René Burri studied at the School of Applied Arts in his native city of Zurich. From 1953 to 1955 he worked as a documentary film-maker and began to use a Leica while doing his military service. Burri became an associate of Magnum in 1955.
In 1956 he travelled throughout Europe and the Middle East, and then went to Latin America, where he made a series on the gauchos that was published by Du magazine in 1959. It was also for this Swiss periodical that he photographed artists such as Picasso, Giacometti and Le Corbusier. He became a full member of Magnum in 1959, and started work on his book Die Deutschen (The Germans), published in Switzerland in 1962. In 1963, while working in Cuba, he photographed Ernesto “Che” Guevara during an interview by an American journalist. His images of the famous revolutionary with his cigar went around the world.
In 1998 Burri won the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize from the German Association of Photography. A major retrospective of his work was held in 2004-2005 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and toured many other European museums. In 2013 René Burri established his own foundation in Switzerland. It is now housed in the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. In September 2014, he opened his last exhibition in Paris, at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie.
“Two parallel approaches can be distinguished in René Burri: on the one hand, the composition, the structure and the visual impact are of indisputable economy, precision and legibility, conferring on his work a symbolic character, universal and almost eternal; on the other, each sign, each shape, each frame within the image confers an original and personal perspective on what is portrayed. The uniqueness of Burri‘s visual universe, whether in black-and-white or in colour, is founded on the complementarity between these two approaches. His photographs also hold the page or the picture rails of a gallery like no others and have the unique power to reveal each situation to us in a single photogram.”
Marc Donnadieu (Curator Musée de l‘Elysée Lausanne)