Art & Photography

Six Photographs: René Burri

In this exclusive film, Matt Willey talks to the legendary Magnum photographer about six of his most iconic and interesting photographs, from Picasso to the reopening of the Suez Canal…

Directed by Anthony Austin
Interview Matt Willey
Produced Helena Reis
Lighting Genki McClure
Camera Assistance
Patrick Larder
Sound Daniel Brosnan
Make up Ezana Ove
‘Tu’ by Bebo Valdés
‘Trem Das Onze’
by Adoniran Barbosa
‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’
by Narciso Yepes
‘El Gato Montés’
by Banda Corrida
‘Suki Sa Suki Sa Suki Sa’
by Nana Kimono
‘La Ouaynaki’
by Farid El Atrache
by Mariachi De México
A Bosh film

There are a handful of postcards that have faithfully followed me around, pinned and re-pinned above each desk I’ve ever had. One of them, given to me by my mother when I was about 16, shows four figures on top of a skyscraper in a very New York-looking São Paulo. It’s a wonderful photograph that I have spent a lot of time with and have often wondered about. That postcard reproduction of a photograph was my introduction, as a wide-eyed teenager, to the work of René Burri, one of the most significant and extraordinary photographers of our time. 

René Burri turned eighty this year and has been taking photographs for 67 of those years, and as a Magnum photographer for the past 54. He has spent a lifetime ‘catching’ moments from the world around him, and in doing so has taken some of the most iconic and artistically salient photographs of the second half of the 20th century. 

I was fortunate enough to spend a most enjoyable afternoon with the great man, drinking beer and eating bone marrow at one of his favourite restaurants; St John in Clerkenwell. I had the opportunity to ask him about his work and his life (the two seem indistinguishable), about the places he has been and about his encounters with people like Che Guevara, Pablo Picasso and Le Corbusier. And I also had the opportunity to ask him about that mysterious and wonderful photograph of four men on a roof in São Paulo…

Words Matt Willey

Rene Burri: Impossible Reminiscences is published by Phaidon and available to buy now