Werner Bischof. Photographs (1932-1954)

6 october, 1988 - 19 december, 1988 /
Sabatini Building
Exhibition view. Werner Bischof. Photographs (1932-1954), 1988
Exhibition view. Werner Bischof. Photographs (1932-1954), 1988

The premature death of Werner Bischof (Zurich, Switzerland, 1916 - Trujillo, Peru, 1954), at the age of just thirty eight, after his jeep falls off a cliff with two other passengers in the Andes Mountains, cuts a promising career short that had already shown signs of great potential during its eighteen years of development.

As a teenager, Bischof goes against his parents' will and enrols at the School of Arts and Crafts in his native city where he learns from Alfred Willimann, his plastic arts teacher, and Hans Finsler, who shows him the medium of photography, gaining the necessary knowledge to awaken a sensibility that initially focuses on nature.

These first snapshots of landscapes, vegetables, plants, trees and animals catch the eye of Arnold Kübler as he publishes them in his recently established magazine Du. The war sensitises Bischof to world suffering as he starts a journey through the affected countries such as France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, placing human beings at the centre of his work. In 1949 he begins to work and travel for the Picture Post and Observer publications as well as for the Magnum agency, where he becomes friends with Robert Capa.

In 1951 he is sent to India by Life magazine, and for two years he travels the Asian continent, with his own work leading him to reflect upon the pitfalls of beauty, as shown in the letters he sends to his wife, Rosellina. At the same time his portraits of children start to blatantly become a key part of his iconography whereby beauty and kindness are muddled.

Rosellina Burri-Bischof worked for many years collating his diaries, comments, letters and photographic drawings to offer a personal vision of the artist; his death in 1986 cut short the process that has been taken up by his children Marc and Daniel Bischof, and, which, in the end, has given rise to this exhibition in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Within the framework of “Swiss Week '88”, the display of Werner Bischof's photographs compiles his snapshots from 1932 to 1954 and is arranged according to three themes: Post-war Europe, Korea and Japan, the place he lived for a year and half, with his clear fascination for country reflected in the series of images.

The disturbing images of hunger in India are in sharp contrast to the peace and balance of the temples of Tokyo and Kyoto. The intensity and beauty of Bischof's work is portrayed in the impeccable technical dexterity of his photos on the prisoner camps in South Korea, the opium and the images of Indochina and his last photographs taken in Peru. All of these images are of a turbulent world that seems more at ease when observed through the details focused on by the artist.

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Asociación Económica Hispano-Suiza and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia
Rosellina Burri-Bischof, Marc Bischof and Daniel Bischof
Exhibition Tour: 

Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland (March 31 - May 31, 1987)

Werner Bischof