From 1948 to 1990 Odermatt was employed as a traffic policeman in the Swiss canton of Nidwalden and took hundreds of photographs, mainly of his fellow workers and of the the towns and countryside where he worked and still lives. Surrounded by mountains and a large lake, Nidwalden was a fairly isolated place until 1976, when a major tunnel and bridge were built.
As a result, Odermatt's photographs bear witness to an environment gradually coming to terms over the years with various degrees of encroaching modernity. Roads figure prominently: snowy lanes and wet streets contrast with bright new highways, which appear like fresh scars across valleys and forests, slicing through picturesque village that huddle on the shores of photogenic lakes beneath leaden skies. These scenic detours, however, more often than not lead to the end of the road: a car crash.
Arriving at the scene of an accident, Odermatt would take one set of photographs for the insurance or police reports, and then take another for himself. His reasons for doing so are mysterious, but the results are often strangely beautiful.
Unlike the photographs of, say, Weegee or Mell Kilpatrick, in which stoic cops and horrified bystanders are pictured dealing in different ways with the reality of sudden injury or death, Odermatt empties the image of everything but the forlorn wreck and the landscape in which it came to rest: a crumpled car floats in a glassy lake beneath the Alps; a couple of abandoned shells tenderly touch bumpers on a charming wintry lane; an upturned VW Beetle reclines on the edges of a still river.
Despite the often disturbing evidence of injury, there is something oddly calming, even restorative, about these modest images, most of which are black and white. Odermatt scrutinizes surfaces like a sculptor on a budget; he has a canny eye for maximum visual impact with the most economical means. Denied movement and passengers, cars are reduced to the sum of their material parts; as devoid of horror as a log. Yet despite the crisp elegance of their composition, the pictures make apparent, in the most straightforward way, how life can be at once very strange and very ordinary – and how, by association, death is no different.
– extracted from an article in Frieze Magazine, Issue 73, March 2003. A large series of these photographs were exhibited in Krakow Poland, during Photomonth 2009.