René Burri

View from the Azarieh building, Beirut, Lebanon, 1991

1991, 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: 345 x 503 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Pierre Brahm 2015
Reference
P14326

Summary

View from the Azarieh Building, Beirut, Lebanon, 1991 1991, printed 2014, is a colour photograph by the Swiss photographer René Burri. It shows a view of a portion of the city looking out to the Mediterranean Sea from the centre of town. The buildings shown initially appear normal but on closer inspection the scars of war are clear in the broken walls and absence of windows. The remains of a window stretch across the centre of the image. Fragments of glass resting at the bottom of the frame form jagged abstract shapes in layers of translucency, ghostly and intangible. The Azarieh Building is a large multipurpose building on Azarieh Street in the Central District of Beirut. Like so much of the city, it took significant bomb-damage during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990. Burri took this photograph just a year after the end of the war, capturing the recent carnage.

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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