Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

The UAE through his lens: René Burri, 1933-2014

Rene Burri, the photographer who captured the embryonic UAE in a series of stunning images in the 1960s and 1970s, has died of cancer in his home city of Zurich in Switzerland. He was 81.

Burri made several visits to the UAE, photographing daily life in Abu Dhabi, oil production on Das Island and encounters with the late Sheikh Zayed, the founding president.

“I spent a few hours scrolling through his vast archive of images, sitting in quiet amazement at his combined mastery of composition and timing,” said Brian Kerrigan, photo editor of The National.“Burri travelled the world extensively during his long career, in the process creating some of the most iconic photos of a generation, from Che Guevara (1963) with head tilted back chomping on a cigar, to Men on a Rooftop (1960), which has long been one of my all-time favourite photos.”

Born in Zurich in 1933, Burri was only 13 when Winston Churchill visited Switzerland in 1946. The teenager borrowed his father’s camera and took a picture of Churchill standing in an open-top car, the roadside crowds a blur in contrast with the strong-jawed British wartime leader.

His first photo-documentary, of a school for deaf-mute children in Zurich, was published in Life magazine when Burri was 23.He photographed artists including the sculptor Alberto Giacometti and architect Le Corbusier. An invitation to dine with Picasso in 1957 resulted in a series of intimate portraits.

“His unrivalled ability to tell stories and entertain us over this time will be part of his enormous legacy,” said Martin Parr, president of Magnum Photos, Burri’s agency.

Burri is survived by his second wife Clotilde Blanc, their son, and two children from an earlier marriage.

Text by Assistant Editor Ross Anderson

Updated: October 21, 2014 04:00 AM