November 1 - November 29th, 2011
It is a daunting task to present works from the career of any accomplished visual artist that spans over fifty-five years, using only the modest span of exhibition space that a gallery can offer. However, when the career in question is that of Burk Uzzle, the youngest photographer ever to be hired by Life Magazine in 1962, then the challenge of succinctly presenting his trajectory seems almost foolhardy. This is a man who not only achieved early success with photojournalism, but who also went on to be a two-term president of Magnum Photos, the cooperative photographic agency formed in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson and his peers. Uzzle fortuitously found himself in the thick of events like the Civil Rights Movement and the Summer of Love, but only his skill could capture scenes like his now iconic image of a couple locked in an embrace at Woodstock. He is a prolific photographer with an eye for an image who literally has decades of work in a vault as a testament to his achievements.
Because of the near impossibility of summarizing his impressive range, Flanders Art Gallery does not profess to offer a retrospective of Uzzle’s ouevre. Instead, it seeks to present one theme that emerges from these years of image-making. While considering the stacks of black-and-white photographs and color prints, the boxes of contract assignments and independent projects, and the countless negatives of individual compositions and related works, it became evident that Uzzle is frequently drawn to seriality in life.
The series – at its most basic in the visual world a group of intentionally related works or objects – would hold a natural appeal to any photojournalist attempting to narrate in the form of a photo-essay. Uzzle’s careful selection of twenty images from hundreds taken in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination is a powerful example of related photographs deriving emotional resonance and meaning from their juxtapositions. However, this exhibition’s selections also illustrate seriality in his works beyond the narrative impulse. In Burn Series, combusted objects transform into formal studies, their charred remains captured in sinuous curves and crisp angles.
When seriality manifests within Uzzle’s individual photographs, the resulting compositions often suggest fascinating social implications. In Wall, the line-up of young children clasping hands share not only their Sunday best, but also societal norms and pride in appearance. The natural environment and the manufactured world clash in the meet-up of a pony and rocking horse in Pink Stripe. Desert Prada reminds the viewer that high design is itself a form of serial branding.
These examples of pattern, repetition, and relatedness begin to offer one prism through which a viewer can consider Burk Uzzle’s career. For a man who has witnessed and recorded so much, such qualities tie the world together while subtly distinguishing themselves from one another. They are a metaphor for one method of editing and processing the incredible variety of human existence.