October 20, 2014 12:58 PM EDT

Updated Oct. 20, 2014. 3.30 EST.

Magnum photographer René Burri has died aged 81. Burri — who began working with Magnum as an associate in 1955 before becoming a full member in 1959 — is best known for his portraits of Che Guevara, Picasso and Le Corbusier.

“Not only was he one of the great post war photographers, he was also one of the most generous people I have had the privilege to meet,” Martin Parr, President of Magnum Photos said in a statement. “[His] contribution to Magnum and his unrivalled ability to tell stories and entertain us over this time will be part of his enormous legacy. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family.”

“With René Burri, the world of photography loses one of its most powerful artists, a true humanist, who skillfully documented from behind-the-scenes the suffering and joy of human kind,” Burri’s family added in a separate statement.

Born in Zurich in 1933, he was a contributor to publications such as LIFE, The New York Times and Paris-Match, and traveled frequently throughout his career, filing dispatches from the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. In 1965, he helped create Magnum Films and afterward spent six months in China where he made the BBC-produced film The Two Faces of China.

In 1962, he opened the Magnum Gallery in Paris and produced drawings and collages, while continuing to work as a photographer.

“A photograph is a moment,” Burri said in a 2010 interview with The Guardian “when you press the button, it will never come back.”


Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

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