Photo: Tired, New Jersey, Burk Uzzle, 1967.
June 15, 2015
Born in 1938 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Burk Uzzle began working as a photographer at age 14. A natural talent, his career immediately took off. He first began working locally, as a staff photographer for the Raleigh News & Observer at 17. Two years later, he was hired as a contract photographer for the Black Star Agency. In 1962, at age 23, he became the youngest photographer ever hired by LIFE magazine. Five years later, Uzzle became a member of Magnum Photos, the prestigious international cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. An active contributor to Magnum for over sixteen years, he was twice elected president of the cooperative in 1979 and 1980.
As a photojournalist, Uzzle has produced some of the most recognizable images of Woodstock, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Cambodian War. But it is his artistic work that is the subject of the exhibition, Burk Uzzle: American Puzzles, at the Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, now through July 31, 2015. The exhibition features over 70 vintage black and white photographs of the American social landscape from the 1960s through the 2000s.
Henri Cartier-Bresson advised Uzzle to study the Quattrocento painters which, as he says, erased his laser vision that riveted on a single headline moment and opened his eyes to the play of planes “to head me into confusion, riot, and the camera’s gluttony and the simultaneous distraction of the world.” This is effect is evident in the photographs featured in American Puzzles, which offer a compelling look at our nation’s complex landscape.
Uzzle’s photographs are graphic, bold, and visually complex, creating a visual meditation on the tensions of late twentieth-century America. These images are puzzles to be contemplated at length, asking questions about the nature of the individual and collective psyche in an increasingly post-industrial landscape. There is nothing sentimental in these images; instead they are challenging, and sometimes humorous, images that ask us to stop, look, and reflect.
Uzzle, who identifies himself as a country boy, indicates that he believes in having fun with the camera. That fun is evident in American Puzzles as he challenges us to think outside the box when looking at images that are at once familiar and strange.
“These photographs are an appreciation of America,” says Uzzle, “Their structure, like that of America itself, evokes a melody of movement and collage – not an explanation. Unlike documents, they play tag with layers of reality, both interior and exterior. America is like that, conditioning us to zig-zag and change with its constant, energetic barrage of many and various realities. But there is a melody in all the movement, and I can only feel it in America.”