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Swiss photographer in legal battle to publish photobook

Agence Vu photographer Christian Lutz is facing a legal challenge launched against his latest book, In Jesus' Name, by a group of people he had photographed

In Jesus’ Name, produced in 2012, is Christian Lutz’s third book in a series documenting power around the world. In 2007, the Agence Vu photographer published Protokoll on political power, and Tropical Gift in 2010 on economic power. In Jesus’ Name documents religious power and is the result of an investigation within the International Christian Fellowship, “one of the most important free churches in Switzerland”, says the photographer.

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However, legal proceedings filed by a group of 21 people Lutz had photographed have put a stop to the book’s production. The group argues that it never granted Lutz the right to use their image, a fact the photographer denies.

“A judge [at Zurich civil court] confirmed the decision to block the release of the book on 24 January,” Lutz tells BJP. “We have now asked for the writ, which we should get in the next few weeks. Once we get it, we’ll decide whether or not we appeal, but I can already say that the publisher [Lars Müller Publishers] and I are getting ready for a potential lawsuit.”

Lutz first met Leo Bigger, the founder of the International Christian Fellowship in May 2011. “He then introduced [Lutz] to the other church managers to whom the photographer also presented his project, his former books, his approach and the stakes involved in his Trilogy,” reads a statement released by the Musée de l’Elysée, which is supposed to exhibit Lutz’s work later this year.

“He was subsequently granted express consent from the managers who welcomed him in the community. The photographer nonetheless still systematically kept requesting specific authorisations to the organisers for each ICF activity in which he wished to participate and photograph.

“He joined in several trips and summer camps organised by the church, and took part in all sorts of events: celebrations, baptisms, ladies lounges, blood donations, theatre shows, workshops on the addiction to pornography. He met members of the church, exchanged constantly with them, and freely discussed his reportage.”

The statement continues: “He was given an ICF photo-reporter badge, and affiliates or organisers of activities regularly ordered prints from him. He thus photographed openly, each one being aware of the project and accepting to be part of it.”

The photographer, along with the Musée de l’Elysée and Lars Müller Publishers, have called the ban a “breach of freedom of speech and of artistic expression”. They add: “In a non-partisan way, In Jesus’ Name highlights the functioning of a religious enterprise and of the individual sharing this living together.”

Already, more than 70 photographers, curators and editors have joined a committee to support Lutz’s work. For more details, visit the Agence Vu’ website.

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