I'm not the right person to write an appreciation of Magnum photographer René Burri, who died last Monday. He was just the sort of photographer I should like, and I always thought of him sympathetically, but in trying to engage with his work I never caught enough friction to make contact. I still don't quite get him, although I've always thought I should. Along with the rest of the world I admire his most famous pictures.
I heard of him as a younger gadfly of Henri Cartier-Bresson's, who measured himself against his older and more distinguished colleague, provoking and inspiring and perhaps sometimes irritating Henri, through a shared affection. And over the years I heard intriguing stories of how Burri refused to take certain pictures because they were too obvious or too exploitative—and how could I not like that? "One of these days I'm going to publish a book of all the pictures I did not take. It is going to be a huge hit," he said.
But with artists I don't know yet, "meeting" them is always a possibility for the future. René Burri is well served by in-print books—one a "how I worked" memoir called Impossible Reminiscences [now back-ordered —Ed.], another a major retrospective book of photographs. I haven't seen either one (have you? Tell us what you think if you have). There are numerous obituaries on the web. I'm sorry I don't have more to add, but I would welcome comments from others who do.
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Bill Pierce: "this is a comment I made earlier on another website that had a thread on René Burri. René Burri died on Monday. A lot of you know he was an exceptional photographer. He was also an exceptional human. He had a few years on me and still outran me. When my airplane flight got rescheduled and I had no place to stay when we were covering Tiananmen Square, he shared his hotel room. As an extra bonus I got a guided tour through his book The Germans. I spotted one picture that was actually a print comprised of two adjacent frames. He laughed and said I was one of the few people who realized what it was, that Cartier-Bresson hadn’t spotted it. I finally got my plane out. René stayed to rewalk the mountainous part of Mao’s Long March. As I said, he could outrun me.
"Every time we crossed paths, it was an exceptional pleasure. I suppose there are a lot of good photographers in the world. There are few that had his kindness, his generosity and his genuine love for the people around him. The cliché 'he will be missed' is an understatement."
Clive Evans: "Met René at Les Rencontres d'Arles in 2010—a really warm generous nice guy."