Von Monica Pozzi, 23. October 2014


In memory of 9-11, photographer TIM BARBER posted a view from his window onto the smouldering Twin Towers. My first thought upon seeing the image went to RUDY BURCKHARDT‘s VIEW FROM BROOKLYN, one of my all time favorite photographs. Almost fifty years apart and shot on very different occasions, the pictures still emanate the same. They provide a remote view from a safe place onto a fascinating, relentless city that eats you up and spits you out.

Swiss photographer Rudy Burckhardt arrived in New York in 1935. He was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the metropolis, the architectural diversity, and the hustle and bustle on the streets. To process his impressions, he began capturing the city on film. Blessed with a comfortable inheritance that ensured his survival in New York for the next few years, he rented a loft in Chelsea and immersed himself in the lively artists’ scene including his neighbor Willem de Kooning, Paul Bowles and Orson Welles.
Burckhardt had previously studied medicine in London, but abandoned it almost immediately. Instead, he went on extended walks to explore the city camera in hand. Later he recalled:
“… that was a revelation. My first big city, with slums and things out of control. People asleep on the street. The smell of urine. It was great.”
Rudy Burckhardt was fascinated by the most trivial motifs. He photographed manhole covers, hydrants, or advertising signs in beautifully composed still lifes. Burckhardt’s street photography deliberately avoided the socio-critical angle of many of his contemporaries. His gaze is often downwards viewing the crowds on the big city stage as faceless figures on the street. With its unbiased and personal view of the modern city, Rudy Burckhardt’s work still fascinates today.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, FOTOSTIFTUNG SCHWEIZ presents RUDY BURCKHARDT – IN THE JUNGLE OF THE BIG CITY, Photographs and Films 1932-1959, opening Friday, October 24, 6pm. The exhibition will be on view until February 15, 2015. All the photographs on show are vintage or later prints made by Rudy Burckhardt.

(Photos ttb: A View from Brooklyn II, 1953 © The Estate of Rudy Burckhardt and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York; Chelseascape 3, New York, 1947 © The Estate of Rudy Burckhardt and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York)

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