Wild and Precious
Photography faculty member Jesse Burke MFA 05 PH is working on a new series inspired by a road trip with his daughter.
“Daddy, is this where they make clouds?”
At the Photography department’s T.C. Colley lecture on April 2, alumnus and adjunct faculty member Jesse Burke MFA 05 PH recalled how his young daughter, Clover – who delighted the audience by accompanying him to the talk – opened his eyes to her vision of the world. The two were on one of their father-and-daughter road trips at the time, and Burke had recently come to the surprising realization that he didn’t need to separate his family life from his work life – that photos of his daughter had a place in his art.
At the lecture, Burke showed photographs from Intertidal, Blind and Wild + Precious – his three main bodies of work – and explained to the large gathering of photography enthusiasts how one series led to the next. Intertidal focuses on male identity, featuring images conceived to show the wide range of sensibilities inside each of the men in his personal life, from the hyper-masculine to the feminine.
The images themselves, and the way they were curated and displayed, present an up-and-down cycle of contrasts: violence and serenity, community and isolation, strength and softness. The photographer pointed out that the varied, nonlinear nature of the collection creates an ambiguity that allows viewers to construct the story for themselves.
When Burke was invited to rural South Carolina to shoot a hunting expedition, he had to let go of his usual production process and go with the flow. As an ethical vegetarian, he found the subject matter difficult, but he homed in on the idea of “respectful hunting” – an approach in which the hunter's desire to control and dominate nature is counterbalanced by his affection for it.
Burke accompanied the hunters into the woods, capturing photos of the landscape and the blinds in which they hid while waiting for prey (hence the series title, Blind). Some of the themes that he explored in Intertidal reappeared in Blind, including vulnerability, wounds and camouflage, which he describes as “man’s feeble attempt to assimilate with nature.”
Burke’s current project, Wild + Precious, documents his series of road trips with his daughter. At first the photos were mostly posed, with Clover playing the role of a wild child alone and yet at ease in the big, dangerous natural world. As she grows older and more autonomous, she is less and less willing to take direction from her dad, and the resulting photos, Burke realizes, are actually better than the ones he had attempted to construct. He now sees their work together as a partnership and he even allows her to call some of the shots. Clover, like her father, was available for questions after the presentation.
TC Colley Lectures are held in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium. Sara Greenberger Rafferty 00 PH will present the next (and penultimate) lecture in the spring 2013 series on Tuesday, April 16 at 7 pm.