Arnold Odermatt – On Duty

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Steerforth introduces the police photography of Arnold Odermatt, which elevates everyday mundanity to the level of art…

One morning I told a colleague that I’d ordered a book of photographs of the Swiss police force. She looked at me as if I was mad and I could see her point. But perhaps if she’d known more about the background to the photos and seen some of the pictures she might have changed her mind.

Arnold Odermatt is an amateur photographer who served with the Swiss Police for 40 years and liked to combine his professional life with his private hobby, taking hundreds of photos, many of which are now widely acknowledged as masterpieces. In 2006 a retrospective was published entitled On Duty (aka Im Dienst aka En Service.)

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There are some superb pictures of Volkswagens that have met an untimely end on Switzerland’s mountainous roads…

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but the most striking photos are the ones that capture the mundanity of daily life.


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Not all of Odermatt’s photos are reportage. Some, like the picture below, were staged as part of a recruitment drive when local elders expressed concern that the young had no interest in joining the police. It is these pictures in particular that have a surreal quality about them.

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Others depict Odermatt reconstructing accident scenes from earlier in his career:

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But Odermatt’s photography isn’t all uniforms and mangled vehicles. Here is a stunning black and white photo that he took in the 1960s.

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On Duty is published by Steidl, it definitely isn’t available from all good bookshops and it costs about £45.

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About Author Profile: Steerforth

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

4 thoughts on “Arnold Odermatt – On Duty

  1. Worm
    February 4, 2015 at 14:10


    February 4, 2015 at 20:05

    Marty Feldman was spot on, with his analysis of Swiss officialdom, the Schweizerdeutsch referee attracting his ire during the England v Germany game.

    Sodding Swiss plod, fascistic kepi covered jobsworths.

    The weather was vile and getting worse on the Mont Blanc Massif so we decided to visit some friends, working at the Leysin International Mountaineering School. This involves crossing the Swiss border, above Vallorcine, on a minor road. The chubby, miserable git of a Swiss border guard took the obligatory fee for using the Swiss motorways (pointless protesting that, in fact, we wouldn\’t be using them) jotted down our registration number and haughtily waved us on. At the bottom of the giddying mountain road, the Route de la Forclaz and with Martigny appearing on the horizon we ran into the road block, manned by heavily armed plod. They told us to step out of the car and open the boot “why” we asked, no nation on earth can ignore a question better than the Swiss. EG, “who’s gold is that then”. The boot, when opened, was packed to the gills with climbing gear, it was bulging. “Purpose of visit” said Swiss plod 1,”windsurfing on lake Leman” said a frustrated junior. That did it, you could taste the bristling, they stripped the car, Two hours later, when the only thing that they had found was junior’s inhaler, they gave up, we had to put stuff back, no apology, no reason given for the search. “F…k you lot” was our parting remark. Later, in Leysin, our friends revealed all, the route was used by drug smugglers, plod, in their infinite wisdom associated smuggling with a German car and male only occupants. “Next time I will wear a frock” said junior.

    Did I tell you about how the Swiss are Europe\’s worst drivers?

    • Brit
      February 6, 2015 at 10:51

      Did I tell you about how the Swiss are Europe\’s worst drivers?

      Really? I’ve not been to Switzerland but I naturally imagine they are very orderly on the roads. I can’t conceive that can be worse than the Italians, say. Do elaborate, Malty.

    February 6, 2015 at 12:29

    Brit, to sample the wayward nature of the citizens of the Confederation Helvetia, visiting the place is unnecessary, take a trip on the Autoroute Blanche from the outskirts of Geneva southwards or, head south on the E35 from Freiburg. Watch in amazement as the supposedly law abiding Swiss drivers, once outwith the confines of their country, will kill for one more place ahead. Makes the French drivers on the Peripherique appear harmless.

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