The simplest of shades define his scenes

Published August 13, 2006

Even if you don't know Burk Uzzle's name, you have probably seen his work, for Life magazine years ago and almost every other weekly news magazine. He still takes assignments to help pay the bills but spends as much time as he can on his own photography, which is in private collections and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian Institution and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Uzzle works the old-fashioned way, with a nondigital camera and film. He processes his black and white negatives and creates his own prints. Color work is sent to labs. In a recent interview with St. Petersburg Times art critic Lennie Bennett, he talked about his work.

How did you wind up in Florida?

I lived in New York on and off for 30 years. I started going to Daytona Beach years ago to photograph Bike Week. I didn't want to live in the city anymore so I moved to Daytona for three to four years but I kept doing assignments on the Tampa Bay side of the state. So I moved here several years ago. I travel more than I'm at home but I like Florida, the eclectic mix of people, the tropicalness.

Why is your latest book, A Family Named Spot, all black and white photography?

I do both but this just seemed better in black and white. I always seem to do people better that way; you're seeing them rather than the colors of the print in a shirt. It purifies the relationship between the person and landscape.

Black and white seems to be more of a rarity.

Classic black and white is becoming very rare. I don't do any digital. The prints themselves are done from negatives. Film is still better, sharper if you want to take the time to work with it.

How serendipitous is your search for subjects?

It takes me hours to make a picture. I find a place that appeals visually and wait for the thing that makes it quirky or transcendent. I like to be subtle with a punch line. I like multiple planes, correlating the foreground and background things. It's a technique almost lost today where most photojournalism is like a sound bite.

Any advice to young photographers?

(Henri) Cartier-Bresson once told me to go study the quattrocento painters (of the early Italian renaissance). It was wonderful advice and they inform most of my work.