him on the spot if he would let me photograph him milking a cow. Moore’s reaction was astonishing. He didn’t find the idea crazy at all. He even knew how to milk. The only problem was finding a cow and farmer who would cooperate and make it happen in the limited time we had. Moore took mischievous pleasure in surprising us with his milking skills and explained that he had acquired them as a child on his uncle’s farm. I rushed about setting the scene.”
“The farmer Hans Zingre, a former skier, was delighted and thought it would be great to have one of his cows milked by ‘James Bond.’ I drove ahead to get the milking cap, apron and chair ready with Zingre’s help. My wife sat next to Moore in his car to direct him to the farm. It all worked out really well. When they arrived, everything was in place. The actor sat down on the milking stool and started milking, a fly landed on his back and – what a stroke of luck – the cow, Meieli, looked at the camera. Roger Moore grinned, I pressed the shutter release of the camera, and the cover photo for the Schweizer Illustrierte was sorted.”
Siegfried Kuhn was born in 1931 and completed his apprenticeship as a photographer in Lyss from 1947 to 1950. From 1959 to 1962, he worked as a photo reporter for A.T.P. Bilderdienst in the Bern office, and from 1962 to 1995 he worked mainly for the Schweizer Illustrierte. But his photos appeared in over 20 different illustrated magazines, journals and daily newspapers.