From his first rolls of Kodak Tri-X in High School, Sony Artisan David Burnett (@davidburnettfoto) says he’s wanted to use his camera to tell stories of the news in the world around him. Some of those stories, he says, have been very quiet, intimate, shot with no one else around, and some have been on the world stage, moments of the passage of world history as it was being seen and first recorded.
“I try to see myself as a historian,” says Burnett. “I love having the chance to see things as they unfold, and use my pictures to share those moments in print with others, in the main, people who I will never know. I love having a real excuse to leap into the lives of people I don’t know. There aren’t merely 6 million stories in this world, as the old Naked City used to remind us. There are six billion. And it’s important to remember that good walking shoes are far more important than an airline ticket to find the heart of a picture story.”
“Nothing compares with being the unseen, unnoticed witness, and those pictures, the ones where my point of view is lucky enough to rise to the point of casual observer, are the ones I strive for.” -David Burnett
He’s covered the news and the people for more than five decades and just about every Olympics since 1984, with much of his work being published in newspapers as well as weekly and monthly magazines. “In a very complimentary moment a decade ago, the press secretary of a Senator described me as the guy ‘who walks into a room and disappears.’ Nothing compares with being the unseen, unnoticed witness, and those pictures, the ones where my point of view is lucky enough to rise to the point of casual observer, are the ones I strive for.”
“Since switching a year and a half ago to Sony, I have been pursuing a project on senior athletes - minimally over 50, but most in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. One group, the Gray Wolves hockey team in upstate New York, were paced by 94- and 89-year-old defensemen. They play twice a week, two hours at a clip, and the picture of these guys in the locker room after a game is one that captures for me the spirit of older athletes and their incredible desire to push aging back.”
Burnett says he caught on very quickly to the newness of the Sony α9 and α7R III. “Looking at the screens in the viewfinder, you really see what your picture will look like. That is exciting. It’s almost as if we have cut out one step in the work a photographer needs to do in order to capture something you see. These cameras are incredibly capable (fps and auto focus) and they give the photographer more possibilities to try and coax a picture inside them.”
Burnett currently has an exhibition about older athletes (4th Quarter: Senior Athletes & Their Indomitable Spirit) at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. In June he will be traveling to Normandy to cover the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a story he’s followed since 1974. “This far along, there are merely a few veterans alive and able to travel. I hope to see them and look forward to photographing the Omaha Beach vets sipping a calvados at dawn on June 6.”