Arnold Odermatt, police photographer whose images of wrecked cars have been rediscovered as works of art – obituary


This led to an exhibition at the police headquarters in Frankfurt during the city’s annual book fair. Their impact was such that they were then presented at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and at the Armory Show in New York the following year. Many other international exhibitions followed and on the occasion of his 90th birthday in 2015, Odermatt published a selection of his photographs, Karambolage (“Smash-up”).

Son of the chief forester of the canton of Nidwalden, Arnold Odermatt was born in Oberdorf, near Basel, on May 25, 1925. He obtained his first camera at the age of eight by winning a card-collecting contest organized by a soap factory ; he made money for the Kodak movie he needed by performing magic tricks for local children.

Young Arnold still didn’t know how the camera worked, and the first time he used it, he kept opening his back after each frame to see if the frame was there. The man to whom he brought the film – on display – to develop said he had never seen one so dark.

His model as a photographer was Werner Bischof, whom he once met while on duty at Bürgenstock Mountain, a tourist attraction on the shores of Lake Lucerne. The Magnum photographer was there hoping to photograph Charlie Chaplin, who lived in Switzerland.

As it happened, Odermatt himself photographed Chaplin there, and in the 1950s he was chosen to guide Konrad Adenauer, the West German Chancellor, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, on their visit.

He also met Audrey Hepburn on her honeymoon and saw Sean Connery partying while Goldfinger was filmed in the country.

He notably recalled the day when filmmaker Carlo Ponti walked into Stans police station worried about not catching up to a narrow road with his wide car facing oncoming traffic.

On his motorbike, Odermatt duly escorted Ponti to the top. There, Mrs. Ponti – Sophia Loren – put her cheek out the window. “But I didn’t dare kiss Sophia Loren,” he said.

Lately, Arnold Odermatt suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. His wife Dorli (Dorothee) died before him and he is survived by their son and daughter.

Arnold Odermatt, born May 25, 1925, died June 19, 2021

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