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René Burri: A study in color

In nearly 60 years, Swiss-born photographer René Burri has captured some of the most important political and cultural figures and events during the last half of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill, the Vietnam War.

His iconic black-and-white photographs have become part of history. However, his latest book, “Impossible Reminiscences,” offers a never-before-seen journey in color from the perspective of the great photographer. Curated by Burri, the retrospective takes the viewer around the world in chapters arranged by hue.

“It was my double life since the ‘50s,” he says from London as he reminisces about his color photography. “I had many hats. I was a painter and then I wanted to make films. When I got into journalism it was like a drug.”

Kodachrome, the popular and first successful color slide film that ceased production in 2010, was introduced in 1935 and Burri says he began experimenting with it in the mid-1950s. As the popularity of color photography increased, the demand for it by magazines increased.

Burri always carried between two and four cameras, some loaded with black-and-white film, others with color. Often the color photographs chosen by the editor satisfied the magazine, but it was usually the unpublished pictures Burri had taken that resonated with him.

“There are over 140 pictures in the book, maybe only 10 of these were published at the time,” he says.

“Impossible Reminiscences” offers a unique insight into five decades of photography. Burri sifted through thousands of slides and negatives for the book’s images from the mid-1950s to the mid-2000s. It is “the outcome of some eight years of searching,” Hans-Michael Koetzel writes in the book.

Burri, born in Zurich in 1933, joined the legendary Magnum Photos cooperative as an associate member in 1955, just a year after its founding member Robert Capa was killed while working in Thai-Binh, Northern Vietnam. He is still a member 58 years later.

A lifetime Leica user, Burri says he started using a digital camera about four years ago. He’s impressed with how the technology has progressed and the quality of pictures digital cameras are now able to produce.

He is excited about the future of color photography in the digital world, he says.

- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN