Biography of Werner Bischof (1916-1954)

Swiss photographer, born in Zurich in 1916 and disappeared somewhere in the Andes (Peru) in 1954.

Werner Bischof studied in his home town, first drawing and physical culture, later graphic arts at the school of Arts, where he/she began his contact with photography thanks to Hans Finsler (1891-1972), following the principles of the new objectivity (sharp, with a clear definition image; importance of technical processes and optical laws), and was considered one of the best teachers in their field.

The importance that had Finsler manifolds in the work of Bischof is shown on images that the latter carried out in this period from the end of the 1920s, in which you can appreciate the importance of light and forms, and which gives primacy to aesthetics.

In his facet as a painter, he/she tried to start it in Paris, where he/she moved in 1939 to try their luck, but the start of the second world war thwarted their hopes, since he/she had to enlist in the army before beginning his career in the city. This fact did not prevent to continue working on his drawings for a number of newspapers, commits, and deepen, more and more with photography.

In 1942, Bischof joined as Permanent collaborator in the drafting of the Swiss magazine Du, for which he/she worked primarily as a fashion photographer.

His travels through France, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe did consider the importance of photography as a witness of the concerns and the different forms of life that exist in society.

It radically changed the way to photograph from 1945, when he/she made his trip to Europe to take documentary photographs of the destruction caused by the war. From this work, he/she began to express their own ethical and social concerns through images that increasingly carried out more quickly. He/She felt the need to communicate, through them, all the problems that exist in the world; He/She left sample of all outlets that took place during these years, and in the texts (journals and letters), which reflected on the role of photography in the society.

From 1949 he/she began his long career of travel all over the world. He/She oriented his work to the international press, so it joined and formed part of the Magnum agency - created two years earlier in Paris by a group of independent photographers: Robert Capa, Chim and Cartier-Bresson, Rodger. The countries visited to perform his work as foto-periodista include China, Japan, Korea, Peru (where years later would lose life in a traffic accident), and the India where he/she made in 1951 one of the most important works in the area of Bihar. This was commissioned by Vogue magazine for which carried out the report entitled hunger in India, which caused his first international success.

These images were later in the retrospective, sponsored by the center of photography New York International, which took place in the Museum of the Louvre in Paris; and in various books published in his time, as Japan.

He moved to New York, where he/she lived for some time. From there, he/she organized his trip across all Latin America to photograph the way of life of the Indians, was first to Mexico and from there toured the countries that most interested him. From this period is the book that took place in 1953, with the collaboration of Robert Frank and Pierre Berger, entitled not dead Indians.

Photographs of his travels were the sense of composition even in the most extreme situations; I used to make them with the technique of the gelatinobromuro of silver that enriched them in shades of white and black; and presented to children, because it fascinated him autonomy with that they sought the life before the war and poverty, working as a shoeshine boy, or playing an instrument anywhere.


FRAME and MAGNAGUAGNO, Christian: Werner Bischof, 1916-1954. Paris: Arthaud, 1990.

Werner Bischof. Barcelona: Editorial Orbis, 1984 (collection the great photographers).

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