Photographic Alphabet: U is for Burk Uzzle
Burk Uzzle’s career, like his pictures, is a nuanced composition blending American culture, individual psyches of particular places and people, and an atypical way of seeing ourselves, our values, and our community. Always respectful yet locating the poignant or quirky, the history of his narrative belongs to all of us. Initially grounded in documentary photography when he was the youngest photographer hired by LIFE magazine at age 23, his work grew into a combination of split-second impressions reflecting the human condition during his tenure as a member of the prestigious international Magnum cooperative founded by one of his mentors Henri Cartier-Bresson. For 15 years, Uzzle was an active contributor to the evolution of the organization and served as its President in 1979 and 1980. During the 16 years he was associated with Magnum, he produced some of the most recognizable images we have of Woodstock (album cover and worldwide reproduction of its iconic couple hugging at dawn) to the assassination and funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. to our comprehension for the experience of Cambodian war refugees.
His archive spans almost six decades. His current work rests deep in photographic appreciation of the quiet, strong, and eloquent beauty he discovers in America’s small towns and its people. It is along small back roads, limned with feelings and a surety of surprise for the heart wide open, that continue to support his understanding of how America keeps its personality out on a limb. Uzzle’s current bodies of work are artful and constructed reflections of his subjects, many of whom are African-American residents proximal to his studio in North Carolina — a 100-year-old industrial building that hosted the production of automobiles to the manufacture of caskets. Their shared layers of experience are representatives of the now. In this space, individual transcendence offers history a look at contemporary life. Conjoined with Uzzle’s fundamental appreciation for unseen characteristics, he ably captures each in a collaborative, interpretive context with his eye and his heart. On the road and between the walls, his hope is for a graphic presentation of something universal within the particular, and all the better when involving a gentle chuckle and knowing smile.
My current work bounces back and forth between the poetic and beautiful landscapes I have done all my life and the opposite emotion of horror at the tragedy that America is now enduring with our violent society. Engendered, as it is, by the political leadership of a hate-monger president with cronies that wish to be elected and govern with making us all hate each other. Who could have ever thought that our America would have routine school shootings and rampant racism. This is a sick society, and we artists must do all we can to make it better! The politicians are useless.
My studio work comes about slowly. I take a long time to think out the pictures and what I want them to say, and a long time to build the sets. Pictures are done with large format digital equipment and lots of strobe lighting. Often the visual literacy of the images is a direct result of my devotion to painting and sculpture, with less emphasis to the study of photography. And then, of course, there is the charm and strength of growing up in the South.
To find out more about Burk Uzzle’s work please click here.