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22 October 2014
Magnum photographer René Burri, known for his portraits of Che Guevara and Pablo Picasso, passed away earlier this week at the age of 81. The Swiss photojournalist joined the agency shortly after its creation to cover some of the most remote places on the globe for Life, Look, Paris Match, Stern, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph and Du.
His father was an amateur photographer. But Burri became a professional 13 when he took a photo of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill riding through Zurich in an open car.
In 1962 Burri published The Germans, a takeoff on Robert Frank's The Americans, which quickly sold out. The next year he traveled to Cuba where he captured Guevara (if only with his camera).
Latin America, Europe, Vietname, China, Lebanon and the U.S. were his hunting grounds through the 1970s.
His most recent book, featuring color photos, was Impossible Reminiscences, published in 2013. In this clip recorded for the launch of the book, he talks about his double life as a black-and-white and color photographer:
Magnum President Martin Parr told Time magazine:
Not only was he one of the great postwar photographers, he was also one of the most generous people I have had the privilege to meet. His contribution to Magnum and his unrivaled ability to tell stories and entertain us over this time will be part of his enormous legacy.
And in a Magnum blog post, Abbas recalled:
René, it was Henri [Cartier-Bresson] -- who else? -- who described you best: at a Magnum meeting, someone asked, "Where is René?" and HCB answered, "René? He is in a plane!" ...
Henri was right, you were always on the move, not only physically, preferably in planes, but also through your photography: though you remained faithful to the 35mm frame, you tried everything in black and white, and in color, from the well-composed, intellectually pleasing photo to the emotionally off-balance. You also had a go at filmmaking.
He did indeed work as a documentary filmmaker and, in 1965, helped create Magnum Films.
A statement released by his family noted, "With Renée Burri the world of photography loses one of its most powerful artists, a true humanist, who skillfully documented from behind the scenes the suffering and joy of human kind."
His collection of 30,000 photographs has been bequeathed to the Musée l'Elysée in Lausanne.