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Laurence Bonvin

Laurence Bonvin grew up in Crans-Montana, at the heart of the Swiss Alps, and admits that as a child, she was struck by the way development projects were superimposed over her village’s natural surroundings. This confluence between urban infrastructure and landscape turned out to be decisive for her later photographic work. Laurence Bonvin studied at the ENSP, École nationale de la photographie in Arles before returning to Switzerland and beginning her own artistic practice.

In her first series Peripheral Landscapes (1992-93), Bonvin concentrated on peripheral spaces defined in contrast with the centre. What caught her eye was their transformation, which proceeded more dynamically on the edges of urban agglomerations. The suburbs of Geneva soon gave way to those of true metropolises like Berlin, Johannesburg and Istanbul. In the spirit of works by Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, the Swiss photographer documented fallow urban spaces, seeking to visually translate—through shots of local architecture, outdoor developments and sometimes everyday human activities—sensitive themes like urban sprawl, social segregation, formal standardisation and homogenisation (On the Edges of Paradise, 2006) or the implementation of urban architecture to the detriment of the natural landscape (Istanbul Peripheral 2).

If her photography is meant to “raise questions that the viewer is free to answer”, it is both documentary and poetic. Armed with her lightweight camera, Bonvin usually works in a furtive, discreet, almost instantaneous way with a strong attention to the formal aspect of her images. Her initial concept is exposed to the unexpected, to the multiplicity of viewpoints, to chance, in an effort to “capture the event, as small as it might be”. This is what distances her work from conceptual photography and brings it closer to what she classifies as the “photographic essay”.

Since 2001, Laurence Bonvin has been teaching photography at the ECAL, École cantonale d’art de Lausanne. She lives and works in Berlin and Geneva.