Cave fauna and beyond
in 1988, by Vladimir Posypai*
Who are you, Pierre Strinati?
I was born in Geneva on October 31, 1928. I did my primary and secondary studies in two private schools, in the Canton of Geneva: Ecole Privat at the beginning, followed by the Ecole Internationale. At the end of these studies I obtained in 1948 the diploma “Maturité Fédérale”. The same year I started studying at the University of Geneva, taking courses in three faculties: Economic and Social Sciences, Law and Sciences. These studies led to the "Diplôme de Hautes Etudes Commerciales" in 1952 and the "Licence ès Sciences Naturelles" in 1960. Later, I undertook the writing of a thesis « Cave fauna of Switzerland » and in 1965 I obtained a PhD from the University of Toulouse. This university, thanks to the proximity of the Laboratoire souterrain de Moulis, was at the time the top world center in the field of biospeleology.
While working in commercial enterprises started by my father, I also carried out zoological research in caves all over the world. I visited a hundred countries, I explored caves in 70 of them, I visited more than 1000 caves and I discovered 300 new animal species, of which about sixty were dedicated to me (genera or species).
Speleomantes strinatii, Western Mediterranean cave lungless salamander, photo Benny Trapp, Wikimedia Commons
What can you say about your parents?
My father Joseph Strinati was born in 1883 in Italy, in the locality of Bardi (Province of Parma). He emigrated to Switzerland, settled in Geneva and obtained Swiss nationality. He died in 1952. My mother Jeanne, maiden name Cocquio, was born in Geneva in 1904 and has always lived in Switzerland. She died in 2001.
Did grandparents also have an influence on you?
I knew my maternal grandmother, Leonora Libera Cocquio. She was born in 1883 and died in 1973. She lived in the family home and, in my childhood, she took care of me when my parents were traveling. My other grandparents died before I was born.
Pierre, as a young man, with his mother at the entrance to the cave, from a drawing by Vladimir Posypai, 2022, based on a photograph from the Pierre Strinati collection.
When did you discover your more adventurous side? Was it caving, biology, travel?
Since my childhood I have been attracted by geographical discoveries and science, especially astronomy and zoology. I read a lot of adventure books, books of explorations and also science fiction. I was also very passionate about the comics newspapers publishing such stories. I was especially attracted by the exploration of the solar system. At the time, I was less passionate about the underground world, because apart from "Journey to the Center of the Earth" by Jules Verne and the stories of Norbert Casteret, no work existed in French on this subject. There were the works of Martel, however, by they were not accessible to a young man of my age. When I started studying at the university, I gave up astronomy in favor of the natural sciences, because I was good but again not so very good at mathematics.
Your doctoral thesis “Cave fauna of Switzerland” in 1966 is of remarkable breadth if compared to the narrowly specialized research of today. How did the thesis work go?
I explored my first cave in 1949. From that first visit, I collected invertebrates and bats and I never stopped doing it. After a few years, I gathered animals from dozens of Swiss caves and published some preliminary data from this work. On the other hand, I had already discovered new species, described and published by several specialists. After my degree in Natural Science in 1960, my friend Villy Aellen, future director of the Geneva Museum, encouraged me to continue my research in the direction of a PhD. From a professional point of view, I did not need it since I was running a commercial enterprise. But earning a PhD required me to delve deeper into the matter than a mere amateur and it could help me in my subsequent research, which took place on all continents.
Model of Pseudoblothrus strinatii at the Geneva Museum of Natural History, photo Rama, Wikimedia Commons
What was the first cave you visited? When and on what occasion?
The first cave I visited was the Grotte de Mégevette, in the department of Haute-Savoie, France. It is only about twenty kilometers from Geneva. During the summer courses of the International School, which were a preparation for the exams for obtaining the federal certificate, a geography teacher told us about the caves and the Swiss Society of Speleology. Many of us were quite excited and as the professor, Albert Carozzi, was a member of this society, many of us, once the exam was passed, wanted to be initiated into speleological practice. The first occasion took place at the Grotte de Mégevette; it was March 20, 1949.
Grotte des Demoiselles, France, November 2, 1971, photo Pierre Strinati
What attracted you to biospeleology?
It is where exploration and my great interest in biology met. In my case, it's mostly zoology, but I've also studied cave flora.
Competition in biology these days is fierce and unforgiving, for a new species people would be willing to do almost anything, let alone for an animal family. And your achievements in this area are more than remarkable. Can you say more about it?
During my research all over the world, I discovered more than 300 new taxa (genera or species) and about sixty were dedicated to me. In the past, it was easier to discover new animal species, because outside of Europe and the United States, large regions had not been explored yet. Currently, caves have been biologically explored all over the world but, thanks to new methods of study, new cryptic species close to already known species are being discovered.
On the road in the region of Iporanga, Brazil in 1968, with Claude Chassan and Michel Le Bret, photo Pierre Strinati
On your 90th birthday, you made your 1626th visit underground. What form does your cave visit diary have, and what were the feelings on this occasion?
For each cave exploration, I fill out a visit form. Then, the data "temperatures, list of fauna collected, etc..." are included in a notebook. It was with some emotion that I visited the Grotte aux Fées de Vallorbe on the day of my 90th birthday, a cave that I have already visited many times. The first time was in 1950.
You attended the last World Speleo Congress this year and were honored there as the only participant who also attended the first congress in 1953. What were the differences?
(smiling) The main difference was the dress code. In 1953 we were all in ties, white shirts, suits and black shoes whereas now, especially Americans, were in T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.
Pierre Strinati photographed during the 18th Congress of the International Union of Speleology, Le Bourget-du-Lac (France), July 2022, photo Patrick Deriaz. The photo projected on the screen shows Pierre Strinati and his comrades gathered on the occasion of the 1st international congress, which was held in Paris in 1953. From left to right: Monique Chollet, Pierre Strinati, André H. Grobet, Charles-Henri Roth, Maurice Audétat (photo Hallery, Pierre Strinati collection). A click on the photo shows it in full resolution.
You have visited many caves with Villy Aellen. How did you meet him and what can you say about him?
We first met on a train bound for Vallorbe, at the time he was an assistant at the Institute of Zoology at the University of Neuchâtel. It was January 28, 1950 and we had decided to get to know each other during an excursion to the Grotte aux Fées de Vallorbe, the cave already mentioned.
With some comrades from the University of Geneva I was organizing a multidisciplinary study trip to Morocco, and I asked Villy if he would be interested in joining, his experience in the fields of zoology and caving would be a great advantage. Villy immediately agreed and the expedition took place in his company in August and September 1950.
His knowledge and experience were really great. He was only two years older than me, but he had acquired a great knowledge of field research during a one-year stay in Cameroon (1946 - 1947) in conditions incomparable to those of today: trip to Cameroon by boat, travel on foot or on horseback, caravans of porters, supplies by hunting, receptions by village chiefs...
The expedition to Morocco, which started a bit like an initiatory journey in the romantic spirit of the film Rendezvous in July was a success. Ethnographic research was carried out, caves explored, many cave animals, often new to science, were collected and studied. The scientific collaboration between Villy and myself, born in Morocco, continued for many years and we remained good friends until his premature death. He died of modern plague, which he had for years, unnoticed, until it was too late.
Villy Aellen in Ruli-Puli Loch, Valais, Switzerland, December 8, 1957, photo Pierre Strinati
With Villy Aellen you also made a speleological voyage around the world, in 1977. How did this initiative come about and were you satisfied with the course and the results?
A definitive account of the voyage can be found in the book of the same title, published by the Swiss Speleological Society in 2009. I am sure you can extract a short but interesting summary here.
Speleological Voyage Around the World, in brief, by the author
According to Claude Chabert, a recognized member of the Speleo-Club of Paris, this voyage was unprecedented, and at the time appeared like a dawn, a flash, an opening towards the unknown (Chabert, the preface of the book) in the world of caving.
The scientific collaboration between Aellen and Strinati, aimed at the exploration of caves and the collection of subterranean fauna, took place mainly in Switzerland and Western Europe. But the hope of important discoveries lead them to more distant reconnaissance trips: to Gabon and the Congo (1957), Tunisia (1967), Sri Lanka (1970) and Kenya (1975). In 1976, they noted that there is very little data on the cave fauna of New Caledonia, a vast island, rich in limestone. The voyage was to take place soon, in the spring of 1977, and since Aellen as a the director of the Geneva Natural History Museum could not be absent from his post for more than a month, this determined the duration of the voyage. As the expedition to the other side of the world would require the crossing of several other interesting karst areas, the idea of a caving voyage around the world came quite naturally, by itself.
They departed from Geneva on March 21 and after stops in Zurich, Boston, Chicago and Louisville, they arrived in the Cave City, close to the longest cave in the world, Mammoth Cave in the state of Kentucky. They were received by James Quinlan, hydrogeologist of the cave. After a compulsory "History Tour" of Mammoth Cave on the first day, his assistant, George Wood, took them on an excursion to two non-tourist caves, Gray's Water Cave and Hensley Cave. The two caves are remarkable, the first for its wealth of fauna, and the second also for the spectacular play of light at its entrance. On this, second day they collected an abundance of zoological material. The next morning, March 24, they visited Onyx Cave, a small show cave, before leaving for Tahiti. The route passed through Louisville, Memphis and Los Angeles.
Moorea, the island of artists, view from the Tahitian coast, 1977, photo Pierre Strinati
En route to the main destination of the trip, New Caledonia, Strinati and Aellen chose stopovers which would offer an opportunity for some additional cave fauna discoveries: United States, Fiji Islands and the Philippines. But there were also other stopovers, necessary to change planes over long distances, such as en route from California to Fiji. Here there were two possibilities and for the Europeans the magic of Tahiti was certainly stronger than that of Hawaii. Especially since in Tahiti there is also a cave visited by the painter Gauguin. In general, Tahiti is not as rich in lava caves as the Canary Islands, Hawaii, Samoa or Mauritius.
On the afternoon of March 25, the first day in Tahiti, they visited the Maraa grotto, located 25 kilometers from Papeete. The cave is actually a large underground freshwater lake, where Paul Gauguin and his wife Teha'amana bathed. According to Gauguin's description, the lake should be big - it took him an hour to swim to the other side. It had to be a rather slow swim because the cave is only 50 meters long. Strinati and Aellen had no female entourage to impress so they skipped the lake crossing. But they discovered another small cave nearby with an entrance hidden by abundant vegetation and a small waterfall, which they named Maraa II.
The second day in Tahiti was devoted to the classic tour of the island, with a zoological touch: getting to know the natural environments of the island, collecting small reptiles and studying the fauna of the soil. The third day was not exactly speleological, they decided to visit Pao-Pao, or Cook's Bay on the neighboring island Moorea. It is not far, a seven-minute flight by Twin Otter) airplabe. The bay deserves the title"the most beautiful in Polynesia", and they also climbed the Belvedere, the mountain above the bay.
On March 28, they left for Nadi on the island of Viti-Levu, the largest in the Fiji archipelago, with a stopover at Pago-Pago on the island of Tutuila, the largest in America Samoa. This stopover was a very nice surprise. Instead of an obnoxious air-conditioned and grim transit area they had the opportunity to enjoy a walk in the nature around the airport. Against all expectations, the stopover was too short. They were able to make some zoological observations and recalled the memories of the first flights in the 1950s. The planes were slow, there were long and frequent stopovers. But no security was necessary and the two zoologists were able to walk in the meadows or forests near the airstrips. The numerous publications of their predecessors, professors Paul Remy and Bruno Condé, testify that they were even able to contribute to zoological science during such stops.
Shortly after takeoff for Fiji Strinati and Aellen crossed the date line and landed in Nadi at 10:40 a.m., three and a half hours after leaving Tahiti, yet not today, but already the next day.
During the voyage preparations, though the data about caves and cave fauna in Fiji islands were very scant, it was clear that Wailotua Cave would best serve their purpose. Wailotua Cave seemed to be the longest (1500 m) and largest of the caves in the archipelago, and it is also located on the island where they landed, less than 100 km from the capital Suva. March 30, the next day, was scheduled for the visit to the cave, including flights to Nausori and back (one hour each way). The exploration time was, however, short. At Nausori Jack Chislett, an American speleologist, was waiting for them. They all left for the cave, 70 km away, by car on fairly bad roads, in a mountainous area towards the center of the island. At the end of the morning they entered the cave, accompanied by a local guide. It is a complex network with several entrances and several levels, partially traversed by a water stream. In the first part, the cave is frequented by bats and cave-dwelling birds, the swiftlets. The interior of the cave is full of brownish concretions, their beauty is amplified by the very high humidity. Besides the fauna in the deepest parts of the cave the biospeleologists also collected guano samples. These samples were later checked, in the laboratory of the Geneva Museum, for the presence of specific invertebrates, whose differences are invisible to the naked eye. The traps were not used on this voyage, there was no time to collect them after days or even weeks. The following day, the third and the last day on the island, was dedicated to the inspection of caves in the south of the island, in the region of Sigatoka, where caves have also been reported. Unfortunately, the available information was too vague and despite the cab driver's best efforts, they could not locate any of the caves.
On April 1, they finally flew to Nouméa on the southwest coast of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, the most important goal of the voyage. The rest of the day, after arriving at 9:35 am, was wasted settling into the hotel and organizing excursions. They had decided to explore almost all the known caves on the main island, which has only a few limestone areas, and caves in l'Île-des-Pins, which is formed of recent coral limestone. They had seven more days at their disposal in this part of the world.
On the first day, they visited two caves on Grande Terre, the Grotte d'Oua-Oué and the largest and most important cave on the island, the Grottes d'Adio. The first cave is just a small pit that leads to a few equally small chambers. Without the help of the taxi driver, Mr. Lenfant, who hired young people from the neighborhood, the cave, located in a steep and heavily wooded area, 150 km northwest of Noumea, would never have been found. The Grottes d'Adio is a vast and complex network. They discovered several entrances and decided to first explore an active gallery, very humid and rich in underground fauna. At the exit they wanted to continue by a dry upper gallery but the driver reminded them that they are 240 km from Noumea and that it is time to return. Unfortunately, the chance to better explore this interesting cave was lost. The day passed without eating anything and after a dinner at La Foa the return to Nouméa was quite late.
Villy Aellen in the Oua-Oue Cave, New Caledonia, 1977, photo Pierre Strinati
On the second day, Mr. Lenfant was busy and they decided to visit the four known caves on the Isle of Pines. But it turned out that the Isle of Pines is a favorite destination for Sunday outings of Noumeans and all the seats of the few planes connecting the two islands were reserved weeks in advance. So it was another day without a cave. Rest!
The third, fourth and fifth day were dedicated to the Grottes de Koumac, in the northwest of the island, 370 km from Noumea. A flight was required to get there and, after a stopover in Mouéo, only arrived at 1:25 p.m. At 4:00 p.m. they reached the cave, the second longest cave of the island and undoubtedly the best known. As was the case with the Adio Caves, no cave plan was available, and so they visited a few small, semi-dark caverns before discovering the entrance to the main cave. A large and long gallery followed, ending in a siphon. The next day they visited the cave again, also to make photos and to film it. The next morning a return flight followed, and the afternoon was dedicated to preparations for the visit to the Isle of Pines.
On the sixth day, the visit of four caves on the Isle of Pines was on the program: Grotte d'Ouatchia, Grotte d'Oumagne, Grotte d'Ouindéa and Grotte de la troisième. Plane schedules being what they are, cave action was limited to 8 hours. At the airport there was only one vehicle, the bus of the hotel "Relais Kanuméra". It turned out that it was also the only vehicle on the island. To their delight the Swiss managers of the hotel, Madame and Monsieur Perruchoud, decided to put the bus and the driver at the disposal of the two speleologists. The Grotte d'Ouatchia was rich in fauna, the Grotte d'Oumagne is superb because it is a straight tunnel, traversed by a stream, the Grotte d'Ouindéa is a vast shaft with a lake and very beautiful concretions at the bottom, in the Grotte de la troisième the main hall is completely submerged. A day to remember.
The seventh, last day was devoted to the Touaourou Cave on the east coast of Grande Terre. It is a small cavity about 20 meters from the sea. Its ceiling is lined with beautiful concretions and it is pierced by the roots of banyan trees.
The next stop on their journey was the Philippines archipelago. To get there they again had two choices - via New Zealand or Australia. The stopover had to be brief and only the visit of show caves would be possible, without any own biospeleological research. It was a Cornelian dilemma, because each of these two countries has show caves of world importance: the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and the Jenolan Caves, 40 km in length. Airline schedules gave Australia a clear advantage.
Taking an additional advantage of time difference, traveling west, they managed to fly from Noumea to Sydney and reach Hampton in the Blue Mountains by rental car on the same day, April 9th. Jenolan Caves is a complex series of caves, some of which are touristic. The Grand Arch cave is, together with Le Mas d'Azil in France and Grotta di San Giovanni in Sardinia one of the three caves in the world to serve as road tunnels. They visited the cave on foot, with Chifley Tour, a long hike in the company of guides.
Jenolan Caves, Australia, 1977, photo Pierre Strinati
After New Caledonia, the Philippines was the second most important stop on their trip. At the time cave fauna of the archipelago with 7000 islands and half as many known caves (3100 in 2022) was not yet well known. In addition to several sources in literature, including the book Voyage De M. E. Simon Aux Iles Philippines (1892) by Eugène Simon, an important source was the reconnaissance visit Pierre Strinati made in 1975. His guide at the time, Rudy Lopez, had promised to gather more information about the caves on the island of Luzon, to which this trip was limited because of the relatively short time available. On the evening of April 11, they disembarked in Manila, where they will stay for the three daily excursions, to the east, south and north of the city.
The first day was devoted to Cueva Santa, a small cave to the south, in the Quezon National Park, at the narrowest point of the island. Strinati had already visited the cave in 1975, with very good results, and they got there quite quickly, by a path in the lush jungle. After a few hours of wildlife collection, they decided to scale the summit of the massif. They reached it in less than an hour and the panorama was truly superb - the view of the two seas: the South China Sea to the west and the Philippine Sea to the east. They would stay longer but an impending storm prompted a return. However, the descent was not fast enough, the downpour that fell on them made the path slippery and dangerous. They slowed down and when they reached the car, the storm passed as quickly as it had come. They drove back to Manila in bright sunshine.
On the second day, they visited the "Crystal cave" of Baguio, 250 km to the north. They left at 5:30 a.m. and reached Baguio at 11:30 a.m. The city is called the "Summer Capital" of the Philippines because it is located at 1,500 meters above sea level, with a pleasantly cool climate. The cave was not well known and it took some time to locate it. They were in for a big disappointment. It was just a tunnel with openings on both sides, traversed in certain seasons by a small stream. Due to strong air currents, there is nothing less favorable to cave fauna than a straight cave with two entrances. In the end, their long journey was rewarded by a fortuitous event. Local children discovered a "bottomless hole" on top of a nearby hill. Aellen and Strinati found a corridor with a very steep slope. Fortunately they had a rope and in the deep part of the cavity they have collected an interesting fauna. The return to Manila was, once again, very late.
The third day was also the last caving day of the voyage and two caves were scheduled, both already studied by Eugène Simon: the cave of Antipolo and the cave of San Mateo. The first should be, according to Simon, located 5 km north of Antipolo, today a suburb of Manila. The only cave in the area was discovered only recently, during a road construction (today it is called Mystical cave, author's note). Whether it was Simon's cave or not, the fauna collected was interesting and abundant. Still, there wasn't much time left for the second cave. The cave of San Mateo is located, according to Simon, a few kilometers from the village of Montalban, on the right bank of a narrow and wooded gorge". Indeed, it was not far from the first cave, only 35 km, but by secondary roads and it took an hour and a half to get there. Once there, not a single cave awaited them, but several different cave networks. The most eye-catching cave was located on top of a wall very difficult to climb, but the Montalbans have told Strinati and Aellen about a remarkable phenomenon. At dusk, huge swarms of bats emerge from this cave. They were also told about a very important cave, located on the on the other side of a torrent. Accompanied by Rudy Lopez, they crossed the turbulent waters by jumping from rock to rock. In the cave entrance, they met natives from the nearby village, who seemed to get there with some non-sight-seeing intention. The cave fauna was abundant but they could not penetrate deeper into the cave. Dusk is always early in the tropics, so they rushed to photograph the flight of bats. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable event (the whole gorge is now part of the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, author's note).
Villy Aellen and Rudy Lopez cross the river at night, Montalban gorges, 1977, photo Pierre Strinati
The trip to Europe was quite eventful: detailed inspection of luggage in Manila, stopover in Bangkok, stopover in Bombay, repairs to an engine, stopover in Athens, stopover in Zurich, arrival in Geneva after 11 p.m. The ground temperature was 3°C on the Saturday of April 16, 1977.
In short, an amazing voyage, once in a lifetime event. Its description makes the imagination fly.
Immediately, a grand plan comes to mind, as if, for example, the goldfish would ask you to choose five
exotic underground destinations for your caving trip around the world. What would be the answer?
The author, fond of cave photography, would also travel to the west and would not hesitate to select:
Your book Guide to the Caves of Western Europe (with Villy Aellen, 1975) has been reprinted several times, and so were its translations into German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. How did you come up with this idea and what were the main challenges?
My friend Villy Aellen was at the time scientific adviser to the publisher Delachaux & Nestlé. The management of the company asked him if there was an interest in publishing my thesis Cave fauna of Switzerland. The publisher was unaware that it had already been published by CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) in 1966. So a book devoted to the caves of Switzerland was considered. Later it was extended to French-speaking European countries, and further to Western Europe. The publisher did not plan to include Yugoslavia in the book. It was Villy Aellen and I who insisted that at least Slovenia, the birthplace of speleology and biospeleology, be included.
Foreign language editions were later negotiated directly by Delachaux & Nestlé.
I have only met one person so prolific in speleology, the coleopterist Egon Pretner from Postojna. Did you meet him by chance?
I knew Egon Pretner very well. He was a friend. The first time I visited a cave with him was in 1955 at the Malograjska jama (Planinska jama) where we went to collect olms. In my book “Grottes et Paysages de l’Atlas au Taurus”, photo 43 shows Egon Pretner, unfortunately from behind, trying to capture a proteus.
Egon Pretner in Planinska jama, from a drawing by Vladimir Posypai, 2022. Pretner (1896 - 1982) also wrote a diary of all his cave visits, from 1933 to 1981. He visited 1607 different caves in Slovenia and countries of the Western Balkans (in 3627 visits), published 58 articles, in Slovenian, Serbocroatian, German, Italian and English, discovered 124 new species, subspecies and genera of cave fauna. 38 he published himself; 26 were named after him.
What have been the most rewarding and challenging moments of your caving career?
I joined the Swiss Society of Speleology in 1949 and while mainly exploring caves in Switzerland and neighboring France, the taste for adventure encouraged me to extend my research. With a group of comrades interested in speleology and ethnography, I organized an expedition to Morocco, in August and September 1950. Naturally we visited many caves and collected underground fauna, but we also undertook ethnographic research and made recordings of native music. A magnificent cave with a beautiful underground lake was explored and it is one of my fondest memories. Grotte de Ras el Oued is depicted as photo 12 in my previously cited book. With two comrades we visited this remarkable cave again in 1979.
The castles of Ludwig II in Bavaria, so beautiful, of such sublime elegance, and the tragic fate of the king, also caught your attention. What was your experience in approaching the place from a photographic point of view? Was it more fun than hard work or vice versa?
In 1961, I had planned to take part in the 3rd International Congress of Speleology which took place near Vienna. While driving to the Austrian capital, I decided to make a detour to visit a curious castle located in southern Germany. I knew of its existence through a few photographs which showed a building bristling with towers and which reminded me of fairy tales and comics from my childhood. I also knew its name, Neuschwanstein, but I knew nothing about the circumstances of its construction.
During a guided tour I learned that the castle was very recent, from the 19th century, and that it had been built at the instigation of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. I also learned that two other castles had been built by the same ruler.
On the day of my visit, the changing September weather revealed two very distinct aspects of the castle, kitsch in the sun when the colors appeared, fantastic and mysterious in the fog and the showers. Fascinated by the "fantastic art" side of Neuschwanstein, I quickly came up with the idea of undertaking a major photographic work on the various castles of Ludwig II.
To depict the changing vibe in my images, there was only one possibility, to shoot during the various seasons. This was done during a dozen trips and in very varied climatic conditions such as fog, rain, snow, in the light of lightning and even in the sun, but using an infrared film.
When I had a fairly large number of photos, and being an unknown photographer at the time, I went to present my book project to the management of the "Guilde du Livre" Swiss publishing house. The project was immediately accepted, but I had to make some additional trips to Bavaria to enrich the work.
For its part, the publisher has asked a renowned French-speaking Swiss writer, Jacques Marcanton, to write the text. Under the title of Les Châteaux Magiques de Louis II the book was published in 1963.
A few years later, when the book published by "La Guilde du Livre" was out of print, another publisher, Bernard Letu published a photo album on the same subject. Its title is Castles in Bavaria. It was published in 1983.
It was with great pleasure that I made these many trips to Bavaria. At the time there were not such huge crowds of visitors as nowadays.
Neuschwanstein Castle, 1962, photo by Pierre Strinati
You've traveled a lot. Can you say a bit more about this aspect of your life?
I have never been on a tourist trip. On the other hand, I traveled a lot in Switzerland for my professional activity. All my other travels were in some way connected to science (zoology, speleology, botany, astronomy). From a speleological point of view, I have explored or visited more than 1000 caves in 70 countries. From a botanical point of view, I made a trip to Algeria in 1951. From an astronomical point of view, I observed three total solar eclipses: in 1949 in Gran Canaria, in 1951 in northern Italy, aboard a Swissair plane, and in 1973 in Mauritania. In 1965, I took part in a study trip organized by “Paris Match” to NASA sites. In 1971, I witnessed the launch of the Apollo 14 lunar rocket in Florida. In 1998 and in 2003, I dived on board a research submarine "Atlantis Deep Explorer" in the waters off the island Grand Cayman.
I heard you also traveled once on the Concorde plane. When and where was it?
I actually took a London-Washington flight in Concorde on December 14, 1976. I had been assigned to study the cave fauna of Carlsbad Caverns and other caves in the State of New Mexico. I took the opportunity to go to America in this supersonic plane. It was a memorable experience, with the aircraft reaching Mach 2.04 during the flight.
Concorde, 1986, photo by Eduard Marmet, Wikimedia Commons
What were the circumstances of your recording "Ambiance Sonore De La Forêt Africaine" in 1957?
From my first expeditions, I also carried cameras and sound recorders. During my trip to Gabon in 1956, I had the opportunity to record interesting sound documents, in particular indigenous dances and the cries or noises of animals: toads, bats, birds, in particular the species Melichneutes robustus which engages in a strange aerial parade whose meaning remains mysterious. It rises 200 meters above the ground, then drops in spirals. During this rapid fall, the passage of air through the tail feathers produces a siren sound.
Is there a place in the world you would always like to come back to?
I would gladly return to Morocco in the region of Taza, the place of my first overseas expedition in 1950. Such a trip, planned for 2020, could not be carried out due to the pandemic.
Self-portrait of Pierre Strinati with a model, Geneva, 1970s
When were you drawn to photography? What was your first camera?
I only became interested in photography late in life. In 1949, it was during the preparations of the expedition to Morocco that I bought a Rolleicord III camera. I have never had a photographic education. In this field, I am self-taught.
What are your most accomplished cave photographs?
Cave nudes. Indeed, these are the only photographs for which I went to the caves with the sole idea of taking photos. No exploration, no wildlife collection; only pictures. Often I was accompanied by assistants who operated the flashes and who helped the models while moving in a demanding underground environment.
Nude in a passage of the Saint-Martin cave, October 13, 1980, photo Pierre Strinati
When did you first become interested in nude photography? What were the circumstances?
When I started taking expressionist-style photos of my vintage cars, one could only see the metallic shapes. To soften this world of metal and glass a little, I got the idea of combining it with the faces and bodies of women.
When and on what occasion did you meet Serge Nazarieff?
When publisher Bernard Letu considered publishing a book containing my cave nudes, he was concerned that my photos alone would not appeal to everyone, some people are not very much attracted to caves. Knowing Serge Nazarieff who also photographed nudes, but in maritime settings, he thought it would be best to publish a book that would bring together the works of the two photographers. This is how I met Serge Nazarieff.
Underwater nude, the swimming pool of the Strinati house, Cologny, 1980s, photo Pierre Strinati
Your merits in the 9th art (comics) are great. How did you get involved?
From the publication of "Journal de Mickey" in 1934, I was fascinated by comics. In my childhood, I read a lot of adventure and science fiction novels, but my preference were comic books. It must be said that in the period 1934-1940, the French illustrated books that were available in Switzerland contained for the most part the translation of comics published in the United States. However, in the United States, comics were not intended for children, but for the entire family. The stories were therefore more "adult" than the French strips. All these adventure, aviation or science fiction comics have had a great influence on my taste for science and discoveries. In the 1960s, while collaborating with the French science fiction magazine called “Fiction”, I got the idea of publishing, in the July 1961 issue, an article entitled “Comics and science fiction. The golden age in France, 1934-1940”. Shortly after the publication of this article, the journal received a large number of letters from enthusiastic readers demanding that these comics from their youth be published again. The magazine “Fiction” served as an intermediary for all these nostalgic readers, and this spontaneous movement gave birth to the "Club des Bandes Dessinées" and to the movement entitled "Bédéphilie" which I am today credited with as founder.
The Kongo book by Christian Perrissin and Tom Tirabosco made a big impression on you. Why?
First of all, Tom Tirabosco is a friend. Then, "Kongo" is a text from an important book very well illustrated by Tirabosco. Finally, the beautiful illustrations also excellently depict the vibe of the Congo and Gabon forests that I have known so well.
What was it like traveling in Central Africa at that time? Today, such a passage would be undoubtedly much more complicated, not to say dangerous?
At the end of the Second World War, at the time of my first trips to Central Africa, it is certain that the security situation was much better than it is now. On the other hand, travel was much slower and more complicated. Given the short range of the planes, the journeys were split into numerous stopovers. Breakdowns and accidents were, unfortunately, not uncommon. Due to the relative scarcity of motorable roads, travel in less developed areas was often done on foot, on horseback, or across lakes, streams, and rivers.
A positive side was that these regions were still little explored, which made possible interesting discoveries in different fields of natural science, especially in speleology.
Red pre-war convertible on an austral or, why not, Lac Léman beach; drawing by Vladimir Posypai, 2022
You are also known, at a certain time in your life, as a collector of exclusive sports cars, such as the Mercedes-Benz 500 K "Vanvooren", 1934 or the Alfa Romeo 8C - 2900 (S10 SS bodywork) from 1940. When did you start and how did it happen?
From adolescence, I considered cars as works of art, sculptures. And after the Second World War, many sports cars with custom bodies dating from before the war were on sale at ridiculous prices.
So I was able to buy several of these cars that I liked aesthetically. But in order not to collect vehicles that seemed to be sporty without really being so, I only selected brands that took part in famous races such as 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mille Miglia or Targa Florio.
List of cars that belonged to Pierre Strinati some 50 years ago:
Model on the red Alfa Romeo, 1970s, photo Pierre Strinati
What about matters of the heart? Your love life? Your family life?
I remained single because I wanted to keep my independence for all my various activities.
Finally, three slightly different questions. What are your favorite movies?
My favorite films are the following (the list is given in chronological order and not in the order of my preferences):
Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones in the film Duel in the Sun, 1946, author unknown, Wikimedia Commons. According to Strinati: Besides the remarkable use of color, the other great attraction of the film is the great sensuality of Jennifer Jones.
It's hard to rate the best movies. Could you make a short list of the three in the order of your preferences?
What is your favorite music?
My favorite melody is called « Amapola » (« Pretty Little Poppy » in Spanish). It is an old classic of Latin American music, which was adapted by Ennio Morricone and can be heard several times in the film “Once upon a time in America”.
What would be your favorite color and why?
My favorite color is green, the color of vegetation and especially that of the great tropical forests.
Rainforest in Chiapas, Mexico, photo by Bere von Awstburg, Wikimedia Commons
Is there anything you would do differently in your life, if you had lived it again?
*Portrait of Pierre Strinati is a drawing by Vladimir Posypai, 2022, after a photo of Villy Aellen and Pierre Strinati, made with permission of the photo author, Patrick Deriaz. It was taken during the centenary of French speleology in Millau, 1988.
Evgenij Sakulin - Ženja loves caving and travel, January 2022
Roberto Antonini, high mountain caver, April 2023
This page and text by Primož Jakopin.
Photos and drawings are either from open access sources or published with the consent of the authors.
Send inquiries and comments to
primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert periods and at sign where appropriate).
The work on the portrait of Pierre Strinati started on October 28, 2021, the original (French) version
of this page was initiated on February 2, 2022.
Richard Forster contributed greatly to its making, Patrick Deriaz helped with two valuable
photos. English translation was made by the author in October 2022,
the last correction: April 10, 2023.
URL: https://www.jakopin.net/portraits/Pierre_Strinati/PS_index.php 143