Jacques Naegeli

Jacques Naegeli was born in Altnau by Lake Constance on February 19, 1885, son of Maximilian Jakob and Emma Naegeli-Widmer. Interested in photography early on, he made his apprenticeship with photographer Wegmann in Romanshorn. Subsequently he worked with portrait photographer Beerli in Olten (1905). In order to learn French he took a job with A. Werner in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Later Naegeli spent two years working in a photography atelier in Tunis. His work as a photographer lead him to spend time in Pau, Orléans, Lourdes, London and Ireland.

In 1912 Naegeli returned to Switzerland where he spent the winter working for Walter Nehrkorn in Grindelwald. It’s there that he met his future wife, Anna Bütschi, from Reutigen. During this time he was contacted by Arnold Perrot, a well-known distributor of photography hardware in Biel. Perrot convinced Naegeli to consider Gstaad as the perfect location to open his own business.

Following Perrot’s suggestion, Naegeli relocated and headed the Gstaad branch of Cabinet Photo P. Braun (Bürgenstock). With the Gstaad Palace in the midst of construction, it seemed an ideal moment to take a chance and open his very own business. With the help of his mother, Naegeli purchased a piece of land from hotelier Adolf von Siebenthal (Hotel Bernerhof) and built his house atop a photo shop and studio.

“Photo Suisse” was born and later renamed “Photo-Haus J. Naegeli”. Just two days after opening “Photo Suisse”, the First World War broke out, forcing Naegeli to hand his house keys off at the Hotel Bernerhof and leave for military service. For five months he was stationed in the Canton of Grisons during the border occupation. In 1917 Jacques Naegeli and Anna Bütschi married in the town of Spiez. They welcomed two daughters, Anna (1917) and Gertrud (1919).

After the First World War, Naegeli acquired modern 35mm film equipment complete with cameras, developing machine, copy machine and projector at the technical fair in Leipzig. The laundry room got converted into a film lab and he hired a technician to teach him how to use all the new toys in his own lab.

In 1920 he shot his first film “Die Besteigung des Geltenhorns” (Climb to the top of the Geltenhorn). Later he teamed up with Ferdinand Wehren to create a film project about the Gastlosen mountains. The shoot got interrupted as tragedy hit. In 1923 Wehren together with Christian von Grünigen got killed in the infamous Gordon Bennett hot air balloon race in Brussels, when lightning struck their balloon and they crashed. The Gastlosen film never got finished.

Wanderlust grabbed Naegeli time and again. In 1929, with friend and baker, Adolf von Siebenthal, Naegeli took off for Tunisia. In 1931 he traveled to Sicily, Palestine, Egypt, Athens, Korfu as well as Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey. Catching travel fever yet again in September of 1933, he journeyed aboard the “Europa” to America. During his two-month American tour, he visited New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago and Detroit.

Naegeli’s passion for film prompted him to undertake more film projects. He created “Winter in Gstaad” and “Summer in Gstaad”. Both of these promotional films were shown at the National Exhibition (Landesausstellung) in 1939 in Zurich.

Naegeli dreamed of exploring Africa and extensively planned for such a journey. In 1938, before the onset of World War Two, he set sail for a three-month adventure to Africa, fulfilling his dream. The photo safari lead him up the Nile from Egypt, through the Sudan, then to Tanganyika and Kenya.

In 1939, daughter Anna began a job in a Basel photography business. But the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted her career plans. Her boss sent her back home where she worked around the house, garden and shop. Her sister Gertrud completed her own apprenticeship with portrait and architecture photographer, Franz Henn, in Bern. During the war Gertrud worked in her parents’ business, mostly in the lab and atelier. During off-season she was in charge of postcard publishing.

There was much work in Gstaad. It was home to the military’s 1st Division. Many foreign guests dwelled in the village, including prominent and famous people unable to leave Switzerland. They all frequented the store in order to view photos and films and to shop for things photography and many times just to say hello.

In 1941 Naegeli published his first book entitled “Sudan, eine Bilder-Reportage vom Mittelmeer zum Viktoriasee und an den Indischen Ozean” (Sudan, a pictorial journey from the Mediterranean to Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean). In 1943 he attempted a second book “Mein Saanenland”, but sadly it didn’t make it to print.

Thanks to the Sudan book, zoology student Charles Albert Walter Guggisberg took notice and trecked up to Gstaad in order to meet Naegeli in person. As of 1947 Guggisberg had conducted studies on the spread of diseases through insects at the Medical Research Laboratory in Nairobi. Together, Naegeli and Guggisberg undertook three more trips to Africa in 1949, 1951 and 1954. During that time Naegeli made the films “Auf Safari zum Naivashasee” (On Safari to Lake Naivasha) and “Beim Grosswild in Afrika” (Visiting Large Game in Africa).

During Naegeli’s absences, his wife and later his daughters took care of the shop and business. It was thanks to them that Naegeli was able to take off on his extended travels and mountain treks. One of Naegeli’s first employees was Otto Wyrsch. Later the extraordinarily talented photographer Franz Albert Fäh joined Naegeli’s team and loyally worked for him for twenty-five years. At Naegeli’s retirement in 1956, Fäh took over the business.

Naegeli nurtured his passion for photography for many years into his retirement and was a very active member of his community. In many clubs such as the Swiss Nature Preservation Society, the local community club, the Swiss Photographers Society, the Swiss Alpine Club (Oldenhorn section), the men’s choir and the ski club. He truly helped shape Gstaad and the region into what it is today.

“My religion is to be in nature” summed up Naegeli’s philosophy. Right up into his old age, he loved to be up in the mountains, towards the end using lightweight binoculars to view wildlife. On May 23, 1971 Naegeli passed away just a few months after his wife Anna’s death (August 26, 1970).

© 2024 Suzanne Potterat & Christian Högl