1933 - 2014 🖤
René Burri, September 2005, at Le Café du Passage, his ‘favourite watering hole’ in Paris, not far from Place de la Bastille where Catherine and I were ensconced .. we had met for an evening meal, I was a little early and he was a little late, a sweeping entrance into the café shouting to everyone, en anglais, ‘my car smells like burnt spaghetti’. We gathered jugs of water and fleet-footed a short distance up rue de Charonne to an open bonnet and a steaming radiator, slowly emptying our water into the reservoir, then left the car mostly on the footpath and returned to the café to eat at a small table one end of the bar within René’s reach of an array of malt whiskies, which he poured generously and regularly through the entire rendezvous.
René was a good friend for a long time, way back from 1985 after I met his wife, Rosellina Bischof-Burri in Aotearoa New Zealand. A few years after Le Café du Passage, while at his apartment in Ivry-sur-Seine, bordering the southern end of Paris’ mighty Périphérique, he asked to swap a photograph. He wanted an image from my 2007 series, I SAW YOU [an artist book and exhibition], where a woman is casually seated on a rock with her dress open to the hips, sunbathing. He said he wanted to hang it on his wall between an image of his and another photographer too illustrious to mention .. from a pile, I chose a 1963 Havana image of Fidel Castro. It was a plastic print, not well known, with fixing marks, and a Magnum Photos caption on the verso, perfectly raw and real.
After our honourable exchange, we drove up the Périphérique near to Place de Clichy to see progress on a major building renovation that would become @le_bal gallery. Not far into the drive from Ivry, René asked questions of the I SAW YOU image, where, how and finally, ‘is it Catherine?’, and I said, ‘René, you assume Catherine has hair’, at which point the car skewed right and left as René shouted, ‘no more, no more!’
Another year, he came with Clotilde to my 60th birthday party at the Arsenal, near Bastille, as did Lewis Baltz with Slavica (and others, of course, orchestrated by Catherine!), truly gladdening to witness two exceptional yet thoroughly different artists in conversation meeting for the first time. They died October and November 2014, within a month of each other.
BRUCE CONNEW / 10.2021
1. René Burri, Le Café du Passage, Paris, September 2005
2. I SAW YOU #17
3. Fidel Castro, Havana 1963, René Burri
4. Fidel Castro, Havana, 1963, René Burri, verso