René Burri

Beijing, China, 1989

1989, printed 2014

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
René Burri 1953–2014
Medium
Photograph, C-print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 356 x 510 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Pierre Brahm 2015
Reference
P14323

Summary

Beijing, China, 1989 1989, printed 2014, is a colour photograph by the Swiss photographer René Burri, partially showing two figures. On the right are the back of the legs of a woman in a long blue-green coat and bright red high-heeled shoes; a square of white material is placed down the heel of both shoes, presumably to prevent blisters. She holds a shiny, light pink bag, which dangles next to her ankles. The figure on the left is crouching as if to take a photograph from a lower angle, and wears a purplish brown suit and black and grey leather shoes.

This image is part of a portfolio of twenty-seven prints (Tate P14301P14327), selected and compiled by Burri as a cohesive group shortly before his death in 2014. The selection spans his sixty-year career and includes a number of his best-known black and white works, as well as a group of lesser-known colour works. The portfolio was printed by Burri in 2014 and this copy is number three in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof. It contains fourteen black and white gelatin silver prints and thirteen colour C-prints, highlighting Burri’s diverse use of light and shadow alongside his experimental use of colour. Although predominantly known for shooting in black and white, Burri often travelled with two cameras, switching between them to capture images in both colour and greyscale. This was a progressive approach at the time, when colour photography was generally only used in advertising or for commercial practices. Burri revisited his archive of colour images later in his career and published the monograph René Burri: Impossible Reminiscences in 2013 as a decisive examination of this work.

Burri is most famous for his work as a member of the photojournalism agency Magnum Photos and the portfolio includes images produced in this context from projects in Brazil, Egypt, Lebanon, East Germany, China and South Korea, as well as an iconic image of Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara taken in Havana in 1963. The young Burri was introduced to Magnum by fellow Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and began working with the agency first as an associate in 1955, before becoming a full member in 1959. His extensive career encompassed a wide variety of photographic practices, including documentary, reportage, street photography and the photo-essay, as well as portraiture, architecture and landscape. He often worked on press assignments and personal projects simultaneously, building a varied portfolio of work in both black and white and colour. Burri’s use of both bird’s eye and worm’s eye views and his attention to the effects of light and shadow created by architectural forms are reminiscent of techniques used by modernist photographers in the early twentieth century.

Further reading
Hans-Michael Koetzle, René Burri Photographs, London 2003.
Hans-Michael Koetzle, René Burri: Impossible Reminiscences, London 2013.

Shoair Mavlian
January 2015
Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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