Though he painted and made short films, he’s known for his street photography: black and white shots of mid-century New Yorkers in motion amid a swirl of crowds and buildings, yet strangely alone in the modern urban landscape.
At right, he photographed friend and dance critic Edwin Denby on the roof of their apartment at 145 West 21st Street.
“[His] best artworks are the New York images from the ’40s, strange angled photographs shot from the tops of skyscrapers, or movements in the streets of Manhattan taken from the knees down,” wrote Valery Oisteanu on Artnet.com, for a retrospective of Burckhardt’s work exhibited in 2004 at the Tibor de Nagy gallery.
“He didn’t indulge in expressionist distortion, or depict grotesque sideshow freaks, but rather captured the melancholia of the metropolis,” wrote Oisteanu.
“The pedestrians in his snapshots execute a hectic choreography in navigating New York’s streets. It took the eye of a Swiss born New Yorker to sense the city’s pulse and its dramatic flair.”
Burckhardt, who served as the unofficial “house photographer” for New York School artists in the 1930s and who poet John Ashbery once called a “subterranean monument,” died in 1999 in Maine.
Near his home there, he committed suicide by drowning in a lake.