Topic: [The Guardian] The big picture: Rene Burri's shadows of doubt  (Read 305 times)

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The big picture: Rene Burri's shadows of doubt

The chance appearance of a mysterious foursome on a São Paulo rooftop provided the Magnum photographer with a memorable shot

There seem to be two distinct ways of looking at René Burri’s Men on a Rooftop, a defining picture by the renowned Magnum photographer, taken in São Paulo in 1960. One views it as a supreme exercise in composition, like an abstract painting: the photograph is divided into three vertical sections – road, buildings and rooftop – each delineated by contrasts in sunlight and shadow. The image is a photographic equivalent of the modernist architecture it celebrates, dwelling on concrete geometries.

In the other way of seeing, the eye fixes on the four figures on the roof. The cityscape below and its teeming traffic becomes a vertiginous backdrop to their curious, elongated silhouettes. The four are cast in an apparently conspiratorial drama that demands to be understood. What is their purpose up there? Why are three of the figures in step behind the man ahead? The shot looks like a still from a film – but the tone is elusive.

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