Federal Councillor Rudolf Minger before making his speech at Bern’s riding school in November 1940.
Swiss National Museum / ASL

Federal Councillor’s public appearance

There was a time before mobile phones, a time when press photographers were the eyes of an entire nation. Many of the images they captured are now forgotten. For example, Federal Councillor Rudolf Minger’s appearance at Bern’s Reithalle riding arena in November 1940.

Aaron Estermann

Aaron Estermann

Aaron Estermann studied history, media studies and visual communication, and is curator for historical photography at the Swiss National Museum.

Clear the stage for Federal Councillor Minger: on Saturday 30 November 1940, Rudolf Minger, in his capacity as the first Federal Councillor from the Party of Farmers, Traders and Independents (Bauern-, Gewerbe- und Bürgerpartei, now the SVP), addressed an audience in the main hall of Bern’s riding school. Peeking from behind a pillar, we view him side-on from behind.

During his speech, the camera captures a seemingly calm moment. It is a moment of preparation, of weighing up – or perhaps a moment of pausing, of waiting for a reaction. No frantic gestures, no face contorted by rhetoric – and yet the photo conveys a certain tension, a frozen moment of concentration.

Federal Councillor Rudolf Minger made a speech at the Bern riding school on 30 November 1940.
Swiss National Museum / ASL

Through the eyes of the press photographer, we also see what the audience only partially glimpses: the speaker’s immediate surrounds. The head of the Military Department is standing between two pillars, behind the wooden balustrade of a gallery decorated along the front with conifer twigs. Looking at the image, with the two microphones positioned at some distance in front of the speaker, we can almost hear a sound, that characteristic, rustling sound of historic recordings. Two boxes have been piled up to create a makeshift lectern, and as a result, the Biel firm Gebrüder Schnyder has found its way into this historic document. At the time, the soap and detergent manufacturer had already been around ‘for over 100 years’. The family firm would remain in business until the late 1980s.

To the left of Federal Councillor Minger stands an empty chair. It’s not the only empty space that draws the eye. In the dark cavern of the hall stands the audience; a few faces can be dimly made out as specks of brightness in the gloom. When Rudolf Minger urged this crowd to support the introduction of compulsory military training for able-bodied 16 to 19-year-olds, we can only guess at the reactions of the audience. A day later, however, on the referendum Sunday, the verdict was clear: 55.7% of voters opposed the bill – in the middle of the Second War, and much to Minger’s disappointment.

The press photo agency ASL

Actualités Suisses Lausanne (ASL) was founded by Roland Schlaefli in 1954, and until its closure in 1999 was the leading press photo agency in western Switzerland. In 1973, Schlaefli also took over the archive of Agentur Presse Diffusion Lausanne (PDL), founded in 1937. The holdings of the two agencies comprise approximately six million images (negatives, prints, slides). In the broad range of subjects covered, there is a focus on federal politics, sport and western Switzerland. The agency opted not to take the step into the digital age. Since 2007, the archives of ASL and PDL have been held by the Swiss National Museum. The blog presents, in a loose chronology, images and photo sequences that particularly stood out when the collections were being recatalogued.

Federal Councillor Minger’s speech in the Bern riding arena, from the perspective of the audience.
Swiss National Museum / ASL

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