About photoCH

photoCH is a scientific online work that documents historical photography in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. It focuses on individuals and organisations whose activities in the field of photography can be traced from its emergence around 1839 to the present day. These include photographers, collectors, academics, curators, and other professional groups, as well as institutions and associations. The information on individuals and organisations is supplemented with data on exhibitions and literature as well as on memorial institutions that publicly display information on their photographic holdings.
In the meantime, photoCH also makes digitally available photographs from a whole range of photographers from various institutions accessible.


Büro für Fotografiegeschichte Bern
Optingenstrasse 54, 3013 Bern
Tel: +41 79 408 63 92


photoCH currently contains data on over 21,000 individuals and organisations, over 200 memorial institutions with around 2,300 collections, 24,000 exhibitions, 26,000 publications, and 35,000 digitally available photographs.

Important projects for the nationwide coverage of the data were:

  • Updating the inventory data in collaboration with Memoriav (2011 to 2013)
  • KBK project - completing the data on photoCH in collaboration with the cantons and municipalities as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein (2016 to 2018)

The data is updated and supplemented on an ongoing basis.
Currently, the personal and inventory data from the basic work «L'objectif subjectif. Collections de photographies ethno-historiques en Suisse. Das subjektive Objektiv. Sammlungen historisch-ethnographischer Photographien in der Schweiz» of the Swiss Ethnological Society is currently being incorporated into photoCH and made available to the public wherever possible.

Inclusion criteria and coverage

photoCH documents Swiss photography according to the Helvetica principle. Individuals, companies, groups, associations, or societies are included if they were either born or founded in Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein, or are or were active in Switzerland. Also included are persons and organisations that deal with Swiss topics, as well as sources that deal with such topics or are domiciled in Swiss institutions.

Persons, organisations, and institutions are also included in the encyclopaedia on the basis of at least one of the following criteria:

  • professional training and activity or the commercial practice of photography
  • aesthetic relevance of the photographs
  • documentary significance of the photographs within socio-cultural or economic contexts

photoCH covers the period from the emergence of photography (around 1840) to the present day. The inclusion of contemporary photographers is based on demonstrable public activity and resonance. Other persons or organisations working in the fields of collecting, science, mediation, etc., are also included. Other individuals or organisations who have carried out fundamental work in the field of photography or its history are also included.

photoCH - versions

The first pilot version of fotoBE, focussing on the canton of Bern, went online in 2005. In 2010, photoCH 1.0 (www.foto-ch.ch) appeared as the first version with coverage for the whole of Switzerland. Six years later, photoCH 2.0 (de.foto-ch.ch) was created as a pilot version, which included a photo portal as well as new search options. These two versions were online until the end of 2023.

Extensions and new versions of the database and online presence as part of photoCH 3.0 were primarily for internal development and testing purposes and were not made public. The general overhaul of the database and front end in 2022 and 2023 will ultimately form the basis for the photoCH 4.0 version, which goes online at the end of 2023. Over the next few years, this version will be successively expanded from a reference work to a comprehensive information platform that will include the following parts and services:

  • Edited microsites on nationally significant photographers
  • Dictionary of photographic and phototechnical terms
  • A collection of reports on various photographers
  • Dossiers on photo-historical topics (e.g., exhibitions, photo books, etc.)
  • Swiss photographic history online
  • Edition on non-European photographs in Swiss memory institutions
  • Apps with animated city tours
  • Timeline
  • etc.


photoCH is part of a network at the intersection of science and historical photography. We cultivate corporations and contacts with partner institutions and exchange content with other databases and information resources. We thus offer direct access to selected offers from recognised institutions working in the fields of science and documentation. Our direct network includes the following institutions:


The national coverage of photoCH takes into account not only the different cultural areas of Switzerland but also the national languages. In accordance with the territorial principle, entries on persons and institutions are kept in the applicable languages or idioms. Translations into the national languages and English are available or planned for a selection of internationally and nationally significant content. The user interface takes into account German, French, Italian, Romansh (Rumantsch Grischun), and English.

Data protection

The traceability of Swiss photographic history, which is the purpose of photoCH, is essentially based on the availability of personal data, which we handle in accordance with the principles laid down by Swiss data protection law.

We collect statistical data on the use of photoCH using the tracking tool Matomo. This collects information about the operating system, the browser used, the IP address, the approximate localisation of the same, the last website visited (referrer URL), and the date and time of the visit to our website. The data is used by us for quality and frequency control and to optimise our services. Identification of users is excluded.

If someone wishes to avoid the recording of usage data, this can be achieved by blocking cookies using the appropriate settings in the browser.

Determination and documentation of image rights

The misuse of image material on photoCH is excluded. As part of our documentation work we support all those who endeavour to identify image rights. In the case of image rights enquiries that we receive we do our utmost to clarify the legal situation and document it in photoCH with the authors concerned. This includes establishing the exact date of the limitation period (70 years after the death of the person concerned). If this cannot be determined is not yet given and the rights holders are not known we will try to locate them and ask them to contact the enquirers.

Rights and guidelines for the third-party use of data from photoCH

The content provided by the Bern Bureau of the History of Photography is available for personal use in accordance with the rules of academic work (see citation guidelines) as well as for academic and general use in accordance with the following rules.
- Life and environment data on the photographers as well as data on their places and times of work are in the public domain.
- Biographies (careers and descriptions of work) are subject to the conditions of the licence CC-BY-Share-Alike-2.0
- Metadata and information on institutions and holdings are in the public domain.
- Editorial descriptions and texts on the institutions and collections are subject to the conditions of the CC-BY-Share-Alike-2.0 licence.
- Data from the areas of exhibitions and literature are in the public domain.
- Photographs are subject to the noted licence conditions.


For the time being our old API can be used to integrate data into third-party online works.

Citation and linking of content

The contents of photoCH can be cited according to the following citation suggestions.
Name of the author(s) (if available) name of the person or title of the article in question in: photoCH URL: version of the last editing date query date.
The URL of the content on photoCH is persistent.

Feedback on articles

The editors of photoCH are happy to receive feedback with the relevant details and – if available – references to sources and literature.