It’s been a busy year for Wilson photographer Burk Uzzle as he’s juggled the responsibilities involved with three major shows while staying busy in his studio.
Uzzle, whose iconic images include a young couple wrapped in a quilt at Woodstock and a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in his casket, is featured in three overlapping Triangle-area shows this spring and summer.
The North Carolina Museum of Art show, “Burk Uzzle: American Chronicle,” will be up through Sept. 25. The Nasher Museum at Duke opened “Burk Uzzle: Southern Landscapes” last week; the show continues to Sept. 18. The Ackland Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will show “All About America: Photographs of Burk Uzzle” from June 24 to Sept. 11.
Curators at all three museums have been familiar with Uzzle’s work for years, he said. It’s no wonder. The photographer, whose work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world, is widely recognized as one of the most influential modern photographers of our time.
Linda Dougherty, NCMA’s chief curator and curator of contemporary art, said Uzzle is incredibly versatile.
“What is interesting to me about his work is how he kind of moves fluidly between documentary and journalistic photography and what could be considered art photography.”
He can capture pivotal moments in time, she said, but is equally interested in ordinary aspects of human life.
“I think most photographers are talented in one of those areas but not both of them.”
Dougherty said all three museums had been planning to do a show with Uzzle’s work. When NCMA director Larry Wheeler realized this, he suggested the three museums work together for complementary shows.
In coordinating these three exhibits, the curators decided to divide the work in categories from throughout Uzzle’s 55-year career that started when he was a teenager taking photos for The News & Observer.
The N.C. Museum of Art concentrated on Uzzle’s most famous photos from the last several years, including the large color prints that appear in books and museum and gallery shows. Nasher is featuring Uzzle’s Southern landscapes; Ackland will concentrate on 42 archive pieces and new work.
To make this happen the museums had to pull from the collections of patrons of all three museums as well as people who bought his work and were willing to share it.
One of those photographs, “Legacy Porch,” was loaned to the NCMA by Dudley and Lisa Anderson of Wilson. The photograph was taken on the porch at The Legacy in Elm City and features Bryan Garner, dressed in black as a cowboy and holding a shotgun, and Rickie Whitley, dressed in a white suit and holding a walking stick.
Uzzle took Garner to see the photograph on exhibit at the museum this spring.
Uzzle said that without patrons — such as the Andersons and Wilson collector Allen Thomas Jr. — willing to loan their photographs, this collaboration wouldn’t have been possible.
“Thanks to them, they are on display,” he said. “Without these people buying work, artists can’t live.
“I live by the sale of prints, and it’s not easy to support a gallery and do new work.”
The individual museums shared work with each other as well.
Uzzle said it has been touching for him to see how they have all worked together to show his work.
The three shows are getting recognition throughout the state and the region. Garden and Gun Magazine featured Uzzle and the three shows in the June/ July edition. The two-page spread includes a photo from Uzzle’s studio and some of his most famous photographs. In that same magazine edition, there’s a short mention of Wilson’s Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.
Uzzle stays busy these days in his downtown Wilson studio preparing new work and assembling photos for his next projects.
Just recently, he had company from the Greenville Museum of Art.
The museum will highlight Uzzle next spring in “Perceptions and Recognitions: Documenting the Eastern North Carolina African American Community.” Many of those photos were taken in his Wilson studio.
This show will be the first major show for Uzzle featuring work taken with a digital camera. Uzzle, who had always used film, had to switch to a digital format earlier this year when the film he used was discontinued.
Uzzle said he is loving the conversion to digital.
“I wouldn’t go back to film,” he said.
Uzzle is very pleased the Greenville museum is doing the show next year and is willing to exhibit the work he is currently doing with regional people.
“They are not waiting for me to die or the people to die or the pictures to become famous. They are doing them now.”