Uzzle Buzz: Just Down the Road

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Molly Irwin is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double-majoring in Biology and Studio Art. She is the Photography and Design Intern for the Carolina Asia Center. 

Anyone who has ever been on a road trip knows those long stretches where there is seemingly nothing to see. Endless trees line the sides of the road and a great expanse of highway lies ahead. Making good time guarantees seeing this same view for 200 miles. However, sometimes the desire to have a little adventure can change this road trip into a journey through American history.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997,1997; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.51.

Burk Uzzle’s more recent photography grants a glimpse into the life of a person who chooses to take the roads less traveled. Uzzle’s mission to find and document the everyday sites around the nation has allowed him to come across treasures that are rich in history, such as the scene of Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997.

This photograph evokes the memories of a once bustling town that was bypassed as time and progress marched ever onward. This little town is no longer one that is consistently driven through on road trips, but one that must be found by deviating from the interstate. The lack of cars and people along with the lonely Star Warehouse, water tower, and buildings create a sense of passing. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Mustang Girl

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Marie Li is a student at Columbia University majoring in Art History and Business Management. During the summer of 2016, she was communications intern at the Ackland Art Museum.

Every year, as the sweet summer air creeps up on North Carolina with dragging feet, I am galvanized. Not by the thought of long days, crisp evenings, and cool drinks, but by the tantalizing promise of possibility. Like many other Americans, I commit myself anew to eating healthier, venturing outdoors, and exercising more often. And like it or not, this regiment centers on running outside (as opposed to on a treadmill, within an air-conditioned gym), and forcing my lungs to muddle and struggle through the dense, unforgiving humidity.

I discovered on a personal tour of his collection that, like me, Burk Uzzle also partakes in the occasional morning run. Unlike me, however, he brings his camera. And it was on one of these runs that Uzzle captured the “Mustang Girl,” in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Mustang Girl, St. Petersburg, FL, 2001, 2001; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.52.

Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Uncertainty and Risk

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Nic Brown is an assistant professor of English at Clemson University. He is the author of the novels In Every Way, Doubles, and Floodmarkers, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Garden & Gun, and the Harvard Review, among many other publications.

I interviewed Burk Uzzle a few months back for a profile in Garden & Gun. I had quite a bit left over from that interview that I couldn’t use because of space and editorial needs. Much of it stayed with me. In fact, some of it concerns Uzzle’s belief in art flourishing outside of editorial guidelines. In that spirit, I’m happy to now have the space here with the Ackland to continue writing and thinking about him. –NB

When Burk Uzzle was twenty-one, he was married, had two sons, and was living in Atlanta with his family trying to make ends meet by taking photographs. The family was so poor that in place of a dining table they ate off a board that they had closed in a window, making it stick out straight.

A year later Life hired him as a staff photographer and had him move to Chicago. Uzzle was so accustomed to poverty that he directly checked into the Chicago YMCA. When his editor heard, he immediately moved Uzzle into a hotel with an expense account. One of Uzzle’s first assignments was to fly to South Dakota to shoot a blizzard, but he didn’t own a warm enough jacket, so upon arrival he bought a huge shearling one, only to then have to fly to some tropical locale for his next assignment, still wearing his shearling jacket.

After only a few years with Life, Uzzle quit to hitchhike across the country in hopes of taking photos that captured the experience. Life hired him again when he returned, on the strength of his work. Soon he quit again.

“I never really liked taking orders from editors,” he says. “I would decline assignments so I could do what I thought I should do.”

At Woodstock, which Uzzle initially visited out of curiously but ended up getting stuck at because of the New York State Thruway getting closed, he found many of his photographer friends in the press pit in front of the stage. “You’re wasting your time down here,” Uzzle told them. He had quickly come to realize that the real pictures of interest weren’t of Joan Baez or Canned Heat on stage, but of the skinny-dippers in the ponds, of the young people trying to stay warm in the fields. While his friends followed the orders of their editors and stayed put in the press pit, Uzzle borrowed film from them, walked up the hill, and captured on it images that have become so iconic that when we now think about this turning point in the country’s history, we see in our mind a Burk Uzzle photo.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Wheels With Legs, 1983; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.6

The point is, Uzzle has lived his life with an almost daredevil belief in art, eschewing financial stability and comfort for a single-minded trust in the work itself. “I’ve always lived for the picture,” he says. It seems terrifying.

And yet he’s still doing it.

Not long ago, Uzzle spent a year shooting 8×10 film while putting 350,000 miles on his old Chevy van, driving around, just looking for the picture. “I zig-zagged across the country, developing film in Motel 6 bathrooms,” he says. He was doing this not on payroll, not on assignment, but just looking for pictures. This from a guy who used to be president of Magnum Photos, who has lived long enough and richly enough that he can recall personal lessons received from his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson. I don’t know about you, but seems to me most people in Uzzle’s position would probably be sitting in an endowed chair at some university somewhere taking pictures of the view out their window. As Uzzle puts it, though, “most of my life has been spent driving around the country in a van.”

Artwork hung in a museum is, in a way, like reading the history of war. We see the outcome as inevitable. Here is the art hanging right here, it was meant to be here; here is the winner of this war, they were always going to win. But of course, as people will tell you who lived through wars, the outcome is never foretold. So it is with art. In Uzzle’s life, as he was shooting many of the photos in this exhibition, what he probably saw in his future was less a vision of his name on a museum wall, and more a vision of his dinner resting atop a board closed into a window.

What I’m getting at is something we hear about often – the struggle of the artist. Uncertainty and risk. Burk Uzzle has spent a life taking the biggest risks, putting all of his chips on the table. So take a look. He’s spent years now cashing them in. The payoff has been developed, matted, and framed. It’s like we all know the best poker player in town, and not only is he still playing, he always shares his winnings.

–Nic Brown, August 10, 2016

Uzzle Buzz: “American Culture Studies at its Best”

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Townsend Ludington is Boshamer Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, of American Studies and English at UNC-Chapel Hill.

All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle, which opened at the Ackland Art Museum on June 24th, is one of the most provocative exhibitions the Museum has offered during the many years I have had the pleasure to live in Chapel Hill and teach at the university. “Provocative” in no way meaning salacious, but because—along with the fine catalogue of Uzzle’s photographs and an insightful essay by Professor Patricia Leighton—we learn so much about the art of photography.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997, 1997. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.48. © Burk Uzzle.

Uzzle rightly considers himself both artist and photographer; no one would challenge him. All 42 of the works on view display the visual acuity of a greatly talented professional; each has a narrative about some aspect of American life during the turbulent years 1968-2014. Ordered chronologically, the first photographs take us back into such monumental moments as the death of Martin Luther King and its aftermath; Woodstock; the Peace movement, and then—like Uzzle himself, it would seem—into a more elegiac mood in the last photographs.

But always there are counterpoints: that of young friends and raw sexuality in Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997 immediately preceding the pastoral, Huck Finn qualities of River Bank Dive, Georgia, 2001. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Collection Connection

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Carolyn Allmendinger is Director of Academic Programs at the Ackland Art Museum.

Barn with Deer, 2009   Roe Deer in the Snow

When the Ackland’s acquisitions committee discusses the reasons to add a work of art to the collection, one of the things we consider is how our audiences might engage with that work. In the case of Barn with Deer, we knew that we wanted to include it in the exhibition All About America. In addition, we remembered that one of our Ackland Student Guides had designed a gallery tour called “The Art of the Hunt.” Barn with Deer, we thought, would be a great addition to that tour if she wanted to offer an encore performance. Thematically, it goes particularly well with Gustave Courbet’s painting, Roe Deer in the Snow, on view in the Museum’s collection galleries. Both Uzzle’s and Courbet’s works depicted rustic winter scenes in which deer figured prominently – in Courbet’s painting they are just off of the composition’s center and Uzzle’s a deer skin with head attached is at the lower left. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Country Roads

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Molly Boarati is Assistant Curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Chicken ranch

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Chicken Lunch, 2011; archival pigment print. Collection of Jennings Brody and Jonathan Kea. © Burk Uzzle.

Driving to Wilson, North Carolina is a little like driving home. As the curator of Burk Uzzle: Southern Landscapes at the Nasher Museum of Art, I went to visit Burk in his Wilson studio a few times to prepare for the exhibition. Heading east from Durham on route 264 reminded me of the trip to Lancaster County, Virginia, where I grew up, with fields of flowers, rural oddities, like the Country Doctor Museum, and the sleepy towns in between. It seemed appropriate that, in planning a show of Burk’s photographs of southern landscapes, I would have to experience the land along the way, visit parts of the South I had never seen before, and consider them in relation to other regional areas I’d traveled often. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Mirror Mirror, Man Men

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

elin o’Hara slavick is Professor of Studio Art, Theory and Practice in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of Art.

On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling was executed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for selling CDs in the street. Eric Garner was killed in 2014 for selling loose cigarettes. Like so many others, their crime in the eyes of cops was to be black in a racist country. (Had they been white, chances are they would still be alive today.) No justice for Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland. I can’t breathe. Black lives matter.

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Mirror Image, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.23. © Burk Uzzle.

All the men visible in Burk Uzzle’s photograph Mirror Image, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970 are white—two civilians and police officers. We can imagine that if the two activists holding the mirror up were black, the officers would not be lazily leaning against a tree.

We assume Uzzle’s photograph is of peace activists protesting the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is known in Vietnam). During that war, and the many wars since, the United States government and military (thanks to our tax dollars) are responsible for countless deaths, mostly civilians—from Korea and Cambodia to Iraq and Afghanistan. This action—of holding up a mirror so that men in uniform can see themselves confronting (policing) people just like them—did not bring about peace despite the activists’ sincere gesture towards a shared humanity.

I have often thought if we could just reach the gun manufacturers, the companies profiting from the sale of weapons systems, and show them how an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, we could end this perpetual cycle of war and violence. But I have yet to make contact with a gun or weapons manufacturer. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Sharp Elbows

“The way to be a good news photographer is to have sharp elbows. You have to get in the middle. If you’re in the middle, you have the feeling of it.” — Burk Uzzle, 23 June 2016

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: All Hands for Peace, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.28.
Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: All Hands for Peace, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.28. © Burk Uzzle.

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Uzzle Buzz: Woodstock, Flag Pants, and Rolling Stone

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Dennis Hermanson is a retired illustrator and graphic designer active in the Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, arts community. He is presently on the Board of the Hillsborough Arts Council, a member of the Ackland Art Museum, and a friend of many fine photographers and artists.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Woodstock (Crowd in Field with Tent and Trash), 1969; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.19. © Burk Uzzle.

Me at Woodstock? It all happened by accident.

Going to NYU, I lived for three years on East Seventh Street, overlooking the Fillmore East, the East Coast counterpart to the famed Fillmore West, so I sure didn’t feel the need to go to the middle of New York State to see a cow pasture with a music stage. But my blood-brother, Richard, insisted.

Richard was a model, designer, writer. He had worked for Electra Records and hung out with Janis Joplin. I was a cartoonist and illustrator with a group called Cloud Studio, which went on to do the National Lampoon when it began. So we were free, and went to Woodstock early Thursday to beat the crowd. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Photojournalist Burk and Artist Burk

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Born in Raleigh in 1938, Burk Uzzle is a world-renowned photographer whose work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill during the summer of 2016. Learn more about him on his website: burkuzzle.com

Photojournalist Burk and Artist Burk. Both are the same person, otherwise one would be counterfeit.

Both remember, always, the advice of Henri Cartier Bresson: “The most important thing you can do is respect your subject.”

As photography can be a love affair with life, my life is also a love affair with the medium.

Early on I strived for the simple, declarative statement, with a touch of drama for impact. Editors’ needs became the glasses through which I viewed the world. Those were the early LIFE magazine years, 1961 to 1967. They had moved me to the Chicago bureau, and my free time was spent at the Art Institute of Chicago, looking at paintings. Another LIFE photographer offered me advice: “Shoot every picture for the managing editor.” This conflicted with the inspirational individuality I saw across mediums at the museum. Continue reading