Beijing, China, 1964, © René Burri/Magnum Photos, from the book Impossible Reminiscences (Phaidon, 2013). “In Tiananmen Square, in front of the Forbidden City, there were mass demonstrations against the Americans in Vietnam.”
Born in Switzerland in 1933, René Burri first picked up a Leica during his military service. Through and introduction from Werner Bischof, Burri joined Magnum Photos in 1959 and went on to publish reportage in Life, Look, Stern and Paris Match among countless other publications. One of the remarkable things about Burri’s career, was that from the mid-1950s he worked with both black and white and color. Often, Hans-Michael Koetzle writes in his essay that accompanies Burri’s new book, Impossible Reminiscences, released this week by Phaidon, photographers are great at one or the other, or move on from black and white to color and seldom look back professionally. “[Burri] did the one without abandoning the other,” Koetzle writes. “….Burri has consistently pursued two goals, photographed in black and white and color, as a journalist and as an artist, which—precisely reckoned—would mean that he has lived four lives in photography.”
Impossible Reminiscences features more than 170 of Burri’s lesser-known color images, drawn and edited by Burri from his archive over the course of eight years, and accompanied by his personal reminiscences.
Suez Canal, Egypt, © René Burri/Magnum Photos, from the book Impossible Reminiscences. “I was with the Second Egyptian Army, who, at the end of the Yom Kippur War managed to cross the Suez Canal and establish a bridgehead there. They celebrated this victory by holding a military parade. However, as it was in the desert, rather than the troops parading in front of President Sadat, he went round inspecting the troops. I was in a jeep with the Commander of the Second Army, just behind President Sadat, and we drove through the troops and past bombers, helicopters, tanks and all the rockets.”
Das Island, United Arab Emirates, 1976, © René Burri/Magnum Photos, from the book Impossible Reminiscences. “Das Island is an island in the Persian Gulf that produces oil and gas. There were around 3,000 male workers (and not a single woman) on the island, from all over the world. This picture is of a Japanese team that worked for a gas company. Their living conditions were quite spartan, but here they were taking time out by playing golf.”