Making numerous trips to Brazil over the years, René Burri built up a comprehensive portrait of Rio de Janeiro, which captures its iconic coastline, vibrant nightlife and some of the city’s most famous buildings. Shown in the slideshow above, Burri’s perspective takes the viewer up high onto rooftops, finding symmetry and pattern in architecture, and down onto street level with candid portraits of Rio’s inhabitants that go beyond stereotypes. One shot, taken from a skyscraper in 1978, pictures construction men below, working on another building’s ascent into the skyline, and echoes one of Burri’s earlier and most famous photographs: Men on a Rooftop, taken in São Paulo in 1960. Eighteen years on, and it seems Burri’s love of a high vantage point was still guiding his eye. He once told an interviewer, “Whenever there was a high-rise building, I was climbing up and knocked at the door and said, ‘Can I take a picture?’”
In this collection of images of Rio de Janeiro, spanning three decades – from the late 1950s to the 1970s – René Burri flexes his inimitable style, which seamlessly manages to at once sensitively capture great beauty and a sense of lightheartedness: two women watch a carnival, gazing out of the window of a hair salon, flanked by the heads of mannequins; a child grins at Burri’s camera, fully buried in the sand of Copacabana beach; and construction workers pose for the camera, their outfits and stances theatrical enough to be a fashion shoot. At the backdrop of it all, the unmistakable curve of Rio de Janeiro’s coastline is pictured in 1958 before mass development crept in, Burri’s image taken from such a height that wisps of cloud fill the foreground. Watching over even Burri, Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue towers over over the city.