Talking with David Burnett from Sochi

Kenneth Jarecke - My good friend David Burnett, how are things in Sochi

David Burnett - Well, I never would have thought I could say, here I am in Sochi, but here I am in Sochi.

KJ - How many Olympics is this for you?

DB - This is my tenth Olympics. My second Winter Games and even though it’s been a mild winter, I’m reminded of why I have a four to one edge of summer games over winter. Sooner or later, sloshing around in that gooey snow, you’re feet get cold. But, I’m having a great time working with a great bunch of folks.

In our business we have a way of talking about things that are fun that most other people wouldn’t have a clue of what we’re talking about. Working twenty hour days with all kinds of uncomfortable things, figuring out how to get from one place to another, but it’s fun. It’s what we do. You kind of learn how to redefine what is fun and I have to say it’s been a pretty good ten days so far. Please follow this link to read the rest of the interview.

Please follow this link to read the rest of the interview (plus photographs).

Emotional Trouble... Me?


Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images © 2014


As a photojournalist I believe your first responsibility is to your subject. You must tell their story as completely and honestly as you can. That’s the least you can do after someone has let you into their lives (or their death in this case).


In the rare case when you make a picture that strikes a nerve, goes viral, and takes on a life of it’s own, the photographer is given an added burden (blessing?). In my case it’s the picture I made on Highway 8 in Iraq a couple of decades ago.


You can see it here.


The burden/blessing is to forever be answering questions in an attempt to keep the story behind the image accurate.


That’s not to say you’re trying to manipulate people’s reactions or stifle debate. Good photographs start the conversation. The photographer’s job, or more accurately the photojournalist’s job, is to keep the subject the focus of the conversation and stay as much in the background as possible.


The conversation shouldn’t be about you, it should be about the person or people in the photograph. That's why I don’t often volunteer information about this image, but I do always answer questions (mostly from students) about it.


Normally I’m fairly patient with these requests, but the email I received today kind of cracked me up. So instead of answering the two questions with a “yes” and “no” (journalism students take note, try not to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no), I opened up a little bit.


For the record, I did a three hour interview about a month ago with a different Columbia grad student. Her questions were well thought out. Her follow-ups insightful. It was obvious she’d done a ton of research and I’m really looking forward to her piece.


Update - The student really liked my response. I'm glad. Sometimes it pays to be honest and just say the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes... well, rarely, but still.




I am a student at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. For our covering conflict module, we had to visit the war photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, where among others, your picture of the Incinerated Iraqi stood out.


I found myself looking at it, looking into it for a while. I read your comments under it as to why you made that picture. I agree, to a certain degree. War is a horrible thing and to show its horrors so up close and personal that they suck you in and jolt you, is a novelty among photographers. 


I am doing an OpEd piece on the exhibit and I would appreciate if you could find time to answer me two questions.


1. If you were to come across the same situation today, would you still photograph it?


2. Has that picture caused any trouble to you over the years? Emotionally? 




Best wishes,


Freelance Journalist,

Columbia University.



Hi (Redacted),


Thank you for contacting me.


To answer your questions.


1) Of course I would photograph it again today. Why wouldn't I? That's what I do. To not make the picture would be a great disservice to history, the soldier and well, everyone else on the planet. I'm not some creepy adventure tourist who travels to war zones to boost their Twitter followers and pretend they're more informed and concerned about our world then their parents. I'm a photo-fucking-journalist and the experience you had "looking into" my image is what I and every other PFJ hopes to accomplish with their work.


2) Not that I know of, though you may want to review my answer to your first question and make your own analysis.





Let's Be Professional About This


There’s a big difference between a professional plying their trade and an amateur. In this image I see evidence of two people (in particular) reacting to an unexpected attack, an atrocity, in a professional manner.

The first is the officer on the left, who unlike your average celluloid action star, has her finger in the proper position and not on the trigger of her weapon. The second, is photographer John Tlumacki of the Boston Globe who captured THE moment in a straightforward manner without any photo-gizmo trickery.

The image is a testament to experience and proper training (on both sides of the lens). It also puts the lie to the idea that social media, inexperienced witnesses and camera phones are a suitable replacement for a PFJ.

There’s a video of this moment as well. It was either made by an amateur or the absolute worst camera operator on the planet. The video fails on most levels. but most strikingly when it pans away from the scene so perfectly captured by Tlumacki and instead tilts skyward at smoke and broken windows. The video shows us little of what’s happening at street level (although one can catch a glimpse of Tlumacki helping to move some barricades). In doing so, the camera operator robbed the viewer, history and criminal investigators of a clear picture of what happened seconds after the blast.

(From a photojournalist’s perspective, it also robbed us of another example of how video of an iconic moment usually fails to have the same impact on the viewer as the still image, but that’s hardly important at this point.)

Some have criticized Sports Illustrated’s treatment of the image. Saying the pop-out figures gives it a comic book feel, but that rings hollow with me. In fact, I think it’s quite effective. Heroes (comic book or otherwise) are normal people who are thrust into extraordinary situations and react in heroic ways. In other words, cops aren’t any more super than anyone else, until they are.

That said, I salute the editors of S.I. for publishing this amazing image as well as they did. Perhaps it was because their tight deadline prevented them from talking themselves out of it. I don’t know. I don't care. They got it done, and that’s what counts.

With that, I'd like to make a quick comment about the first episode of a new reality show called “The Moment”, hosted by Superbowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner. Unlike the moment captured by Tlumacki, this show is scripted, exploitative (of both their subjects and audience), unbelievable, predictable and total removed from reality. Which explains why on TV it’s called a reality show. Its gimmick, err, premise, is that it gives people a second chance to live their dream.

In the first episode, Warner gives working mom Tracie Marcum a second chance at being a Sports Illustrated photographer. We're never told when she got her first chance, or why a gainfully employed person would throw away a perfectly good job.

Marcum seems nice enough. She’s obviously deeply loved by her family, a decent bunch, and is ready and willing to work, but a sports photographer she is not. The show puts her through a two week “boot camp” where photographer Lou Jones, also a decent sort and veteran of fourteen Olympic games, attempts to turn her into a sports photographer. The prize is a job at Sports Illustrated.

The show puts Marcum through a bunch of silly exercises designed to turn her into a sports shooting machine. The cruelest of which is when they send her to a skeet range to photograph clay pigeons exploding as they’re shot. I say cruel, because SPOILER ALERT Marcum’s mother committed suicide with a gun, so the sound of gun shots freaks the poor woman out. Yeah, no manipulation here. The producers of the show didn’t put Marcum through this for some canned drama, the “exploding clay pigeon test” is one every sports photographer has to pass.

Okay, so it’s all in good fun. We all know nothing sells soap like a working mom’s tears.

As a viewer, I expected Marcum would earn herself a day rate or two for her trouble. Maybe shoot a golf tournament or something for the magazine. That’s when things got weird.

At the end of the show, Marcum heads to New York to meet with the director of photography and a highly acclaimed Sports Illustrated photographer who will look at her work and decide whether she’s earned herself a “position” at the magazine or not.

As Keanu would say, “Whoa.” Position? I thought we were talking “job”, not position.

To make matters stranger not to mention ironic, since the episode was shot, both the DOP, and the staff photographer (who judged her work) are no longer with the magazine (along with several other GREAT photographers).

Sure enough, SPOILER ALERT, Marcum wins a position at the magazine. On one hand, I have to say, “good for you girl," but on the other I’m wearing my “I can’t believe what I just saw” face (and yes, I usually wear that face on my hand).

As this episode was being shot, the magazine’s hierarchy, the same people that knew they were going to fire a bunch of people whose talents the magazine was built on, thought it was a good idea to send the message to America that anyone, given a two week training course, could be a Sports Illustrated photographer.

Is that what you want your subscribers to think? There’s nothing special here, nothing to see, move along. That given a chance (first or second) by Kurt Warner you too could be a Sports Illustrated photographer.

George Plimpton notwithstanding, can you think of a professional sports franchise that would attempt to sell season tickets with this premise?

Whether it’s our sports or the people shooting them, paying customers want the best. They don’t want to see their overweight neighbor playing for the Miami Heat. They want to see LeBron. Just like they don’t want to sit through a three hour slideshow of their neighbor’s eco-holiday, unless they happen to live next door to Sebastiao Salgado.

I know I’ve said this in a slightly roundabout way, but professionalism is important. Not only in important matters, like national security, police officers and other first responders, but also when it comes to the our press.

As a photographer, a journalist, and a consumer of news, I’m tired of the mediocre spirit that has infected our publications today.

We don’t need another overly clever youngster, running around in tiny jeans, thinking the story is about them while attempting to make self-relevant snaps with their iPhone. Can’t you just picture it? A blood stained sidewalk, maybe a tattered piece of red, white and blue bunting, a cross processing filter...

What we need is some old school PFJ’s that know how to capture a moment in a way that is relevant and insightful, but also true. Yeah, I said it. Images can be true. Regardless of what your goateed, sports coat with faux leather patches on the elbows wearing, college professor told you.

What we want (and by "we" I'm probably only talking about me), what editors should be trying to deliver (and what we got for a brief moment this week) is some photojournalism which harkens back to the Boston Globe of the eighties. This is what we need and anyone who thinks otherwise deserves to have Stan Grossfeld's non-ironic Chuck Taylors shoved right up their arse.