Walter Mittelholzer Revisited

From the Walter Mittelholzer Photo Archive

Foreign places from the air and on the ground: the photography and media activity of the famous Swiss aviator-photographer Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937) revaluated.


Title Information

Kaspar Surber. Edited by Michael Gasser and Nicole Graf

1st edition

, 2017

Text English and German


192 pages, 47 color and 158 b/w illustrations

20 x 26 cm

ISBN 978-3-85881-543-9

Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the Image archive, ETH-Bibliothek, Vol. 6


Walter Mittelholzer (1894–1937) was a pioneering aviator and cofounder of Switzerland’s legendary airline Swissair. From his earliest flights, he was also an avid aerial photographer, and his spectacular views of the Swiss Alps have been popular ever since he began publishing them in the 1920s. Mittelholzer also participated in expeditions to more distant locations, supporting his activities by selling photographs and receiving donations from patrons. Today, the Mittelholzer archive is part of the vast image archive at ETH Bibliothek, the main library at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).

The sixth volume in Scheidegger & Spiess’s Pictorial Worlds series, Walter Mittelholzer Revisited reproduces two hundred of the most striking and historically significant photographs from the archive. Together, the photographs document Mittelholzer’s extensive travels, including trips to what is today Iran, Ethiopia, and the Svalbard Islands of northern Norway, as well as his 1926–7 trip to Africa on the seaplane Switzerland, which made Mittelholzer a household name both in aviation and photography. Rounding out the book is an essay that revisits Mittelholzer’s activities from a contemporary perspective, with a focus on the issue of colonialism and his patronizing view of Africa and its peoples and cultures. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of photography.


Also available in the series Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the Image Archive, ETH-Bibliothek:

The World in Pocket-size Format

Swissair Souvenirs

Science in Sight

Swissair Aerial Photographs

Photo Mosaic Switzerland

Authors & Editors

Michael Gasser

 is head of the archives at ETH-Bibliothek in Zürich.

Nicole Graf

 is head of the Image Archive, ETH-Bibliothek in Zürich.

Kaspar Surber

 is a scholar of history and an editor with Zurich-based weekly newspaper Wochenzeitung WOZ.


„Mittelholzer‘s sometimes controversial images offer an unparalleled aerial perspective on the Middle East and Africa in the early 20th century.“ Francesca Street, CNN Travel

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Airfield in Addis Ababa, 1934

The participants of the north—south flight across Africa: René Gouzy, Arnold Heim, Walter Mittelholzer, Hans Hartmann, 1926/27

Dornier Merkur, CH-171 “Switzerland” before the flight to Africa, ca. 1926

The peninsula with Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, 1925

Entrance to the citadel of Aleppo, 1925. The citadel is one of the oldest fortresses in the world; its origins can be traced back to the 3rd millennium B.C. The ongoing Syrian Civil War has left it badly damaged.

Four-day visit to the ancient, rock-hewn city of Petra, 1934. Petra was rediscovered for the Europeans by the Basel adventurer Jean Louis Burckhardt in 1812. Mittelholzer often followed the routes taken by earlier explorers of Asia and Africa and saw his own “expeditions” as continuing their tradition.

The plateau of Mokattam near Cairo, 1930. The balloonist Eduard Spelterini also photographed this landscape from the air during his 1904 expedition to Egypt.

The Pyramids of Giza with the Sphinx and tourists, 1930. The archaeological excavations there began with Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798.

Mittelholzer relaxing in a deckchair, 1930. The camp was not lacking in luxury. Each member of the party had a private bathroom behind his tent.

Refueling stop at Mongalla, Sudan, 1930. Oil and gasoline were supplied to the various way stations by the Anglo-Dutch company Shell.

Mittelholzer always flew with a copilot so that he could take photographs while in the air. Here, he himself is at the controls. Seated in the cabin alongside the oil drums are the mechanic Werner Wegmann and the expedition organizer Georg Wood, 1930/31.

On his Kilimanjaro flight Mittelholzer flew over both Mount Kibo (this image) and Mount Kenya, Africa’s highest peaks, 1930.

Berbers at a cattle market in the High Atlas, 1930/31

From Colomb-Béchar and Béni Abbès in the northern Sahara into the vast expanse of the desert, 1930/31 and 1932

A wider selection of press images can be downloaded directly at Image Archive, ETH-Bibliothek:


All images printed must come with respective picture credit and may only be published in connection with a book review.


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