Jean Mohr was born in Geneva on 13 September 1925, the third child of a family of six. The son of German immigrants who came to Switzerland in 1919, his father applied for Swiss citizenship as a reaction against Hitler, and the family became Swiss citizens in 1939. Jean rejected his Germanic roots and used the French first name “Jean”, rather than his German birth name “Hans Adolf”. After studying economics and social sciences at the University of Geneva he worked in advertising briefly and then left for the Middle East in 1949, where he volunteered helping Palestinian refugees for two years with the International Committee of the Red Cross and then UNRWA. During this time, he began taking photographs with a camera he had originally bought as a gift for his brother.
Upon his return to Europe in 1951, he studied painting at Académie Julian in Paris before embarking on a career in photography. He became well known for his photographic work with humanitarian organisations and refugees. He worked with the World Health Organisation and the High Commission for Refugees among others. He was also involved with Jewish aid organisations such as JDC and ORT documenting dwindling Jewish communities in places such as Morocco, Iran, India and Tunisia. He took photos of ORT courses in Athens, Greece after the war [see image].
In 1961 he began a lifelong friendship and collaboration with the British writer and artist John Berger. Together they produced several collaborative works. In 1978, he won the prize for human rights photography at Photokina in Cologne, with the exhibition “Work and Leisure”. In 1984, he received the prize for contemporary photography at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne with the exhibition “It was tomorrow” and in 1988 was awarded the City of Geneva Prize for the Visual Arts. His work has been published as newspaper reportage, notably by La Tribune de Genève as well as in several art photography monographs.
Mohr passed away on 3 November 2018 in Geneva. His archives are held at the Musée de l’Élysée in Lausanne, Switzerland.
For further information on Jean Mohr; Ross, Reuben. (2022). The Photographer Photographed: A Conversation with Jean Mohr. Imaginations Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies/revue d études interculturelle de l image. 13. 23-45. 10.17742/IMAGE.TP.13.2.2.Link here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/365278045_The_Photographer_Photographed_A_Conversation_with_Jean_Mohr