Book Review – The Magic Eye

Ulka ChauhanBook Reviews 8 Comments

In a world of instant image sharing, the slow art of photo dissemination through books is enjoying a renaissance of its own. 

I spent a good half of 2020 photographing in Zurich on a daily basis.  During this time, I also visited several photo exhibitions at museums and galleries like the Fotomuseum in Winterthur, the Museum für Gestaltung, Künsthaus, Photobastei and Bildhalle.  On each occasion, what I found as alluring as the exhibit itself, was the book shop at the end.  The tactile experience of engaging with photobooks in the real world is so much more gratifying than clicking through images in the virtual world.  And so began my love for photobooks and my growing collection of them.

Photobooks are a valuable source of inspiration to help develop our photographic practice.  Looking at photobooks helps not only evolve our own visual language but also helps deepen our understanding on how to build a visual narrative.  It is a photographer’s primary vehicle for long form storytelling.  The sequencing, layout and combination of images and text add layers of complexity and meaning to a body of work.

But with the vast number of photobooks on the market and their not so wallet friendly prices, the process of building a collection can be quite overwhelming.

With this Book Review series, I wish to periodically review photo books from various realms like street, documentary, fine art and beyond.  While also inviting you to write in and share your thoughts and stories of some of your personal favourites.

As a start, I would like to feature a book from one of my favourite photographers, René Groebli.

My search for photobooks from Swiss photographers took me to Bildhalle gallery right before the December lockdown.  It was there that I discovered this master photographer from Zurich and his book titled The Magic Eye.

Born in Zurich in 1927, René Groebli already scaled the Olympus of photographic history with his early work.  The Magic Eye is the first ever presentation of pictures spanning over a half-century of his work.

Daniel Blochwitz, Curator of Photography, René Groebli – The Magic Eye

René Groebli with his Rolliflex, Davos 1947

The gallerist who recommended the book told me that he is currently in his 90s, loves visiting the gallery, at times dressed in his favourite colours purple and green.  I was intrigued.  I took a quick look through the pages and knew right away that I had to have it.

What I love about his work is the romantic lyricism in his images.  Whether it’s a photo of a foggy bombed out London or a quiet Parisian street corner; whether it’s pictures of his beloved wife Rita or that of dancer at Corso in Zurich… there is a classic elegance in his visual language. 

Rail Magic, 1949
Lonely street with car, London, 1949
Rue de Médéah, Paris, 1949
The Eye of Love, Sitting Nude, Paris 1952
Indian dancer from the group Ram Gopal, Corso Zurich, 1948

His use of movement in some of his works comes through in the blurring fuzziness and an aesthetic with a distinct forward drive.  It is said that he made the grain dance.   

He is an artist who never bowed to trends or the artistic zeitgeist; he spent over six decades in single-minded pursuit of images that both jog visual assumptions and chart new territory.

Daniel Blochwitz, Curator of Photography

What resonates with me the most about his style is that whether he captures a still and silent moment or the gentle rhythms of motion, he does it with distinct grace and poise.  His oeuvre goes above and beyond boundaries, transcending across various genres.  Groebli’s work is timeless and of all the books in my collection, it is one that I visit time and again.

Dance with Glass, London, 1953


Comments 8

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  1. Thanks for this blog. I love photo books. One of my favorites is one about street photography in Paris, with older pictures. It is quite possible that René Groebli’s book will be my next one.

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      Thank you Daniel! Would love to know more about the book. Maybe we could review it together here. And yes, do check this one out. At Bildhalle in case you are based in Zurich. They have the most amazing photo book selection.

  2. I enjoyed discovering this beautiful photographer through your review Ulka and look forward to more of these. I’ve been peering at The Eye of Love text, trying to read it.. I guess will have to wait till I manage to ge my hands on this book!

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  3. I run the photography books and theory group on Facebook and I’m going to share this review there because it is absolutely fantastic. I’m also going to be seeking out a copy of this book because it is right up my street!

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