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.
I often strayed from strict institutional think, especially when quitting LIFE magazine in 1964 to hitch-hike across America to see, as Bob Dylan said, life as “Blowing in the Wind.” They thankfully rehired me when I returned several months later. But, the die was cast, and I knew my days as a functionary for any one institutional theology were numbered.
I learned to avoid working for editors with their preconceptions, and to trust my instincts.
At Magnum, Henri Cartier Bresson became a profound mentor. He insisted I study the Quattrocento painters. These early Renaissance painters layered both their graphic and content agendas from front to back, forming work of multiple subject lines and graphic energy.
This was fundamental to how I developed as a visual artist, enabling complexity and multiplicity of content with emotional and intellectual components, and tying it all together with coordinated graphics. Craft, light, and disciplined technique are indispensable to working on this level. Offering ideas of substance the resonance of virtuosity enhances a primary strength of the medium―the rhetoric of reality.
Years in the service of absorbing information, then conveying those experiences, has created my character, which my mind offers my eye.
When I care deeply enough to slow down, appreciate and love the life in front of me, let my mind and heart work together in the shadow of all my experiences, I can give my eye the tools it needs to create a song to the morning star.
Literal information―the “F11 and be there” journalistic slogan of sometimes very worthwhile and useful information which can change the world―can also phrase itself with a visual eloquence that offers a dimension carrying content straight inside. The shortest distance between people is art.
The years have piled up on me, and those years now create compositions that value joy and beauty, humor, whimsy and grace, Southern style.
Photojournalism and art can be contrapuntal for each other, together forming nourishment for heart and mind. On a good day, they are the same.