At the onset of the 21st century, Rolf Wolfensberger, head of the Museum of Communication’s photographic collection—which include a collection on the history of the Post Office—worried about the latter subject’s lack of
recent public exposure. He commissioned Jean-Luc Cramatte for a minor project in the matter, which the latter began in black-and-white. Quite rapidly, Cramatte switched over to color, impressed with the multi-hued reality of the postal realm, and got so caught up in the subject that the project ballooned. With financial backing guaranteed by Christophe Brandt, director of the Swiss Institute for the Conservation of Photography (ISCP) in Neuchâtel, a full-blown project could come into being.
Post offices in Switzerland, with their standardized and enduring furnishings, are a model of order, precision and efficiency. As such, they are emblematic of the public service and its continuity, despite the threat to the latter posed by a restructuring project begun in 2001. The administrative realm held special appeal for the photographer, who used this series to reveal the ordinariness of the sites, without ever directly presenting those who occupy them. Yet their presence is constantly intimated through personal objects and furnishings that butt into the monotony and coldness of the surroundings. Distinctive local features counter the system’s homogeneity and anonymity. Cramatte drew up a photographic inventory of over 150 post offices in French-speaking Switzerland, from the Jura Mts. to the canton of Valais, focusing mainly on the counters and the employees’ workplaces. Further still, his images capture the gradual changes in post office facilities in the ’90s: certain objects (scales, desk-blotters, telephone books, etc.) disappear, while everywhere their digital replacements spring to eye. Cramatte inventoried all these objects and workplaces with the perseverance of an archaeologist; he carried out his vast cataloguing without any formal green light from the firm, which sought above all to project a monolithic image.