I’ve always liked the photographs of René Burri. Burri came from Switzerland and was a longtime member of the Magnum Agency. His documentary work and his portraits appeared in many of the great news magazines. I picked up the major retrospective of his work, simply titled Photographs, a few year ago and recently acquired the two volume work, Mouvement.
I read a number of obituaries when he passed away in 2014 and was intrigued by a comment in the one which appeared in The Guardian. Amanda Hopkinson wrote:
A commission might provide him with the means to visit a new region, but then he would extend his stay, to ‘get beneath the surface’. It is almost possible to tell how long Burri stayed in a particular place by how close he got to his subjects: two monks performing deep bows to one another before a temple in Kyoto are in long shot; later shots are taken in close-up, inside the monastery.
I expect great photographers to be the sort of people who can land in a new situation and instinctively comprehend and record that world. The idea that a photographer of Burri’s calibre needed time to find his way under the surface of a new place came as quite a revelation, for this is my situation. For me it takes time, often a long time, to move beyond the general and the sweeping and begin to get closer, to understand a place and a people and try to represent that. It’s good to know I’m in good company. Of course for Burri it may have been not so much that he needed time, but that he took time. Either way, I find it an encouraging thought.
There is a great short video from PORT magazine of Burri discussing a number of his photographs on Vimeo.
Here is another short video from Phaidon Press shows Burri discussing his colour work at the time of the launch of Impossible Reminiscences.