1954 Mexico – Panama – Chile – Peru

New experiences. His wife Rosellina came to New York. Werner Bischof purchased an Arriflex film camera. Together, Werner and Rosellina embarked on a voyage down the east coast. The two made a stop in Mexico, before parting ways. They were never to see each other again.

En route to South America, Werner Bischof made a stop in Panama, where the 50th anniversary celebration for the Canal was under way.

A report on ‘Generation X, on young people all over the world, had been a great success. Magnum Photos was preparing a follow-up: ‘Generation W,’ for Woman. Werner Bischof was to take pictures for the new report in Santiago de Chile.

A friend’s visit took Werner Bischof to Peru, where he was also working on his assignment, the third part of the Generations Project. This time it was to be called ‘Generation Children’.

On the way to the Peruvian Andes, Bischof met his fate.

1954 Mexico

1954 Rosellina's diary

“Werner has been equipping his expedition station wagon with boyish joy and I have been collecting visas in our passports.

By early February we’re ready and leave New York early in the morning fully laden and full of plans.

Werner has his motion picture camera with him as well as a tape recorder: it will be a superb time! We’re learning Spanish in the car and can hardly wait to reach the Mexican border.”

“This was the first time in six years that I was able to go abroad. Immediate questions that naturally came to mind:  What should I take?  How will I get around?

The same week I read in an article: ‘Every trip to Germany today is like casting off from an island into a sea full of unforeseen eventualities; it is best to equip yourself as if you were going on an expedition.”

1954 Letter to Rosellina

While they are both still in Mexico City, Werner writes to Rosellina shortly before her return to Europe:

My dear,

Departure is always bound up with sorrow…and the one left behind always feels so helpless…

Soon you will take a flight back to our dear son – yes, it is difficult sometimes, but I have the feeling that there is something important that I need to fulfill…

I have organized everything for my flight. It gets hotter every day and will probably be intolerable in Panama – but I can handle it for four days.

It’s autumn in Chile! What a change in climate within a matter of hours.

Yours, Werne 

1954 Panama

1954 Letter to Rosellina

“Hotel El Panama – Panama in the beautiful hotel with tropical gardens, everything sounds so important and it looks really elegant here – but after a closer look it’s not entirely so. My room has Knoll furniture and a Braque painting.

The heat is absolutely oppressive. From morning till night I am out at work for this Life story in preparation for the anniversary of the Panama Canal.

On April 2nd I am flying towards Santiago de Chile where my work on ‘Generation W’ (for Generation Woman) urgently awaits me.

How are you, my dear, and Marco? I think often of you both.

Much love, your Werner

1954 Chile

1954 'Generation W', Chile

Carmen Ortego-Salas was born in 1921. She lives with her husband, their daughter, and 3 boys in a modern two story house in Santiago de Chile.

She spent two years in New York from 1944 – 1946. Upon her return to Santiago she works as an English teacher.

Her husband is a composer and works at the music academy.

Excerpt of questionnaire: 

Do you think there has been an expansion of women’s freedom in your country during the past generation?

“Yes, I think there is an expansion in women’s freedom and I do think there will be more in the future – more education.”

1954 Peru

1954 Letter to Max Bill

Lima, Peru 7 May 1954

Dear Max Bill,

My thoughts turned quite spontaneously to your work as I was visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu, especially upon encountering the beautiful details.

Rosellina wrote me that you were also here and stood gazing with a similar excitement upon these incredible stone constructions. How could the Incas have achieved such precision without the modern means available to us? 

In order to avoid the hoards of tourists, I stayed up there for two days and shot pictures in various combinations of color and form which I’d like to show you in Zürich some time. 

Now and then I think back to Zürich and wonder what has happened with the School of Applied Arts and who has taken over Itten’s position. Otherwise there is little that ties me to that place except my friends.

Sincerely Werner Bischof

1954 Machu Picchu

Photo by Eugene V. Harris, and text on reverse of print:

“On the last night of my brief friendship with Werner we sat before a fireplace, high in the Andes mountains of Peru, talking photography most of the night. 

I shall always remember his advice to me, ‘to take pictures with your heart’. His deep compassion for the humble people of the world, as revealed in his photos, will leave its permanent imprint on the work of other photographers.”

1954 Shepherd boy and Adventures

Kurt Burri organizes for his friend Werner Bischof the locations for the ‘Generation Children’ assignment in the highlands of Peru. 

But one evening in Lima, as Werner Bischof and Kurt Burri are going out for a drink, they meet a man from Switzerland. He plans to go next day to a gold mine in the Andes. 

The story for ‘Generation Children’ was never made; the only picture that remains is the one of the flute player.

1954 Last letter to Rosellina

Lima, Peru, 7 May 1954

In a Bar at Plaza San Martin Werner Bischof happens to run into the geologist Ali de Szepessy, whom he knew in Switzerland.

Werner writes in his last letter to Rosellina:

“On Friday I’m leaving with Szepessy, a Hungarian geologist, for Trujillo and from there into the interior of the Andes: mountains – jungle – strangers. It’s for about eight days, just to get to know the Peruvian world a little better.

I know I should be in Mexico now, but this is a one time opportunity, and when I was in Machu Picchu it was my intention to pursue every lead. What am I supposed to do in Lima! Kurt is busy and gone a lot, I only see him at noon and evenings. I don’t want to remain idle.”

New York Herald Tribune, 27 May 1954

On May 16, 1954 the station wagon contai­ning Werner Bischof, Ali de Szepessy, and the driver veers off the road and plunges into a ravine in the Peruvian Andes. The vehicle is discovered several days later and all passengers determined to be dead.

The newspapers in New York report the accidental death of Werner Bischof in Peru and of Robert Capa in Indochina (May 25, 1954).

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