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.
JUST ADD WATER: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BURK UZZLE
Vicki Goldberg. Editor.
New York: Five Ties Publishing, Inc., 2007. Print.
A FAMILY NAMED SPOT
Rose, Charlie. Preface. Gurganus, Allan. Essay. New York: Five Ties Publishing, 2006. Print.
Martha Chahroudi. Introductory Essay. New York: Aperture, 1985. Print.
Bailey, Ron. Introduction. New York: Magnum Photos, 1973. Print.
The racism that expressed itself across America in lynchings is still alive and its victim counts grow hourly. This brutality is no longer confined to the South — reverberations of KKK rallies and burnings are amped- and armed-up in classrooms, on neighborhood streets, at movie theaters, public crosswalks, private residences, and online. Martin Luther King Jr's DREAM of an equal society, Bryan Stevenson's VISION designed as a national memorial for peace and justice in Montgomery AL, a collective desire to OVERCOME the atrocities of hate, and a personal imperative to contribute to a healing and awakening dialogue with our soul's humanity, collectively created the Prophets Project. Prophets unites contemporary people who transcend the legacy of hate to illuminate an affirming cultural present and future — a prophecy of unity and respect.
"The hate and vitriolic violence I experienced as a youth has returned with a ferocity few could have imagined two years ago. My large studio now holds a permanent set with neon signs reading EQUALITY, WE SHALL OVERCOME, and I HAVE A DREAM; several dozen nooses hanging 40 feet above in the rafters; flexible tables and props to accentuate the unique talents of each subject; and, state of the art equipment from strobes to cameras, from backdrops to empathic passion. Together, these tangible elements are giving birth and shelter to African-American individuals and organizations that we need to hear loudly and align with to reverse this untenable racial hostility. It is a place to celebrate the accomplishments of African-American culture, spirituality, and determination to live in peace with equality and respect." — Burk Uzzle January 2020
A film about Burk Uzzle. From their website:
"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."