Burk Uzzle is a photographer who has had a long career. When I was a college student I would spend hours going through the stacks of the art library looking at photography books. I remember the day I came across Landscapes by Burk Uzzle (published in 1973 by Light Impressions). I sat down on the floor and turned the pages of this small book full of black and white photographs. I was struck by the Uzzle’s humor and graphic eye. I was floored. I checked the book out and continued to go through it at home.
In the introduction Ron Bailey write: “…he instantly struck me as both the most cantankerous and best 23-year-old photographer in the world. He tilted at the wide-angle lenses then in vogue, tore up layouts in front of art directors…” and I thought, this is my guy. I was more than willing to challenge the authority of any editor at the time, it probably has more to do with being in my early 20s more than anything else.
Uzzle’s straight ahead view of the world is something that I can’t get over. There is a certain loneliness in some of the images. People appear lost in their own space. Uzzle is not one of those photographers who needs loaded situations to make remarkable photographs. (That said he made one of the enduring photographs from Woodstock.) The bulk of these images are small moments made in out of the way places.
There is a certain sort of “street” vibe to the photographs. Not like Garry Winogrand, though. Uzzle is after a statement about the times more than anything else. The photographs are made up of both journalism and commentary. I was the kind of young photographer who wanted to make commentary pictures all of the time and get them published as journalism. That was part of my problem. I was not able to learn the balance necessary to make “my pictures” for “my employer” until later in life. Now, I am trying to make commentary pictures, then still have journalism in them, because I don’t really know how not do to that. Burk Uzzle appears to me as someone more willing to grow and change than I am, which is frustrating. Why am I the one who keeps wanting to go backwards? Part of the reason I am writing more is get to the bottom of this and other questions about my own photography.
Uzzle has rolled with the times and changed and grown as a photographer, which is why I am attracted to his work. It was during graduate school when I rediscovered Uzzle and realized how much these photographs have influenced my work. I see many photographers trying to work in the same way he did. Uzzle made pictures of life. He may have been paid to work as a photojournalist, but his work is more than that. He has moved on. Many of his current pictures are lit and made with larger cameras. His book Just Add Water could be seen as a current update to Landscapes.
Speaking of Burk Uzzle, this is one of my favorite quotes of his:
“In the moment, in the place when the ordinary reveals itself to be epic, it is my favorite time to be alive, to have my camera and to see.”
I remember the time in college when I came across his book Landscapes at the Art and Architecture Library at Kansas University it was like opening my eyes to a new world. Memories of that small book carried me through visually for a long time.
He is most known for photograph of a couple from Woodstock and a shag van from Bike Week in Daytona. This image is what has stuck in my craw for so long.