martes, 19 de febrero de 2008


Text by Joseba Bolot

Joseba Bolot posing inside the Borges Cultural Center of Buenos Aires the premiere day of the Exhibition by a huge poster of the famous picture of Che Guevara made by René Burri in Havana in 1963. Copyright Joseba Bolot

February 12th 2008 was the premiere day at the Buenos Aires Borges Cultural Centre of the exhibition "René Burri, A World" that was previously seen in Paris, Zurich, Milan, Manchester, La Habana and Mexico City. After its stay in the Argentinian capital until April 21th, this wonderful display of pictures (including some images and documents never seen before) will set out for Venezuela and Colombia.

Under the auspices of the Swiss Embassy and the sponsorship of Pro Helvetia, the assortment has been organized in Buenos Aires by the Department of Photography of the quoted Borges Centre, managed by Virginia Fabri and Magnum Photos and it is an array of the best 350 images with which this world renowned Leica rangefinder user photographer immortalized different facts featuring paramount importance for the history of the second half of XX Century.

The exhibition was the product of a painstaking previous work and everything was spick-and-span. Copyright Joseba Bolot

René Burri himself (a legend of photojournalism and author of one of the most symbolic portraits ever made of Che Guevara in which this one is depicted smoking a big Havana cigar inside his office of the Ministry of Industry of Cuba) has been present in Buenos Aires painstakingly taking care of every detail of the exhibition and showing his works, among which we must highlight photographies, collages, photomontages, documentary films and significant documentation as books and magazines.

Everything is the outcome of a thorough toil made by René Burri and Hans-Michael Koetzle, Curator of the Exhibition, with the huge archive of the photographer.

The display sports a retrospective nature, because it gathers works made since 1945, and it allows to track the development of Burri´s visual language, together with his vocation for bearing witness to sociopolitical aspects and the cultural history of the world during the last sixty years, a sequence of visual accounts describing the world with its splendours and miseries.
Besides, this great exhibition has the added value that in an uncommon way, the attendants will be able to see the first photographs worked by René Burri in the darkroom.

They´re emblematic images of events which marked out the history of XX Century, as the Six Days War, the Suez Channel Crisis, the Lebanese Conflict, Vietnam, Gamal Abdel Nasser´s Egypt, Mohammed Rehza Pahlevi Shah´s Iran, Mao Tse Tung´s China alongside other photographs revealing personalities like Ernesto Che Guevara, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Pablo Picasso, Ingrid Bergman, Le Corbusier, Maria Callas, Alberto Giacometti, Winston Churchill, Akira Kurosawa, Richard Nixon, Julio Cortázar, Jean Renoir, etc. Above all celebrities coming from both the political and artistic sphere.

René Burri has been eye witness, with his rangefinder Leica in his hand of many decisive events of XX Century and states that in this exhibition there´s a symbiosis between photojournalism and art.

Men on a rooftop, Sao Paulo (Brasil), 1960. Copyright René Burri

Picasso in his atelier. Villa La California, Cannes, France, 1957. Copyright René Burri

María Callas. Philadelphia. 1959. Copyright René Burri

He devoted his life to picture making, crossing boundaries, hunting utopies and travelling all over the world.

He´s 74 years old, and grabbed his first photographic camera, a Kodak, when he was a teenager. He studied Composition, Colour and Design at the School of Arts and Crafts of Zurich, the city in which he was born, and since his first steps he moved away from the classicism of the time so as to embrace some profiles of the Bauhaus.

In mid fifties, he made a cinematographic documentary work for Walt Disney and at the age of 22 he began his link ( that he has preserved till currently) with Magnum Agency (founded in 1947 by the famous photojournalists Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Seymour "Chim" ) thanks to a reportage on deaf and dumb children titled "A Touch of Music for the Deaf" that was published in Life and some important European magazines. From then on, he disclosed his works in publications as Fortune, Time and Look.

Since 1957 he was a great friend of Pablo Picasso.

At that period, Burri published his pictures in the Swiss magazine Du, and a few months later he went to Argentina in order to photograph gauchos and being in the Pampas discovered Martín Fierro´s poetry. René Burri commented about them: "The gaucho is the primary entity of the pampas, a man whose epicentre is his innermost, but whose limits are boundless". It was then when he made his series "Gauchos" in 1958.

At the beginning of the sixties, fulfilling an assignment from Magnum, René Burri travelled throughout Europe and Mid East, attaining international fame with his first book "The Germans" made in 1962 and which sets up a comprehensive search on post II World War Germany and its people.

Shortly after, René Burri went through Latin America and in 1963 was in Cuba making the portraits of the young revolutionary leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, two images turned into icons of the XX Century.

Three men in suits watching two women pass by. Río de Janeiro (Brasil). 1960. Copyright René Burri

During sixties and seventies he continued to make reportages from war areas in Vietnam.
Some years later, at the end of the seventies, Burri came back to Argentina, sent by the German Playboy magazine, so as to depict "the macho gaucho".

In the eighties he made a number of reportages in Beirut, and as a documentary expert, directed many films, among them The Two Faces of China, for the BBC, a movie on the religious aftermath in Israel of the Six days War, and another one on the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, as well as celebrating his book "A World: Thirty Years of Photography" with a retrospective exhibition of his photographic career, which travelled through Paris, Berlin and Lausanne, being chosen European President of Magnum in 1984 and Artistic Director of Schweizer Illustrierte in 1988.

During nineties, he published some books: "77 Strange Feelings", "Werner Bischof 1916-1954", "Cuba and Cuba" and "The Che Guevara".

In 2004/2005, Burri carried out an important retrospective assortment of his works which travelled through Milan and Zurich, a Photo Poch collection of his work being printed, while another display of his pictures called "Utopia" travelled to Prague, Berlin and Los Angeles.

Nowadays he is working on a book dealing with the photographs that he never took, among them Greta Garbo walking across the heart of New York or during sixties when the Chinese government invited him to be acquainted with the formerly sovereign Pu Yi, the last Emperor of the Manchu Dynasty, who worked as a landscape painter at the Peking Botanic Garden and whose picture he couldn´t take either.

Salvador de Bahía (Brazil). 1958. Copyright René Burri

American soldiers in a club. Tae Song Dong (Korea). 1961. Copyright René Burri

René Burri was a correspondent in five wars and lived shivering situations.
His work conveys life and not death, movement and not stagnation, anxiety and not horror, believing that on taking photographs or not one begins to define oneself.

He has always asserted that if a great idea doesn´t turn up, a great picture can´t be made either.

Regarding his recommendation for the new generation of photojournalists, he suggests that they should be curious, using eyes, mind and heart and keeping conviction about his political and moral attitude.

Gauchos training horses. La Pampa (Argentina). 1958. Copyright René Burri

For René Burri, the art of capturing the image consists in training the eye to find the order inside chaos and within time being able to develop his style: to bring about images featuring almost filmic sequences.

Usually, he says that among his own photographs, perhaps the ones which mostly touched him were those he took of people in Egypt under the power tenure of Nasser, another world and a culture utterly different to what he had previously known. The same happened to him in China in the age of Mao Tse Tung.
He´s not interested in photographing bodies, but alive people transmitting something.

He has also published a very interesting book titled "René Burri´s Photographs" divided into 24 thematically organized chapters, and on perusing its pages, we accompany the Swiss photographer through Europe up to Mid East, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, Cuba, etc, and we visit Picasso, Le Corbusier, Yves Klein and Giacometti inside their ateliers, as well as watching such political figures as Che Guevara resting and Fidel Castro in command. The book starts with an introduction describing the historical, political and artistic influencies which have saturated Burri´s work.

He thinks that the challenge of the youngest photographers is to go on discovering the things there are behind what it is seen on the surface, to show how the world is and how people feel in a specific epoch, commenting: "In photography you need mind, eyes, heart and comfortable footwear".

Julio Cortázar, Argentinian writer. Geneve (Switzerland). 1966. Copyright René Burri

Gauchos working. La Pampa (Argentina). 1979. Copyright René Burri

René Burri is a photographer whose curiosity and humanity have allowed him through decades to be given access to the most important events and political and artistic personalities of the last sixty years, photographing them in a masterly way, something in which he has been involved for most of his lifetime.

Presently, Burri lives and works between Zurich and Paris and is considered as one of the most important photojournalists in history, a great pundit in capturing with his rangefinder Leica both human beings and his habits and lives, being very inured in street photography and having been a direct witness of many a war in different continents, showing it not by means of dead people, but through other ways, above all depicting alive people conveying messages.

He´s a photographer sporting a powerful aesthetic sight and has been a close friend of great masters of photography like Werner Bischof and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Empire State Building. New York. 1978. Copyright René Burri

- Die Deutschen, 1962
- Gauchos, 1968
- Greece, 1974
- René Burri, 1983
- René Burri: One World: An Edit, 1988
- Che Guevara, 1997
- Photo Poche, 1998
- Monographie, 1998
- Cuba and Cuba, 1999
- Le Corbusier, 1999