Although he had been dead nine days earlier, the news of Werner Bischof’s death arrived to New York on the same day that it was announced the legendary Robert Capa had been killed in Vietnam. For their employer, Magnum photo-agency, it was a shocking double-blow.
On May 16th 1954, Bischof was travelling in the Andes with a Swiss geologist and a Peruvian driver when their Chevrolet station wagon slid off the road between Chagual and Parcoy and plunged 1,500 feet into a deep ravine.
Unlike Capa, Bischof chased the tranquility of tradition in his photos, eschewing news events. Trained as a painter, he offered a unique perspective, as he transversed Europe as an independent photographer and a photojournalist for Picture Post, documenting the war’s devastating effects on European culture and life. Orphans looked out forlornly from a train window in Hungary. The Reichstag stood in ruins. In Greece, prefabricated houses were built.
In 1949, he became the sixth member of Magnum Photos and traveled to India and Far East, working for Life, and Paris Match. In Bihar in India, he documented a famine. His wife, Rosellina, recalled their trip to Japan in a diary entry: “It is snowing today – Tokyo is enchanted – Werner and I visited the Meiji shrine in Tokyo. The mood is magical, the snowfall swallows the noise of the city. Everything appears just in black and white. Suddenly Werner runs away with his camera. I stop, terrified. What happened? He comes back after a little bit. Still out of breath but overjoyed he admits: I just took the picture of Japan!”
But the photo he was mainly remembered for was the last picture taken on that fatal trip to Peru: a little boy walking between the Andean village of Pisac and the town of Cuzco playing the flute. Posthumously, it became one of the symbols of Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man exhibition, a showcase of commonalities that bind people and cultures around the world.