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To You I Follow: An unknown British couple’s journey through Switzerland in 1935

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In the beginning, this project started as something of mere curiosity. But it has evolved into photo a series documenting the searching for the identity of an anonymous British couple who travelled to Switzerland in the autumn of 1935. Who are they? Where are they from? I have little information; all I have is a photo album of their journey that I bought at an auction for under £10.

Above: Grindelwald in the Berner Oberland in 1935 and, below, in 2010. See Hotel Gletschergaten, Grindelwald

Leafing through the pages of the album for the first time, I realised there was something more to this than just a record of someone’s holiday. The images are of various towns, cities, and mountain passes, with captions outlining the location to indicate where they were taken, together with dates. Finally and most significant of all, when reaching the back of the album, there is a neatly folded piece of paper stuck to the back page. Delicately unfolding the paper reveals a map of the entire country with various routes shaded in different coloured pencil that all seem to begin at the city of Luzern.

It was a case of flicking back and forth from the map to the images were it was possible to match photos with each particular route. Notable places that featured in the album where the Rhone Valley, Grindelwald and around Lake Lucerne. Effectively, what I had in front of me was the complete guide to their journey, outlining the exact roads they travelled from various towns and cities and their routes over the Alps.

So many questions remain unanswered because there is little to reveal their identity. At best, there are faint clues scattered here and there in the pages of the album. Even so, I had the feeling that there was something more to this, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Some aspects of the album were highly detailed, while others were vague.

The question remained in my mind. Would it be possible to find the scenes that feature in the album by travelling the route that the couple followed around Switzerland? Would I be able to recognise the same locations even if certain aspects had changed? In the seventy or so intervening years, I had to expect changes in scenery, making it difficult to recognise now

There was only one way to pursue this question: to fly to Switzerland on a quest to seek out the scenes presented in the album.

Since purchasing the album twelve years ago, I have made three trips to Switzerland (2009, 2010, 2015) to follow the exact journey the couple made in 1935, photographing the same places on the same dates depicted in their album. The idea was to mirror their journey as a means to unearthing something, revealing some aspect of who they are. I was to return to repeat the journey in 2020, but unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I wasn’t able to make it.

Travelling to Switzerland in 2010, I recorded the day-to-day events of my trip in a diary along the way. Appealing as the photographs are and what has subsequently changed in the scenes many decades later remains only the tip of the iceberg. Events unfolded on that trip that I could not have imagined. This project is constantly evolving far beyond what I could have envisaged. The journal of my own trip in 2010 highlights the various coincidences and chance encounters that kept me intrigued about who these people were and why I needed to follow them.

The documentary below, “To You I Follow”, was created by filmmaker Tijmen Veldhuizen and produced by Abbas Nokhasteh of Openvizor. It presents the story of the 2010 journey tracing the route followed 75 years earlier, in 1935. It reveals the events that unfold during that trip.

Retracing the couples’ journey highlights many differences, from climate change to land-use and social progress, and the piece invites the observer to examine key processes in our ever increasingly anthropogenic landscape.

If you enjoyed this article, read about William Fagan’s Swiss Roll mystery that captured the attention of the world’s media in December 2020.

Do you recognise any of the people in these photographs? Contact info@macfilos.com if you can help

Visit David Killeen’s website


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks David. It is good to see your article up here at last. I hope that you eventually find out who this mystery couple are. I’m still trying to identify ‘my couple’. When Covid is over or under control, we must meet up in town some day to compare notes.

    William

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