Photos and photo collections

12 Fotos 01 CH-BAR_E5792_1988-204_637
Source: CH-BAR#E5792#1988-204#637

The photos held by the Swiss Federal Archives are largely a part of the business dossiers created by the administration and therefore not registered as such. The few photographic collections held by the Federal Archives such as those dating from the years of the Second World War, on national defence, development cooperation or homeless people around 1852/1853 are listed separately.

The most important photographic collections held by the Federal Archives

The two series on the deployment of the Swiss army during the First and Second World War count among the largest photographic collections held by the Swiss Federal Archives.

Active service during the First World War is documented in the National Defence fonds (1600-1960). The collection includes photos, slides and glass plates of the General Staff, troop deployment during the general strike, and weapons and exercises (from the period 1880 to 1940). The fonds also contain pictorial reports from the front lines. These photos have been digitised and are accessible via our online search function and on Wikimedia Commons.

Active service during the Second World War is documented in the fonds of the Army Staff: Second World War Photo Collection (1937-1945). These fonds contain more than 33,000 photos and negatives. The digitised photos can only be viewed in the reading room of the Federal Archives. The fonds of the Press and Radio Division (1815-1960) contain censored press photos dating from the time of the Second World War.

The collection of portraits of homeless people that were taken between 1852 and 1853 are the oldest existing police photos in the world. The collection is located in the police authories fonds, series E21#09.1.4. Additional information on the collection is available here.

National defence and the First and Second World War

Numerous photos of weapons and vehicles used for national defence can be found in the fonds of the Defence Technology Division (1875-1967). The fonds of the Swiss Federal Propellant Plant at Wimmis (1896-1967) contain photos of manufacturing processes from the time of the First World War.

There is extensive photographic documentation relating to refugee and crisis aid during the First and Second World Wars. The fonds of the Federal Commission for Internment and Hospitalisation (FCIH) (1938-1950) contain photos of interned military refugees during the Second World War. The fonds of the Swiss relief organisation for the children of emigrés (1860–1986) contain photos of the Russian Campaign (1919-1925), the German Campaign (1860-1925) and the Austrian Campaign (1919-1921). The fonds of the Swiss Red Cross (1863-1994) contain an important photographic collection on refugees cared for by the Red Cross as well as photographic documentation on flood catastrophes in Holland, England, Germany and Austria.

Private archives

Various private archives also contain photos. The private archive of Henri Guisan (1886-1988), for instance, contains photos of the Swiss General from 1939 to 1945. The private archives of Charles Lutz (1935-1970) and Robert Grimm (1893-2000) contain photos of the two famous labour leaders.

Other photographic sources of the Federal Archives

Numerous photos that have not been specifically registered but are sometimes named in the title can be found in the dossiers of various fonds. These photos exist in the form of paper prints, negatives, glass plates and slides.

Tips for further research

  • Website of the Federal State: photos of the current Federal Council and the members of parliament. They are also available from the Federal Chancellery. Tip: search for photos of former members of the Federal Council and parliament in the fonds of the respective departments or in the private archives of the respective members of the authority.
  • Memobase (ger): access to photos that have been digitised as part of the programme for preserving audio-visual cultural heritage initiated by the Memoriav association.
  • photoCH (ger): online portal of the Historical Photography Office in Bern. Information and links to the most important photographic collections of Swiss institutions and to Swiss photographers.
  • Mediatheque Valais (ger): 26,000 digitised photos documenting everyday life in Switzerland over the course of time from various archive fonds, accessible online via Library Network of Western Switzerland (Rero) (french).
  • Federal archives of the cantons (ger): various photographic collections; the collection held by the Cantonal Archives of Basel-Stadt (ger), for instance, is of historical importance.
  • Archives of Contemporary History: a number of photographic collections from the time of the Second World War (mobilisation, active service, wartime economy, frontism, refugees, interned persons, General Guisan, visit by Winston Churchill 1946).
  • Swiss Social Archives: extensive collection of portraits of socialist and social democratic politicians and other figures of contemporary history. Additional photographic collections on the labour movement, factories, workers' housing estates, the general strike, refugees during the Second World War, the socialist youth movement, labour exhibitions, Swiss exhibition for women's labour in 1928 and 1958.
  • Marthe Gosteli Foundation: archive on the history of the feminist movement in Switzerland with a large selection of photos of its representatives in Switzerland.
  • Swiss Photographic Foundation: estates of photographers and photojournalists with a focus on Swiss photography between 1930 and 1950.
  • Bern Foundation for Photography, Film and Video: collection of mainly artistic work held by the Museum of Art in Bern.
  • Photographic Museum Winterthur: focus on photographic art.
  • State archives (ger), Museum of Transport Lucerne, archives and museums of shipping companies, archives of the SBB (ger) and the former Swissair (now Swiss), Aero-Club (ger) and other private associations: old photographic reproductions of trains, aeroplanes and ships.
  • Swiss National Library and other public libraries, archives of print media and publishers (for example Neuen Zürcher Zeitung or Ringier), press photo agencies (for example Keystone): extensive archives with photographic collections on various topics.
  • Fribourg Cantonal and University Library (BCU): almost 50,000 photographs on the canton of Fribourg since the mid-19th century from various archival fonds which have been digitised and made available online, accessible via the “Fonds photographiques fribourgeois” application from BCU Fribourg. 

Related topics

Last modification 05.10.2021

Top of page


Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

+41 58 462 89 89


Opening hours reading room

Tu-Th, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Details and closing times

Print contact


Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

Show map

Print contact