Photographs by Rene Burri. Text by Hans-Michael Koetzle.
moser verlag, , 2009. Hardbound with Printed Paper Boards. 80 pp., 40 illustrations, ".
Blackout New York Photographs by Rene Burri. Text by Hans-Michael Koetzle. Published by moser verlag, 2009.
Thanks to the ever-increasing amounts of artificial light that floods our cities, photographers such as Brassai, Weegee, and Saul Leiter, along with many others, have chosen the night as their subject matter. But on November 5, 1965, Swiss photographer Rene Burri had nighttime thrust upon him.
Burri was in New York City when the incident now called the Northeast Blackout of 1965 brought down power in New York City, throughout New England, and into Southern Ontario. He was in the city working on film he had shot in China when the power failed around 5:30 pm. With eight roles of film in his pockets, he walked Fifth Avenue between 59th and 42nd streets, producing what turned out to be forty printable images.
The images in Blackout New York, all double-page spreads with generous black margins, depict a strangely calm city. Admittedly, Burri was not on some of New York's meaner streets, but the mood he captured of cooperation and resourcefulness is said to have been the rule throughout the city. (The violent images of looting come from the blackout of 1977, a time when the city was in a severe economic slump.) Headlights illuminate the streets, and people have left their apartments with flashlights and candles or improvised torches from rolled up newspapers. In some images, and these are among the best, the blackness is merely pockmarked with pools of light. Elsewhere Burri found customers seated at a diner's candlelit counter or sharing flashlights while checking to see if the payphones were working. People squeezed onto overcrowded busses look somewhat like refugees, but that is really as grim as it gets. In a more definitive image, the image that closes the book, four women stand in the street, silhouetted by oncoming traffic, optimistically awaiting an empty cab. In this slender document of what in the long run was a minor incident, Burri captured some of the best traits of the city during the unusual circumstances he happened to find himself in.
—Charles Dee Mitchell