11 times, the deep south to Zion, and Charlie Rose

We found ourselves back in Wilson, North Carolina after Burk had shared with us that he had connected with a group of former gang members that have entered a leadership program and are doing community work.  One of the people, Theophilus Newkirk, was a late addition to the Greenville show.  Shirtless, photographed from the back, against a wall with a portion of his 60 tattoos in evidence. 

What was not seen in that image was the 11 gunshot wounds that he received one night in January 2016 while visiting his father with his girlfriend, Lawanna and one of her friends, who also got shot 9 times that evening.  The irony was that he was not even the ultimate target.  The shooter, who Theophilus had known since he was a toddler was looking for a friend of Theophilus’ that he could not locate.  

Theophilus was generous enough to allow us to film him being photographed and to document his bullet wounds.  Both he and Lawanna also shared much during interviews with us.  Burk’s plan is to photograph many of the gang members and document their stories for his next series.  

- David

 

"The highway is the enemy of photographers"

I was fortunate enough to witness the accuracy of that Burkism as we drove cross country from Asheville, NC to Salt Lake City, Utah over the course of 11 days. Getting purposefully lost on backroads throuhg eastern NC, Tennessee, and Arkansas, we stumbled upon some true gems that Burk turned into wonderful photographs. 

I turned 36 in Zion, Utah.  I cannot accurately express the joy of seeing Zion for the first time in combination with filming Burk doing what he does best - seeing an idea, walking out to the periphery of that idea, tilting the perspective on the ordinary, and pulling a beautiful composition together.

"36 and 1 Day..." 

The day after my birthday, we thought it would be good idea if I got strapped to the roof of Burk's van and filmed the drive through Zion Canyon. Both the footage and I surived, saving Burk from the dark task of explaining to an auditorium full of students and teachers that the film has been delayed indefintely due to the cinematographer having gone flipping off the roof rack and into the great wilderness beyond - his only visitors, the mountain goats who notice his broken body laying amongst their favorite balancing rocks.  

We visited the Waterford School in Salt Lake City at the end of the road trip.  Burk had been invited as a visiting artist and lecturer for arts week.  Bernie Meyers, the head of the photo deparment, is one of Burk's closest friends. The Waterford School is one of the finest examples of what is possible in Liberal Arts education that I've expereienced.

David and I arrived in NYC on Sunday, the 26th. On Monday, we got to sit with the wonderful Charlie Rose, as his famous table, as he opened up about Burk in an interview for the film. I've watched a lot of my heros sit at that table and it was the most wonderful, surreal experience to be in that room with an icon like Charlie. We are still here in NYC running at light speed, lining up more powerful interviews with people you will absolutely recognize. 

- Jethro

 

 

Perceptions and Recognitions Realized

On February 3, 2017, the Greenville Museum of Art (http://gmoa.org) opened the exhibition, Perceptions and Recognitions; African-Americans of Eastern North Carolina.  We had witnessed quite a bit of the process of preparing for this exhibition, from finding subjects to filming them being photographed.  The gratification we felt seeing many of the images larger than life cannot be described.  More so, the pride in each of the sitters faces was something to behold.  The museum published a catalogue with the images.  Many of the subjects were coming up to each other and getting autographs next to their pictures.  It was like a scene from the last day of high school.  People danced and shared.  It was a very memorable evening.  We were concerned that the museum would not be able to pull this show off in the short window of time that they had.  Not only did they pull it off, it is something they should be proud of.  We witnessed a community come together for an evening to celebrate itself thru the power of art.  May this be a stone thrown into the water that has positive long reaching ripples.

The show is up until April 30, 2017.  If you find yourself in Eastern North Carolina in that window of time, don’t miss it.

The day after the opening, we looked at a few books of vintage contact prints that Burk pulled from us.  Needless to say, we were beyond blown away.  From MLK Jrs. Funeral, Woodstock, protests, the KKK.  We’ve reproduced a sampling for you to see.

On February 8, we gave a presentation to the Asheville Art community about F/11 and Be There at Revolve (http://revolveavl.org) .  We showed the trailer and some clips.  Needless to say, people were excited about the film.

Next month, Jethro and Burk take a road trip from North Carolina to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Burk is going to be teaching at the Waterford School.  We hope that there will be some opportunities to film some roadside picture taking along the way.

A different kind of bulb

September feels like several lifetimes ago. In the time since we began this film, the world has taken on a vastly different hue. And even if the light hasn't shifted dramatically from your window, at the very least, you might see the strange man there up on the light pole, about to screw in a wholly different kind of bulb. Things will look very different a year from now. And the parallels between the socio-political climate of today and much of the historical material we have been documenting in this film are striking.

My time chasing Burk around with a camera has been one of the most profound times of my life. It is a very surreal experience to compose shots around a person who is responsible for some of the 20th century's most iconic photographs. The responsibility I feel at times is great, and it would be a lot more difficult to capture something as timeless and as beautiful if it were not for who Burk is as a human being, and who he is as an artist. Not a lot of people have seen and documented our world the way Burk has. There are even fewer who have done it so meticulously, on such a vast scale, and with so much grace. I'm astounded time and again at his willingness to reveal his entire world for this film - the unparalleled beauty, the utter darkness, the fun and the despair, without a single flinching reflex to hide or protect any of it. We've traveled through contemporary portraiture, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, tenant farms of the 1950s, Cambodia, Woodstock, Vietnam, Daytona Beach, Eastern NC, Europe, Japan - we've visited color slides of Robin Williams, Hunter S. Thompson, Vollis Simpson, and Burk's own adventures with his family - along with countless other physical and spiritual photographic destinations. We've traveled the medium of photography from Burk's first camera, through 35mm and medium format cameras, large format cameras, and into the contemporary world of digital medium format.

Witnessing the perseverance and breadth of this artist, while simultaneously directing a film around him, is an experience unlike anything I could have imagined.

We've covered a lot of ground for this film here at the end of December, and there is still a lot of road ahead. 

Thank you for joining us.

Jethro 

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It is truly hard to believe that 3 months have gone by since we started production of F/11 and Be There.    So many trips to Eastern North Carolina and so many remarkable, memorable experiences; beginning with Burk and Janet’s (Burk likes to refer to her as his “Costilla”) warm embrace of us at the start of our journey together.  We are fortunate in that they welcomed us into their lives and their living space. From the start, we have stayed with them when we head their way.  Because of this immediate gesture of trust, we have been able to bring the viewer truly into Burk’s life and process.    In one of my first conversations with Burk, I shared with him that my preference would be that we were with them 24/7.  He immediately responded that he understood and that was the way that he worked when he was doing reportage.  Lucky us.

We planned to go out and film/photograph polling places in Eastern North Carolina on Election Day.  We had been warned that there might be some conflict and to be prepared.  What we found was an orderly community exercising their constitutional right in smaller numbers than we had thought.  We were told that most that had planned to vote, voted during early voting.  We found a few interesting people to photograph, but Burk became fascinated by the election signage and at one of our last destinations before the sun went down, he found a great set of signs to document.  He also found that the best vantage point to shoot them was from the middle of the road!  There he was in the prone position getting everything right and realized that he needed some elevation for his camera.  Immediately, off came one of his boots, which he used to prop up the camera.  Many cars were going by and the sun was setting, leaving the possibility of him being run over.  I jumped into the roll of “body-guard”, directing cars away from him while Jethro documented his process.  That was until a police car pulled up and the officer said to me, “Is he with you?  Tell him he needs to get out of the road now!” The shoot was over for the day…

The day after, we spent part of the day in his darkroom as he processed an image from Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral in Atlanta.  It was a chilling bit of timing given what was unfolding in our country.  Burk had much to share beyond his dark room while the photograph emerged like magic in the developing tray.  This spring, we plan to take a road trip to Memphis together to revisit the day after MLK’s assassination; walking the same streets that Burk did when he documented that day in 1968.

Burk agreed to go through some of his vast archive with us and we spent a number of days looking at the images buried in it.  Jethro recounts some of the places that we “visited” during those days.  The images combined with Burk’s stories were quite powerful together.  After looking at images from Cambodia taken during the reign of Pol Pot, we took a break.  I was completely overwhelmed.  I was taken not only with the images that I saw, but the images that others rarely get to see that Burk had taken when not on assignment.  A literal treasure trove of humanity through his unique eye.  More to come soon…

David

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Here are some photos from the production and some stills from recent footage: