Accidents on Purpose: A Policeman’s Portfolio

An active duty policeman in Switzerland for more than 40 years, Arnold Odermatt was also the police photographer for the canton of Nidwalden, one the country’s 26 states. From the 1950s through the ’70s, Odermatt officially documented vehicular accidents on the speeding highways that passed through the region, along with the mishaps that occurred on the sleepy village streets. His pictures are mostly devoid of people, but heavily populated with overturned Mercedes-Benz on picturesque freeways, abandoned Volkswagens on snowy country roads, and crumpled sports cars in serene waterways below bridges.

Assembling a portfolio of unusual pictures that became locally celebrated, the self-taught lens man was discovered by the internationally renowned curator Harald Szeeman and consequently exhibited as a photographer with a sharp eye for formal compositions at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and a year later in a one-person exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Returning to New York for his first solo outing in the city since 2003, the 85-year-old photographer still displays an uncanny view of man’s favorite mode of transportation.

Arnold Odermatt’s photographs are on view at Leo Koenig Inc. Projekte through September 10, while three books of his work, published by Steidl, are available at

Click through below for a gallery of images.

Arnold Odermatt, Hergeswill, 1968 Gelatin silver print 30 x 40 cm (12 x 15 ¾ inches), Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc. Projekte