1953
Europe – USA

Towards the end of 1952, Werner Bischof returned to Zurich after two years in Asia. Over the next months he devoted himself to the evaluation of his material. An exhibition, an issue of Du magazine, and the Japan book were to be the fruits of these labors. And, by autumn of 1953, he was already setting sail for America.

After the East came the Call of the West! The USA, Mexico, in the end Panama, Chile, and Peru. There his life’s journey was to come to a tragic and untimely end.

But Werner Bischof’s legacy, the work of the 37-year-old artist, had ripened into a comprehensive and partisan testimony to human life, to the joy and misery of a contradictory, fragmented world.

There were several reasons for his expedition to the New World. Werner Bischof had the opportunity to visit the Magnum Photos bureau in New York for the very first time. But this was only the first stop on his trip into the American continent.

1953 Europe

1953 Zürich

Exhibition ‘People in the Far East’

On May 9, 1953 the Book Guild of Gutenberg and the Food Club of Zürich invited the public to the photo exhibition ‘People in the Far East’ in St. Annahof, a department store on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse (Zurich’s luxury street). Bischof designed this exhibit of his work himself, and also showcased various objects from Asia.

Footage by René Burri

In June 1953 Werner Bischof offered the photography class at the School of Applied Arts a tour of the exhibition “People in the Far East.” He shared a little about his experiences among people in the Far East and explained the significance of the various objects on exhibit. The young photographer René Burri shot a 16 mm black and white film without sound – the only existing footage of Werner Bischof. Burri reflects back upon the event in 2001.

Japan Book

Back in Zürich Werner Bischof devotes himself to evaluating the materials gathered in Asia and begins work on his Japan book. He consults with Ernst Scheidegger and Walter Huber in Zürich.

In Paris he will meet with Robert Delpire, who publishes the French edition together with the German in 1954, immediately following Werner Bischof’s death.

1953 - 1954 USA

1953 Arrival in Manhattan

New York City, 14 September 1953

Werner Bischof travels on the luxury steamboat ‘Liberté’ from Le Havre, France to North America via South Hampton in Great Britain.

New York, USA 16 October 1953

“Standard Oil Company is offering me the chance to see America, they will pay me well and permit me 8 pages in their magazine, ‘The Lamp,’ for a project that documents the development of streets in the nation’s bigger cities! The title ‘Bold New Roads’.

New York, USA 16 October 1953

“The city is wonderful – this morning I stood atop a tall glass building directly next to the bus terminal. Instead of railroad tracks there are these streets that gracefully merge into one another. 

The roof of this multi-storied automotive train station simultaneously also serves as a parking lot. Great patterns to be seen from the 40th floor.”

1954 Letter to Henri Cartier-Bresson

Pittsburgh, USA, 9 January 1954

My dear Henri,

This week, an old friend of mine from Tokyo saw me on Fifth Avenue. He recently returned from his post as an analyst in the army and is very depressed at developments in the States since he left four years ago. But what is it that makes it so distinctly superficial, I call it the “assembly line” – everywhere this depressing, anti-individualistic feeling, this automatic way of living, thinking. 

There is only one great thing which is exceptional: the science, the research, the preservation of art. But these people, with few exceptions are foreigners, are French, are German or they are so strongly bound to our way of thinking that it seems to me they are like an oasis in a desert of stupidly vegetating creatures guided by a good or brutal thinking government. We overrule human rights and do things in such a way that everybody in the “assembly line” is convinced it must be right… 

I do not know if it is so, because I know the Far East and will be forever closer to their philosophy. It is the emptiness of daily life, the dryness of human relation which Thomas Wolfe describes in his book “There is no way back.” Yes, there is no way back, the developing of industries and of the robot can only go on, go on and destroy. Truly intelligent people will be drawn in by this monster with no hope of survival. 

The tragedy is that very few have time or take time to think about that. It is also paralyzing to see it, please forgive me if I am not coming back with the type of documentation you expected. I am soon going on my great trip. 

Yours Werner

Werner Bischof Estate
Am Wasser 55
CH-8049 Zurich
Switzerland
info@wernerbischof.com

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