Werner Bischof

(1916 - 1954) Swiss


Werner Bischof's photographs of post-World War II European and Asian cultures were integral to the development of photojournalism since 1945. Trained in graphic design and photography at the Zürich School of Arts and Crafts, Bischof adhered early to the style of New Objectivity, and an interest in avant-garde art and photography led him to move to Paris in 1939. The war began shortly after his arrival, and he returned to Switzerland, where he was conscripted. His experiences with refugees and his observation of the desperate conditions of war as a soldier at the Swiss border--as well as his later employment at the Zürich magazine Du, where he was encouraged toward photojournalism--resulted in a dramatic change in his photographic approach between 1942 and 1944. By 1945 he was producing the socially conscious photographs and essays for which he became best known, and had begun traveling extensively for LIFE. In 1949 he joined Magnum, a co-operative picture agency founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Chim (David Seymour), and George Rodger, with the hope of resolving the conflict between his artistic intentions and the often sensationalist journalism that commercial picture editors preferred. Eventually he produced his own projects in book form; in 1954 he published Japan, with photographs from a year spent living there. That same year, while in South America gathering documentation for a project on the continent's many cultures, he died in a tragic car accident in Peru.
In the 1960s, as video journalism replaced the role of picture magazines, the Fund for Concerned Photography (later the International Center of Photography) was established to preserve and recognize the contributions of photographers whose social dedication and acute humanity changed people's understanding of their own and foreign cultures. Bischof's achievements were duly recognized, as he was one of the first photographers whose work the Fund collected.
Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 209.
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