Soul Rebel: David Burnett

Went to the David Burnett opening last night at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles. Drove up with long time photographer friend and Wisconsin cheese-eating native Paul Gero who happens to be a friend of Burnett. I’d never been to this particular gallery before, and I’m glad I made the trip. In addition to Burnett’s work, which was centered on a project about Jamaican superstar Bob Marley, the gallery had a range of other imagery and artwork. There was a Hunter Thompson piece by Al Satterwhite that I was lusting after.

But I digress. For anyone who out there who loves documentary photography, editorial photography, political photography or photojournalism, David Burnett is a name you MUST know. A friend recently described him as “The Michael Jordan of photojournalism,” which I think is a accurate description. Burnett is a good photographer and has been good for a long, long while. Constantly reinventing himself, his genre, he continues to produce work that actually influences not only those around him but the actual industry in which he works. Not many folks I can say this about. Plus, he is just a cool guy. Always a smile, always a joke.

The project being exhibited, “Soul Rebel” depicts an intimate look at reggae superstar Marley. This project reflects what time, access and someone with a point of view can accomplish when given the chance. Living as close to Hollywood as I do, and knowing a fair number of photographers who cover the entertainment world, I wish I could take this book around to all of them, and their agents, and agencies and magazine editors and art directors and say “Look at this.” “This is what is possible with time and access.” The book, which I bought for my brother and nephew(a secret but neither read my blog), depicts a relaxed and mercurial Marley, at home and seemingly at peace. The work feels personal, very personal, and reminds me of other bodies of rock and roll work by the likes of Claxton and “back in the day” photographers that had relationships with these music stars, as opposed to the modern method of the five-minute portrait. When I see Burnett’s images I feel like I begin to know what the real Bob Marley was like. Quiet, reflective, lover of weed and soccer. I see Marley with his guard down, relaxing with friends in Kingston, on the road with the band and performing, dreadlocks backlit and glowing, face twisted in lyric.

When I see these images it feels to me like I’m being given a look at a secret world, but I’m being given this look by someone considered a friend to those in the images. I can’t tell you how important this is, and how critical this is to getting images that are a true reflection of someone, something or somewhere. I could tell you more about Burnett, the “Photographer of the Year” award, the “Robert Capa” award, the co-founder of Contact Press and the years he covered Vietnam, but I’m going to stop there. I want you to work at this and go discover him on your own. Trust me, it’s worth it.