The Swiss photographer René Burri stood out as one of the prominent photojournalists in the 20th century. Joining Magnum in 1955 (and becoming a full member in 1959), Burri, a versatile artist involved in photography, filmmaking, and painting, extensively traveled the globe, contributing to renowned international magazines. The primary focus of the exhibition at Kunsthalle Erfurt is his most renowned and arguably pivotal body of work, ‘The Germans.’In 1957, Burri, whose mother hailed from a village near Freiburg, initiated capturing images of his neighbors. Subsequently, he documented developments in both East and West Germany over a span of forty years. The initial version of his book ‘The Germans,’ published in 1962 with accompanying texts by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, marked a significant milestone in the realm of photojournalism. Through his lens, Burri sought to unveil a different Germany, one inhabited by writers and thinkers.
Curated by the Swiss curator, photographer, and journalist Daniel Blochwitz, the exhibition is on hold until 11.02.2024.
About the Author
(Swiss, 1933–2014) was a renowned photographer celebrated for capturing pivotal historical, political, and cultural moments during the 20th century. Born in Zurich, Burri pursued studies at the School of Applied Arts, where he apprenticed under distinguished photographers Hans Finsler and Alfred Willimann, alongside Expressionist painter Johannes Itten. Following graduation, he served in the military and delved into documentary filmmaking, briefly contributing to Walt Disney’s film production in Switzerland. Joining Magnum Photos as an associate in 1955, Burri gained international acclaim for his series on deaf-mute children, titled “Touch of Music for the Deaf,” which was published in LIFE magazine that same year.Between 1956 and 1959, Burri embarked on extensive travels across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, earning publication in notable outlets such as LIFE, The New York Times, Stern, Paris-Match, and Look. During this period, he also captured portraits of eminent artists like Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti.Attaining full membership in Magnum in 1959, Burri continued to solidify his reputation as a photojournalist. His inaugural book, “Die Deutschen,” was published in Switzerland in 1962, coinciding with his first solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1963. In the same year, while in Cuba, he immortalized Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in photographs, with the latter’s iconic image of smoking a cigar becoming globally recognized as arguably the most iconic portrait of the revolutionary. Establishing Magnum Gallery in Paris in 1962, Burri balanced his roles as a photographer, collage artist, and illustrator. He played a role in the creation of Magnum Films in 1965, followed by a period spent in China, where he produced the documentary “The Two Faces of China,” commissioned by the BBC in 1968.
Throughout his illustrious career, Burri garnered numerous awards, including the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1991, a Dr. Erich Salomon Prize from the German Photography Society in 1998, a Canton of Zurich Cultural Prize in 1999, an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2006, and the Swiss Press Photo Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. A comprehensive retrospective of his work took place in 2004 and 2005 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, subsequently touring various museums across Europe. Burri succumbed to cancer in Zurich at the age of 81, marking the end of a prolific and impactful career.