The photography of Burk Uzzle
Burk Uzzle’s singular vision and dedication to the medium of photography led him from a small, homebuilt darkroom on his father’s porch into the company and guidance of the 20th centuries most important photographers. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cornell Capa, Rene Burri, and Elliot Erwitt were among his colleagues at Magnum; “F/11 and Be There” was a photographer’s mantra Burk picked up during his time with that organization. Long before he joined Magnum, Burk's prowess with a camera was evident when in 1962, he became the youngest photographer hired by Life Magazine at the age of 23. His photograph of the couple embracing at Woodstock would go on to become the cover of the Woodstock album. His iconic photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Robert Kennedy, the south, segregation, southern poverty, contemporary portraiture and landscapes, and so many others have made Burk a touchstone in the history of photography and photojournalism.
As an artist at the age of 79, Burk Uzzle shows no signs of slowing in his fervor and adoration for the medium that has been the impetus for his entire life. F/11 and Be There catches up with Burk only a few years after his transition into digital photography. This film provides a window into his vast archive and history, his contemporary portraiture and landscape work, and his genial and irreverent nature as a “skinny southern boy who can barely speak the English language,” as he would put it. As vibrant and whimsical as many of his photographs are, so too are his musings about the philosophies of art and living.
During the process of making this film, it has been easy to see that the way in which Burk Uzzle approaches the photographic process is ontological - it is a way of being. He does not merely use his technical wizardry and vast experience to photograph a subject in an interesting way, rather, he is endlessly seeking to present the aura of the individual through a picture. His artistry continues to connect us with appreciation and understanding of the anima of a particular place or person. f/11 and Be There is a film about how he locates core moments that amplify how we see our collective selves, values, and communities. A current project documenting the African-American South is a prism into his affinities and priorities, and his belief that portraiture is still a new frontier in photography.
Update* f/11 and Be There finished filming in May, 2017 and is currently in post-production.
Burk Uzzle’s career, like his pictures, is a nuanced composition blending American culture, individual psyches of particular places or 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 ever hired by LIFE magazine at age 23, his work then 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 fifteen years, Uzzle was an active contributor to the evolution of the organization and served as its President in 1979 and 1980. During the sixteen 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. Uzzle’s current body of work is the production of artful and constructed reflections of his subjects, many of whom are African-American residents proximal to his studio in North Carolina. Their layers of experience are conjoined with Uzzle’s fundamental appreciation for unseen characteristics, which he ably captures in a collaborative, interpretive context along with his eye and his heart. interpretation, of art, of independently produced projects.