Welcome to another entry into our Masters of Photography Series. In this edition, we’re going to be looking at Werner Bischof.
You may remember our Masters article on Magnum, the esteemed photography collective that has been responsible for some of the most iconic images in the last century. Werner Bischof was one of the earliest members of the group, and helped to shape the landscape for those who came after him.
Born in Switzerland, Bischof graduated from Kunstgewerbeschule with honours before beginning work as an independent photographer for several magazines.
Much of Bischof’s most notable work came from his exploration of the devastation in post-war Europe, particularly the impact the war had on poorer areas. His early work juxtaposes images of ruined buildings and hungry children, with the beauty of foreign lands from his work elsewhere in the world.
Bischof said that he disliked the “superficiality and sensationalism” of magazine photography, despite much of his early work coming from such publications, and he spent most of his working life exploring the tranquillity of traditional cultures in places like Japan, Korea, and Indochina. And despite the images not being “sensational”, they still found a home in major magazines across the world.
Bischof joined Magnum in 1949 as the sixth member of the group, along with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, David Seymour, and Ernst Haas. Bischof’s territory included much of Asia, along with elements of Europe.
On the 16th of May 1954, Werner Bischof dies in a road accident when his car fell from a cliff in the Andes. Nine days later, Magnum lost one of its founding members, Robert Capa.
Bischof’s goal of illuminating the hardships of people “beyond our borders” not only made him one of the most prolific photojournalists of the time, but also inspired countless others who came after him, including his son, who gathered together a collection of previously unreleased photographs in 2004 and released them under the title “Questions to My Father: A Tribute to Werner Bischof”.