The Storytelling Lab - Ep53: Capturing Truth with Burk Uzzle and Jethro Waters
We’re rounding out our 4th season with a very special interview from one of America’s most highly regarded photographers, Burk Uzzle, and filmmaker, Jethro Waters. We discuss truthfully portraying a subject, leading with your heart, and learning from people with whom you disagree.
For those of us in the southern United States, right now is a challenging time.
Truth be told, it always has been.
Here we are, on the brink of an opportunity for real change and progress, but feeling a backlash from those not quite ready to let go of the past -- no matter how bleak it looks in our rearview mirrors.
This is typical of any major societal shift.
But in 2020, with so many different forms of media, many people are getting lost in the sauce.
Where do we turn for truth?
Well, if you listen to the show, you know that the best chance we have at sharing our truths -- and, more importantly, making people listen to them -- is by sharing our stories.
And the closest thing we have to truth-tellers are our artists.
Back in 2019, I had a conversation with two artists -- both from North Carolina, like me -- photographer Burk Uzzle and documentary filmmaker Jethro Waters. They had just finished premiering Jethro’s film, F/11 and Be There, about Burk’s life and work.
The conversation started by discussing the process of making the film, but quickly became about the process of collecting stories and capturing truth.
“Truth comes from within a person. It does not come from within a medium.”
The way Burk goes about his photography, and Jethro goes about his filmmaking, and I try to go about my writing, is to seek out authenticity. To capture the essence of humanity.
This requires coming from a place of empathy and listening to understand other people, rather than listening to reinforce our already-held beliefs.
As Burk said during our interview...
“I really can’t take any pictures of you until I know really what you care about.”
At the end of the day, it all comes back to relationships and connecting as humans.
With Burk and Jethro, the success of their documentary completely hinged on the chemistry established between them. Jethro moved in and out of the spaces in Burk’s life with an understanding of who he was, what he stood for, and how he chose to impact the world.
That is how we build any connections with humans, whether we do that through pictures, video, text, or the spoken word.
When artists like Burk, Jethro, and myself try to use their art to effect change and combat racism and social justice issues, human connections are imperative.
The title F/11 and Be There is a take on the popular photography expression “f/8 and be there,” most commonly attributed to the photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig).
It refers to the aperture setting on a camera which determines how much light is let into the image and therefore will influence how sharp the image is. F/8 is a middle range which will usually have a decently sharp image, no matter the composition.
The expression means that we should worry less about the art being perfect and more about capturing the moment authentically.
As Ansel Adams said,
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
If you are seeking to create maximum impact through authentic art, this episode will show you how a legendary photographer has done so for decades!
Some highlights from our conversation:
How to create empathy with your subject
Being comfortable in silence
Remains: A Jethro Water's Short Film
How to capture a truthful portrayal of your subject in a photograph
Letting go of your control
Racism in the old south versus the new south
How to build a progressive south
Showing goodness, instead of trying to teach people
Amplifying underrepresented voices
Creating subjectivity in the editing process
Getting along with people who have different views than you: talk about what you share
Finding truth through experience
Learning from people you do not agree with
Digital versus the dark room
What is the real tool?
Interpreting your subject’s aura
Use of animation in F/11 and Be There
What’s better: the head or the heart?
Editing with your heart
How sharing stories offers hope
As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!
Peace and Love,
Learn more about Burk Uzzle at his website: www.burkuzzle.com
Learn more about Jethro Waters at his website: www.jethrowaters.com
Watch F/11 and Be There: http://www.f11andbethere.com/
For more storytelling tips and tricks,
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