HONG-KONG. 1952. Harbour of Kowloon.

Werner Bischof: one of the original members of Magnum, and one of the greatest photographers of all time:


Pick up the new book: “Werner Bischof Backstory” by Aperture >


0. Elegant minimalism

Less is more:

ZŸrich. Photographie de studio.


1. Uncover the truth behind the world

I felt compelled to venture forth and explore the true face of the world. Leading a satisfying life of plenty had blinded many of us to the immense hardships beyond our borders.



2. Combat poverty and injustice in the world:

I believe it is one of our biggest tasks—the task of our life—to do everything possible to counter poverty and to build a freedom-loving future.


3. Always stay an artist

I’m just no newspaper reporter. I’m at the mercy of the big newspapers. It won’t do. I’ve been prostituting myself, but now I’ve had enough. Deep inside me I still am- and always will be- an artist.


HONG-KONG. Island of Kau Sai.1952. A peasant sleeping.
INDIA. State of Rajasthan. Town of Jaipur. The Observatory. Designed by astronomer Jai SINGH (1699-1744), the observatory was built over a period of 16 years. It was finished in 1734. December 1952.
INDOCHINA. Barau, a Meo (or Hmong) village. 1952.
INDOCHINA. Barau, a Meo (or Hmong) village. A funeral. 1952.
MEXICO. 1954.
SOUTHERN INDIA. The Kathakali dance school. Putting make-up onto a boy performing as a Krishna. 1952.
MEXICO. The market. 1954.


4. Raising awareness through photography; don’t make the public ignore you!

In the long run I don’t think anyone can overlook these images of hunger, that people can ignore all my pictures—no, definitely not. And even if only a vague impression remains, in time this will create a basis that will help people distinguish between what is good and what is objectionable.


5. What does war bring?

When the war came, with it came the destruction of my ivory tower. Henceforth my attention would focus on the face of human suffering, something I saw a thousand times over on the Swiss-Austrian border… stranded children and old people, behind them exploding grenades and speeding armored cars.



6. Find inspiration in nature

“How serene and great nature is, quite removed from this world – the moon casts its pale face on the glacier below us – a mighty flow of ice with holes and crevasses; blackish-blue abysses signifying nothingness. So soft – so gentle, ennobling all, like a gentle hand the moonlight glides across the icy cold sheets, the shadows are not voids, they are full of life.” – (Ascent of the Oschen from the Strahlegghütte. Werner Bischof’s diary, August 19th, 1940)

SOUTH KOREA. Kaesong. 1952. International Press photographers covering the Korean War.

“Round every bend a surprise. The Wild valley grew deeper, the water more rapid and the rocks more massive. The colour changed from the tranquil grey-green to a wild, whipped-up white. Water that was heading for the Amazon, a marvelous thought. On the rock walls grew wonderful, delicate orchids, cacti, ferns. We stopped at a few huts, and were able for the first time to grasp the height of the rocks that rose up around us. They seemed to be made all the more massive by the mist that cut them short. Everything grey and dripping from saturation; the depths seemed to conceal mysterious life within them.” – (Werner Bischof’s diary, Lima, May 6, 1954)

UNITED STATES. 1953.

“The trees are exquisite in Japan. You know the poems that tell of the wind blowing through the trees and the trees and the leaves. In the center of the capital, with its ever-increasing bustle, I have discovered some tree shapes of breathtaking beauty and have drawn them for you. I cannot believe that these people will ever stop venerating nature, that a time will come when they no longer shelter trees and flowers in their houses as symbols of what is noble and pure.” – (Werner Bischof’s letter to wife Rosellina, 1951)

SWITZERLAND. 1943.

“The plain is a mosaic of fields, of delicately colored squares – a real Paul Klee painting.


7. Elegance and beauty in the ordinary:

SWITZERLAND. Zurich. “Floating snails”. 1936.
SWITZERLAND. Zurich. 1941. Photogram 3.
HUNGARY. Budapest. 1947.

Terraces, England 1950

Crocodile in the zoo, New York City, USA 1954
ITALY. Milan. July 27th, 1946. “Piazza del Duomo,” Duomo (main cathedral) square. 200,000 people demonstrate against the separation of the Province of Trieste from Italy.


8. Find hope and optimism through your photos

Even though a lot of his photos documented suffering, pain, and injustice in the world (especially after World War II), his photos have so much love, life, and hope:

HUNGARY. Budapest. “Heroes of yesterday”. 1947.
FRANCE. Lorraine region. Village of Saint Dié. 1945.
POLAND. Warsaw. 1948.
HUNGARY. The flooded Theiss river. 1947.
GERMANY. Region of Baden-Württemberg. Town of Freiburg im Breisgau. A man walks through the destroyed city looking for food. 1945.
ITALY. Campania region. Town of Naples. 1946.
ITALY. Liguria region. Genoa. 1983.
GREECE. 1946.
Village of Corinth.
GREECE. Athens. 1946.
GREECE. Peloponnese region. 1947.
HUNGARY. Gipsy circus. 1947.

Photography lessons

Further lessons I’ve learned from Werner Bischof:

  1. Shoot a combination of nature, landscape, people, and city life
  2. Seek for elegant minimalism; less is more
  3. Try to shoot from unique perspectives (bird eye view, or super-low perspective)
  4. Work the scene with different compositions
  5. Clean background; but add layers


Werner Bischof: Magnum Photos Portfolio >


Some of my favorite photos by Werner Bischof:


INDOCHINA. 1952. Barau, a Meo (or Hmong) village. Cham women returning from the market.
SOUTH KOREA. Island of Koje Do. 1952. Internment camp for North Korean prisoners of war. The prisoners perform a square dance in front of a large Statue of Liberty. Between 1950 and 1953 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) fought against the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. The armistice divided Korea into a Northern and a Southern part, along the 38th parallel.
JAPAN. Kyoto. Temple of Ryoanji. A priest rests. 1951.
SOUTH KOREA. Island of Koje Do. A camp for North Korean prisoners of war. Laundry hanging on the barbed wire. Between 1950 and 1953 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) fought against the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. The armistice divided Korea into a Northern and a Southern part, along the 38th parallel. 1952.
SOUTH KOREA. Kaesong. 1952. International Press photographers covering the Korean War.
HUNGARY. 1947. Puszta plains. Farmers Inn.
INDIA. Town of Jamshedpur. May 1951. Employees of the Tata Iron and Steel Company on their way to work. The industrial complex was founded in 1907 by Jamshedji Nassarwanyi TATA. Over the years it became the nucleus of a huge complex producing textiles, steel, electric power, chemicals, agricultural equipment, trucks, locomotives, and cement. The TATA family was also the largest private funder of technical education and scientific research in India. 1951.
JAPAN. Hiroshima. Children waiting for the arrival of Emperor HIROHITO. 1951.
SWITZERLAND. Zürich. Bellevue Square. 1946.
INDOCHINA. Town of Hanoi. 1952.
PERU. 1954. Village of Pisac. Holy Week celebrations.
INDIA. Bombay. 1951.
USA. New York city. Manhattan. Car parking lot. 1953.
HONG-KONG. Day of the wandering souls. 1952.
HUNGARY. Budapest. 1947.
SWITZERLAND. Zurich. “Zebra woman”. 1942.
HONG-KONG. 1952. A family of Chinese refugees from Shanghai. After the Second World War hundreds of thousands of Chinese went to Hong Kong (administered by the British), fleeing the civil war between the Nationalist and Communist armies in China.
INDIA. State of Bihar. April 1951. Children in a famine stricken area, running towards trucks delivering corn. Due to flooding and drought, in 1951 the province of Bihar was heavily stricken by famine. The US sent 136 million tons of wheat and a 190 million dollar loan, while the USSR sent 50.000 tons of wheat.
INDIA. Town of Jamshedpur. An employee of the Tata Steel and Iron Company. The industrial complex was founded in 1907 by Jamshedji Nassarwanyi TATA. Over the years it became the nucleus of a huge complex producing textiles, steel, electric power, chemicals, agricultural equipment, trucks, locomotives, and cement. The TATA family was also the largest private funder of technical education and scientific research in India. May 1951.
JAPAN. Tokyo. Kabuki (traditional Japanese popular drama) master Bondo Mitsugoro waiting to go on stage and play the part of “Yanoné”. 1951.
HONG-KONG. 1952. Lunch time.
SOUTH KOREA. Town of Pusan, which became the capital of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War. Between 1950 and 1953 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) fought against the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. The armistice divided Korea into a Northern and a Southern part, along the 38th parallel. 1952.
INDIA. State of Bihar. Famine stricken area. Due to flooding and drought, in 1951 the province of Bihar was heavily stricken by famine. The US sent 136 million tons of wheat and a 190 million dollar loan, while the USSR sent 50.000 tons of wheat. April 1951.
JAPAN. Tokyo. Courtyard of the Meiji shrine. 1951.
JAPAN. Tokyo. 1951. Striptease club.
SWITZERLAND. Tessin region. An Italian child at a center for refugees. 1945.
HONG-KONG. 1952. Harbour of Kowloon.
PERU. Cuzco. 1954.
SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 1952.
Selling rice in the blackmarket. Between 1950 and 1953 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) fought against the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. The armistice divided Korea into a Northern and a Southern part, along the 38th parallel.
.
SCOTLAND. Town of Edinburgh. 1950. Penguins from the zoo taking their weekly walk. The director of the zoo walks them through the city every week in order to attract people to the zoo.
HUNGARY. Budapest. 1947.
GERMANY. Frankfurt. 1946. A man looking at the ruined city.
SOUTH KOREA. Village of San Jang Ri, located on the frontline between South and North Korea. Between 1950 and 1953 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) fought against the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. The armistice divided Korea into a Northern and a Southern part, along the 38th parallel. 1951.
JAPAN. View of Tokyo. Shimbashi district. 1951.
PERU. 1954.
Machu Picchu.
INDIA. Bombay. The Bharat Natyam dancer Anjali HORA getting ready for a performance. 1951.
INDIA. Bengal region. The port of Calcutta. Unloading corn sent by foreign countries to help India’s famine stricken areas. Due to flooding and drought, in 1951 the province of Bihar was heavily stricken by famine. The US sent 136 million tons of wheat and a 190 million dollar loan, while the USSR sent 50.000 tons of wheat. 1951.
MEXICO. Mexico City. 1954. Pictures of bullfighters.

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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