Shooting the avant-garde
I recently reviewed a wonderful book: New York, N. Why?. of sixty-seven Burckhardt photos, admittedly not a lot but what made the book special for me was the reproduction. It was a carefully prepared facsimile of a photo scrapbook that Burckhardt made in the late thirties of his New York street scene photos.
On the strength of that book I wanted to know more about this Swiss born photographer and Phillip Lopate's book does nicely. Burckhardt is another of those émigré photographers who came to America to avoid the thirties turmoil in Europe. The most famous is probably Robert Frank though Alexander Alland, John Gutman, Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth, Lisette Model and Marion Palfi each achieved professional success partly due their European perspective of seeing things.
There are two essays in the book, over forty-four pages, the longest by Lopate is excellent and goes into just the right amount of biographic detail to keep the reader interested and fortunately avoids those elitist meanderings that seem quite common in art books these days (and certainly in photobooks from my experience). Though Burckhardt isn't a photographer that you'll find in the Index of a history of American photography book his work here shows off his creativety. I especially like the New York street scene photos taken in 1938 to 1940, it's much more controlled and considered than the New York School photographers output that came after the Second World War.
The 278 duotone (175 screen) photos in the book are presented chronologically up to 1999, the year he died, aged eighty-five. As well as plenty of New York images there are photos from trips to Trinidad and Alabama (both during military service) Italy, Spain and Morocco. The back pages include artists at work, sidewalk and building shots and finally a nature selection taken in the Maine countryside.
Overall I thought this was a first-class monograph of a photographer (artist and filmmaker as well) perhaps not too well known but the photos here reveal a person bursting with creative ideas.
The essential Rudy Burckhardt. The top book is a lovely facsimile of one of his photo scrapbooks.
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