Patricia Leighten is Professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University and guest curator of All About America.
Burk Uzzle’s travel across twentieth- and twenty-first-century America is a trip through time and across the land, resulting in a significant and diverse body of work. After his close involvement in a time of convulsing social conflict and change, Uzzle was able to move beyond photojournalism, broadening his perspective to look at many aspects of our culture. In each decade he experimented with media and with differing sizes of his prints. And in each case he conveyed his vision—from the dramatic to the whimsical—in a way best suited to the subject.
Barn with Deer is an elegiac rural view and one of the largest prints in the exhibition. The process used is a carbon print, giving a matte rather than shiny surface, so the colors remain subtle while the amount of detail conveyed is extraordinary. Here a country road fills with snow beneath a leaden grey sky, while the woods surrounding this barn convey the absolute quiet that follows a snowfall. The branches of the trees are still etched with white and only a few vehicles have laid tracks on the dirt road. How anomalous is it, then, when we notice the deer? Hunting is traditional in farming areas and, in earlier times, an absolute necessity of survival. Yet the introduction of this specter of death is disconcerting in such a peaceful scene, perhaps because the deer skin hangs over the post with its head still attached and hanging down. Is it curing? Or is it, as in some ancient religions, a message to outsiders? Uzzle may not know the answers to these questions either, but by making this photograph he has witnessed the ongoing practices of rural life in this particular place, and life and death in their eternal round.
The above text is an excerpt from Patricia Leighten’s introduction to the Ackland Art Museum exhibition catalogue All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle. The catalogue will be available for purchase for $24.95 ($21.95 for Ackland Members) at the Ackland Museum Store (919.962.0216, 109 E. Franklin Street) beginning Friday, 17 June 2016.