The second of the great Chamonix photographic dynasties were the Couttets. Michel Couttet was a contempory of Joseph Tairraz and, in the 1850s, opened a souvenir shop in Chamonix, specialising in relief maps and panoramic paintings of the Mont Blanc massif. He experimented with photography and had a small studio at the rear of the shop. Few of his images are known and his output was never in the same league as that of Tairraz. He married Marie-Alexandrine Savioz in 1862, the sister of pioneer Chamonix photographer Eugène Savioz. Around 1870 he entered a photographic partnership with Eugène Savioz.
It was Michel’s sons Adolphe and particularly Auguste (1868 – 1933) who were to develop the photographic side of the business. Auguste learned the trade in Geneva. Not content with merely photographing tourists in his studio or crossing the Mer de Glace, he explored the mountain tops and glaciers around Chamonix, producing dramatic images of the peaks. His work was recognised with a medal at the Paris International Exhibition in 1899. He was an official press photographer for the first Winter Olympic Games, which were held in Chamonix in 1924.
The series of stereoviews of the Ascension of Mont Blanc published on this site are probably from around 1905.
In 1922, his eldest daughter Sylvia married Justin Gay, who joined the family business, which was shortly renamed Gay Couttet Photographers. Gay was a keen skier and his ski photos helped popularise the sport, which was not yet an Olympic discipline. The first ski school in France was only founded in 1933.
By this time the company had become a major publisher of postcards of the region.
Justin Gay’s son Roland Gay-Couttet was to become the finest photographer of the dynasty. In his striking images of the high mountains, climbers are set dramatically on the skyline, or in improbable positions on pinnacles or at the edge of precipices. He often waited hours for the lighting to be just right. They wonderfully convey a sense of the immensity of nature and the insignificance of man.
1880-1980 Gay-Couttet Photographes – Témoins d`un Siècle, Chamonix Mont Blanc