Rudy Burckhardt (1914-1999) went to New York for the first time when he was 21 – and decided straight away that he wanted to stay. Overwhelmed by the sheer size of the metropolis, the architectural variety and the hustle and bustle of the streets, he began to record his impressions of the city in photographs and on film.
Burckhardt never really felt at ease in his home town of Basel where his family was among the venerable and well-to-do. From an early age he preferred to spend his time in Klein Basel, an area that was somewhat more rough around the edges, rather than striving to find a place in the ‘Daig’, the highest ranking families in Basel society. He began to develop an interest in photography. Exhibitions of avant-garde photographs were being held in the city, and were generating a great deal of discussion. For the young Burckhardt, photography was perhaps an escape from the traditions and pressures of his family.
In 1933 Burckhardt started studying medicine in London, however he stopped almost as soon as he had begun. Instead, he discovered the city with his camera. It was there that he met the American dancer, writer and later, dance critic, Edwin Denby, who was ten years his senior. In 1935 he followed him to New York, taking with him a comfortable inheritance that was to safely see him through the next few years.
Marking the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, the Swiss Photography Foundation is holding an exhibition of Rudy Burckhardt’s New York photographs, ranging from the late 1930s up to the early 1950s, completed by a selection of images taken from 1945 on trips to Europe. Selected 16mm short films from 1937-1959 on the theme of New York are being shown in a separate room as part of the exhibition. All photos on display are prints done by Rudy Burckhardt.