press release

By showing over two hundred photographs Kunsthal Rotterdam presents an impressive part of the extensive oeuvre of renowned Swiss Magnum photographer René Burri. His work is put on display in the Netherlands for the first time ever. The retrospective primarily displays vintage prints and personal documents and gives an insight into the diversity of subjects that Burri has managed to capture on camera over the past fifty years. Ranging from his first series on deaf-mute Swiss children in 1955, which gained him international fame, to his account of post-War Germany and his iconic town views of Sao Paolo. Burri’s portraits of political and cultural key figures from the twentieth century are also put on display, amongst whom Che Guevara, Winston Churchill, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.

Che Guevara To the general public Burri is primarily known for the famous portrait he made of Guevara back in 1963. The photograph showing a relaxed Guevara with a big cigar in the right-hand corner of his mouth became popular throughout the world. It made Burri instantly famous. At the exhibition it becomes clear that this picture is actually part of a series that Burri made of Guevara. It typifies Burri’s way of taking photographs – he does not wait for the specific, right moment to take a picture but instead gives an account of the events occurring in front of his camera in the form of a series of photographs. Burri’s photography is direct and differs from the work by his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson, who carefully waits for the moment suprême to occur before he actually takes a photograph.

Internationally Burri’s oeuvre is both voluminous and unique. Besides Guevara’s portrait also portraits of great artists like Picasso and Jean Tinguely and pictures of modern architecture in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia can be considered highlights in his career. This is just a small-scale selection of examples from the versatile body of work by the Swiss photographer. Ever since the fifties Burri has travelled the world in order to capture important social and political events. Whether it is a state visit by Richard Nixon, the war in Vietnam and South-Korea and the revolution in Cuba, Burri is an eye-witness time and time again. Burri does not restrict himself to taking photographs of wars and heads of state. He is also interested in scenes from everyday life. Furthermore, he often chooses to portray places in Europe like lively Southern Italy or Swiss rural life.

Artist friends Photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, actresses like Ingrid Bergman and artists like Yves Klein and Picasso were part of Burri’s circle of friends. He visited them either at home, at their studio or at the pub. He portrayed Giacometti working on one of his sculptures in his studio and Le Corbusier in his study. Burri not only captures their life, but also their work on camera. He made a series of photographs on the opening of Le Corbusier’s La Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamps. He also took photographs at the grand Picasso exhibition in Milan in 1953. He closely monitored his good friend Tinguely during the construction of his spectacular moving machines. This resulted in a great many highly spontaneous photographs. In the sixties Burri travelled to Brazil to take photographs of modern architecture and city planning by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier.

René Burri René Burri (*1933) lives and works in Zürich and Paris. Ever since the fifties he has travelled the world with his camera. In 1959 he became an official member of Magnum photographic agency. His photographs have been published in numerous significant international magazines, amongst which Stern, Sunday Times, Paris Match and New York Times. In 1998 he won the Dr. Erich Solomon Prize for his entire oeuvre. In the years following this event a number of big exhibitions and monographies on his work and life have been organised.

In collaboration with Magnum Photos, Paris.

René Burri