Spotlight: Burk Uzzle tribute

Uzzle, Camy truck with Jesus

Burk Uzzle, Camy Truck with Jesus, 2009, archival pigment print, 40 x 50 in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Purchased with funds from the William R. Roberson Jr. and Frances M. Roberson Endowed Fund for North Carolina Art, © 2016 Burk Uzzle

by Jessie Ammons

One of the country’s most highly regarded photographers began his career at age 17 in his native Raleigh, where he was a staff photographer for the News & Observer. At 23, Burk Uzzle became the youngest photographer ever hired by Life magazine. In 1967, he joined noted photography agency Magnum Photos and went on to serve as its president for many years, capturing events from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral to Woodstock.

“When you have a photographer like that in your backyard, you want to honor them,” says Patricia Leighten, a professor of art history and visual studies at Duke University. As a proper tribute, three art museums in every point of the Triangle will host concurrent exhibitions of Uzzle’s work this summer.

While the shows at Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill begin and end at different times, they overlap during June, July, and August. “There’s a good, long time when all three (exhibitions) are open,” Leighten says, so that visitors can piece together a comprehensive look at Uzzle’s work and life.

Ackland_2007.12.1, 1/11/12, 2:07 PM, 8C, 3908x4696 (0+327), 50%, Custom, 1/20 s, R49.0, G23.1, B33.1

The Body of Martin Luther King in the Funeral Home in Memphis, 1968 Gelatin silver print Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gift of Burk Uzzle, 2007.12.1, © Burk Uzzle.

Uzzle, Stairs with Sock Monkey

Burk Uzzle, Stairs with Sock Monkey, 2006, carbon print, 43 x 36 1⁄2 in., Courtesy of the artist.

Leighten curated the Ackland leg, the largest of the three displayed collections with 40 photos. She says her goal is to give an overview of Uzzle’s entire body of work, from his black-and-white Raleigh reporter days to later idyllic color photos. The Nasher exhibit focuses on scenic landscapes: Uzzle lives and works in Wilson, N.C. and treasures  the Southern countryside. At NCMA, you get an idea of Uzzle’s distinct take on American culture. “He has a wry, observant quality in the way that he looks at American culture,” Leighten says. “He sees its problems, but you also sense that he loves it. He loves America; he loves our eccentricity, our strangeness, the kind of odd things we do to our landscape and our environment. He sees it. He observes it. But it’s very nonjudgemental.”

Odds are, you’ll recognize more than a few of the images. Relatable, diverse, and poignant, they’re worth driving to all three museums to see.

In chronological order, see Burk Uzzle Triangle-wide
at the following times:

North Carolina Museum of Art, April 16 – September 25

2110 Blue Ridge Road;

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, May 28 – September 18

2001 Campus Drive, Durham;

Ackland Art Museum, June 24 – September 11

101 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill;