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