Uzzle Buzz: Simple Summer Pleasures

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“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.

Emily Bowles is the Director of Communications at the Ackland Art Museum and an amateur photographer.

It isn’t even June yet, and many regions of the U.S. have already experienced hot weather. Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, the “official” start of summer. Perhaps, in part, for these reasons, this photograph by Burk Uzzle—on view in our upcoming exhibition, All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle—is particularly appealing to me:

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: River Bank Dive, Georgia, 2001, 2001. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.47. © Burk Uzzle.

A boy backflips off a root-laced outcropping into a lazy river. It’s probably not his first jump: his hair is already wet and one imagines that he succumbed to the urge to cannonball into the water immediately upon arrival rather than merely wade in.

Uzzle’s photo captures him in mid-flip, at a point in his rotation when his feet and his head are level and his back is arched in an upside down “U.” By backflipping, he’s definitely going for thrill. He may land on his stomach and that’s okay. His friends will, too, at some point when they try it (we know they will try it!) and everyone will laugh.

What I love about this photo is that it embodies simple pleasures. Three boys and a river. No screens. No devices. Nothing inflatable. No goggles or gear. Those may not even be swimming trunks on the jumping boy. They’re likely just the shorts he happened to be wearing. It is a moment of summer ease, and the bliss that accompanies it.

This photo of a Georgia river and its swimmers reminds me of a scene I experienced a few summers ago. I was on a ferry between islands off the coast of Maine. As our ferry pulled away from the high dock of one of the islands, a gaggle of teenagers who had been standing on the pier, shivering in wet swimsuits, jumped with gusto into the churning swell that the boat left behind. They shrieked with the thrill of the jump and, undoubtedly, with the shock of the cold water. The mound of bubbles and froth created by the ferry’s powerful propeller was clearly what the teens were aiming for. Simple pleasure. No devices needed.

All summers should have these moments. Catching fireflies. Listening to peepers. Sitting by a campfire. Rolling in the grass. Looking at the stars.

If you have the opportunity to jump in a river or lake this summer, remember the boy in Burk Uzzle’s photo and do a backflip instead of wading in. Do it not so that you can post it on Instagram, but because every simple summer moment should be gulped, not sipped.

–Emily Bowles

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