With 490,823 visitors, the Zurich open your eyes photo festival became the most important open-air exhibition in Europe within 6 weeks.

In the heart of the city of Zurich, from 8 September 2023 to 15 October 2023, photographers and scientists presented together a unique communication format. It promotes a new era of understanding the world. The focus is on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Zurich – 15 October 2023  –  At midnight on Sunday 15 October 2023, the open your eyes 2023 festival came to an end. The festival association, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and 49 world-class photographers transformed the city of Zurich into a gallery with images full of magic. 490,823 visitors accepted the invitation to engage with proposals for the development of a more peaceful and just world. 

ETH Polyterrasse, exhibition „CERN – Code of the Universe“: Joël Mesot, President of ETH Zurich, welcomes the international press representatives to the Media Day. © Arnd Wiegmann

Under the patronage of the Swiss Federal Council’s delegate for the 2030 Agenda – represented at the festival opening by Daniel Dubas – ETH Zurich – one of the world’s leading universities – and The Photo Society (TPS) – the association of over 200 National Geographic photographers – designed generous open-air installations. In 17 exhibition islands, they intertwined documentary photography and scientific findings to create a plea for peace, tolerance and a humanistic spirit of coexistence.

Lindenhof: Exhbition „Chris de Bode – I have a Dream“. © Ulrike Schumann

„The exhibited works are testimonials that prove that the connection between people, technology and nature is more than ever of unique social relevance,“ says Lois Lammerhuber, artistic director and mastermind of the festival open your eyes and himself a multiple award-winning photographer. He sees the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a kind of „new 10 commandments of multinational coexistence“.

Church of St. Peter: Artist Talk with photographer George Steinmetz, scientist Alexander Mathys and Claudia Zingerli, Head of ETH Sustainability. © Arnd Wiegmann

„As the head of the SDG Lab in Geneva,“ noted Özge Aydogan, „I often hear and read about the pitfalls of the SDGs: they are too complex, too detailed, the global framework has not only 17 goals but also 231 indicators… etc. Nevertheless, the SDGs are the best sustainable development framework we have so far. To be quite honest, I am not sure we would be able to renegotiate something of similar quality, substance and global support in all regions today, given the current geopolitically fragmented context and zeitgeist.“

Limmatquai: Exhbition „Jennifer Hayes – Two worlds: above and below the sea“. © Pascal Sigrist

With its agenda, the festival open your eyes also tries to point very clearly to the transformation of our world. In the design and implementation of the goals, the importance of people is emphasised as the central force of sustainable development – in the sense of people, earth and welfare. So that what UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed as his fear on 20 September 2023 in New York with regard to the enormous increase in extreme weather events does not become reality: „Mankind has opened the gates to hell“ and described harrowing scenes of farmers who have to watch helplessly as their harvests are washed away by floods, as the occurrence of contagious diseases becomes an ever greater problem due to rising temperatures and as masses of people are forced to flee from historic forest fires.

Münsterhof: exhibition „Dominic Nahr – Organic Cheese from Switzerland“. © Alessandro Della Bella

The photographic works presented are evidence of all this and are not to be understood as illustrations of the SDGs, but as comments and remarks in the sense of Cornell Capa’s „Concerned Photographers“. The Hungarian-American photographer chose this term to describe works that go beyond the documentation of events and show them with a humanitarian impulse. This school of thought is also known as a concept in the context of science: The term „Concerned Scientists“ is used to describe the use of rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems.

Grossmünster: Exhbition „Lonka Project – Rina Castelnuovo & Jim Hollander“ © Arnd Wiegmann

„The fact that people of all ages have engaged with the SDGs at the open your eyes festival over the past few weeks and that they have been inspired to reflect on the urgent global challenges of our time is a great success. I have taken the opportunity several times to walk through this truly moving photo exhibition in Zurich’s old town with colleagues as well as students. Seeing how the festival has captivated even casual visitors has shown me that ETH Zurich’s commitment to the open your eyes festival has been very worthwhile,“ says Günther Dissertori, Rector of ETH Zurich,analysing the past weeks. And he continues: „The festival inspires people to adopt new perspectives and to actively participate in a sustainable future. We would like to build on this success.“

General Guisan Quai: Exhbition „Renée C. Byer – Living on a Dollar a Day“. © Pascal Sigrist

ETH Zurich added around 50 contributions from its own universe of science and innovation to the pictorial works. The projects and solutions selected by ETH for each of the SDGs offer orientation for options for action. In terms of content, this meant making the successes of our civilisation visible. And further, it meant triggering national and international media communication to strengthen the SDGs as a frame of reference for peaceful and just coexistence in a global society. Successful living as the matrix of our existence, because: Without peace, everything is nothing.

General Guisan Quai: Exhbition „Renée C. Byer – Living on a Dollar a Day“. © Alessandro Della Bella

The following scientists collaborated on the festival: Oliver Akeret, Elliott Ash, Kay W. Axhausen, Thomas Baptistal, Kenza Benabderrazik, Thomas Bernauer, George Boateng, Fritz Brugger, Nina Buchmann, Paolo Burlando, Núria Casacuberta Arola, Lars-Erik Cederman, Thibault Demoulin, Catherine De Wolf, Günther Dissertori, Daniel Farinotti, Emmanuel Frossard, Jaboury Ghazoul, Remo Gisi, Marie Griesmar, Verena Griess, Ulrike Grossner, Gianfranco Guidati, Isabel Günther, Stefanie Hellweg, Raphaela Hettlage, Johanna Jacobi, Robert Katzschmann, Anni Kern Chahan, Michael Kropf, Gnanli Landrou, Marlene Mader, Medinat Malefakis, Isabel Z. Martínez, Alexander Mathys, Eva-Marie Meemken, Sacha Menz, Eberhard Morgenroth, Fajer Mushtaq, Mutian Niu, Ulrike Pfreundt, Christian Pohl, Joschka J. Proksik, Lucie Rejman, Jeanine Reutemann, Lukas Riedel, Adina Rom, Tobias Schmidt, Timo Schneider, Simone Schürle, Elisabeth Tilley, Sue Tobler, Michael Stauffacher, Bjarne Steffen, Effy Vayena, Marke E. Zahran and Claudia Zingerli.

Consequently, world-class science met world-class photography in each exhibition. The exhibitions dealt with the human condition in such an intense and easily understandable way that their experience became a highly empathetic international communication benchmark that is unique.

Arboretum: Exhibition „James Balog – A Time Capsule from the Anthropocene“. © Arnd Wiegmann

„The open your eyes festival is a great opportunity to engage intensively with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through strong, emotional and diverse image series. Stop, think, feel and act, that’s what the initiators of this meaningful festival want,“ says Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, art director and general representative of Leica Galleries International, commenting on the festival’s ambitions.

Arboretum: Exhbition „Shana & Robert ParkeHarrison – Reporting the Future“ © Arnd Wiegmann

„Anyone who dares to tackle a world topic like the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a topic that, after all, was negotiated and then decided on for years by the world’s 193 UN states and wants to be a kind of roadmap of humanity’s coexistence for the next decades, is treading on highly political ground,“ says Silvia Lammerhuber, who is a member of the association’s board and the think tank that came up with the creative foundations of the festival. She is joined by Lars Boering, Eric Falt, Walter Köhler, Lois Lammerhuber, Gerd Ludwig, Václav Macek, Karin Ren-Kaufmann, Gilles Steinmann, Fritz Franz Vogel, Claudia Zingerli and Gisela Kayser, who says: „All the participating photographers conveyed the feeling that together we are strong and we bear witness to events and facts that are critical for the survival of humanity, wildlife and nature – without distinction of ethnicity, confession or gender“.

Seebad Enge: Exhbition „Anna Boyiazis – Finding Freedom in the Water“. © Pascal Sigrist

The exhibiting photographers work and act in this spirit: Tsafir Abayov, Ana María Arévalo Gosen, Roger Ballen, James Balog, Alexandra Boulat, Anna Boyiazis, Renée C. Byer, Rina Castelnuovo, Jodi Cobb, Cooper&Gorfer, Chris de Bode, Peter DeJong, David Doubilet, Markus Eisl (eoVision), Miguel Luis Fairbanks, Maryam Firuzi Stuart Franklin, Jerome Gence, Peter Ginter, Esther Haase, Jennifer Hayes, Jim Hollander, Ciril Jazbec, Leong Ka Tai, Bea Bar Kallos, Ziv Koren, Lois Lammerhuber, Gerd Ludwig, Gerald Mansberger (eoVision), Steve McCurry, Peter Menzel, Vera Mercer, Dominic Nahr, Michael Nichols, Randy Olson, Shana & Robert ParkeHarrison, Gilles Peress, Louis Psihoyos, Eli Reed, Alec Soth, George Steinmetz, Brent Stirton, Goran Tomašević, Peter Turnley, Cássio Vasconcellos, Alfred Yaghobzadeh and Patrick Zachmann.

Seebad Enge: Photographer Anna Boyiazis speaks at the Media Day in front of her exhibition „Finding Freedom in the Water“. © Arnd Wiegmann

The Photo Society (TPS), led by Randy Olson and Gerd Ludwig, was also the driving force in demanding the highest quality from CEWE, the printer of the exhibits, which became an essential part of the concept for success. Gerd Ludwig: „The prints are adventurously good. Better than anything I have ever seen at a festival“. And Eugen Brunner, managing director of the Zurich-based company Aroma, which built the exhibitions, added: „Let yourself be enchanted by the fascinating world of photography“. Tobias Meyer, who manages the business for CEWE Switzerland: „Open your eyes was a photo festival of superlatives! World-class photographers, uniquely integrated into the city of Zurich and fantastically curated around the UN’s 17 strategic development goals. We at CEWE are proud to be a partner of open your eyes and to have contributed to the success of the festival by printing the pictures.“

The festival divided the exhibitions into a city route – Polyterrasse, Lindenhof, St. Peter, Münsterhof, Frauenmünster, Limmat, Grossmünster and a lake route that led from the General Guisan Quai through the Arboretum to the lake resort Hafen Enge. Almost four kilometres long, with free admission.

Seebad Enge: Exhibition «Michael Nichols – Wild». © Alessandro Della Bella

Tilmann Schultze, CEO of DPD Switzerland: „The theme is terrifically important for exhibitions anyway, but the real sensation is that all these exhibitions could be placed in the public space of Zurich in such a harmoniously integrating way that in some places you have the feeling that they simply belong here“. 

Boris Pesek, Managing Director of Alnatura Switzerland: „open your eyes is the ideal partner to draw attention to the urgency for sustainable development. Because only what is sustainable can be meaningful for people and the earth. Only together can we shape the world for future generations. And on a personal note, it was simply impressive to walk from Lindenhof to St. Peter’s Church and see the fate of people and nature on a large scale. We would like to thank the festival from the bottom of our hearts for this platform“. 

Seebad Enge: Exhibition «Goran Tomašević – War». © Alessandro Della Bella

On Media Day, 62 journalists from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, theCzech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, the Netherlands, England and the USAcame to witness how the aesthetic magic of the picture narratives transformed the gardens, streets and squares of Zurich into a picture city and turned the public space into a stage set for a total work of art, the significance of which was linked to scientific research results and innovations that affect us all.

The international press has reacted enthusiastically, including NZZ, GEO, Stern, ARD or even Al Jazeera.Thomas Wüthrich, CEO of Zürich Tourism summed up the media response as follows just a few days after the opening at an event: „I enter open your eyes into our media search engine – and the listings never stop“. To be precise, 350 reports on the festival have been published to date, „which represents a media value of CHF 1 million“, says Hansruedi Strasser, president of the non-profit association Open Your Eyes. „Organising this open air photo festival in public space in Zurich was a great challenge – as president of the association, I was correspondingly excited about the effect on the public. Personally, I was deeply impressed by the picture stories on topics that move the world! Pictorial worry lines, pictorial appeals, pictorial guides to solutions. The conversations with visitors were rich in experience. Zurich residents, visitors from other cantons and foreign visitors were similarly moved and impressed. Those who took the time to look at the pictures and the explanations took away an unforgettable impression. The visitor numbers speak for themselves, the open your eyes photo festival has left its mark on the city of Zurich – and it has opened eyes!“

ETH Polyterrasse: Exhibition «CERN – Code of the Universe». © Alessandro Della Bella

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