Eager to escape the stifling uniformity of his native city of Basel, Switzerland, Rudolph Burckhardt departed for New York in 1935. He was accompanied by his friend and poet Edwin Denby, whom he had met one year before. Although Burckhardt was based in Manhattan, Queens provided the unorthodox beauty he craved, and served as his subject throughout the 1940s. The soft-spoken artist found elegance within the deserted gas stations, overgrown lots, and the colorful characters that brought life to the city streets, making his photographs, as essayist Phillip Lopate once put it, “true to the spirit of everyday.” A filmmaker as well as a photographer, Burckhardt preferred the transience of film to the monumental aspect of photography. Yet in his series, A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens (1943), Burckhardt manages to capture the fleeting grace of human existence through cinematic narrative. His images of Queens inspired Denby to write sonnets accompanying the photographs. Denby’s poems contain the same understated elegance present in Burckhardt’s images, making A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens a celebration of life’s quotidian moments.
Rudolf Burckhardt and Edwin Denby
A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens, 1943
September 14 – October 14, 2017