David Burnett Photojournalism

The Salt Lake City born and raised photographer, David Burnett was named one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” in a recent issue of American Photo magazine. Burnett has taking millions of photos, from Olympic sports to the Vietnam War, he has seen and taken a picture of it all. Burnett graduated from Colorado College in 1968 with a B.A. in political science and right away began working as a freelance journalist/photographer for Time and then Life, first in Washington, D.C. and Miami, and later in South Vietnam. After working two dangerous years as a photojournalist in the Vietnam War he then joined the French photo agency Gamma. this agency Burnett travelled the world in the“news” department for approximately two years.

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In 1975 Burnett returned home to the United States and co-founded his own new photo agency, Contact Press Images. This Photo agency is based in New York City and for the last thirty years David has been traveling extensively around the world working for major magazines & news agencies. Burnett is well respected in the world of photography and has won many awards and achieved several goals. In 1973 alone he won the Robert Capa Gold Medal, from the Overseas Press Club for his work in Chile and also won Magazine Photographer of the Year from the National (Press Photographers Association). More recently (2009-2010) Burnett was giving the Olivier Rebbot Award(best reporting from abroad), from the Overseas Press club and awarded Best Campaign Picture form the 2009 United States Presidential campaigns & elections. Given several awards by many different photographic agencies and associations he is deemed a great photographer and as a result of these achievements makes me wondering, what exactly is he photographing? Also where and when exactly is he going to achieve such amazing photos?


Burnett’s work encompasses news, features, landscapes, sports and most of all people. He is known as someone who can no matter how challenging the assignment, return with the picture. He’s a photographer who can photograph anything, capture the emotion in an image and present it through his articles and photos brilliantly. For example in his article “Orlando:How Walt Disney Changed Everything.”, he explains how Disney World is no longer just a theme park but has also been transformed into a town. He discusses the idea of what people think is evolving, how we must make everything bigger, and better and stronger but really we are just weakening ourselves for a future failure. He worries for human society and is easily noted in his work by the sometimes graphic and metaphorical meaning behind his photos. The theme of lose, and tragic events are seen in several of his galleries, this is because of the News work and journalism he does for agencies and magazines. He captures real,davidburnett966567emotion in the faces of the people he photographs and tries to enable someone to understand their situation just by looking at the image. Sports is also a major theme within his work, capturing several winter and summer Olympics including the London 2012 games. The theme of a challengean athlete or person in deep concentration and or thought as they face their difficult yet obtainable future. All of Burnett’s work is powerful and filled with emotion and having worked in the photojournalism field for many years he has captured photos from many different periods of time. When first starting his photojournalism career his country was at war, a period in time when revolution and Anti-War movements in the United States was in full swing. Burnett was not home, he was far from it, and in The Vietnam War Burnett captured graphic images filled with death, sadness and hopelessness. There is no specific timeframe to which David Burnett’s photos inhabit but rather there are more famous and knowndavidburnett1792663albums/pictures from specific events and time that he took. His well known pictures are from events such as the Vietnam War (1968-1970 he photographed), the Apollo 11 liftoff mission (1969), several presidential campaigns including the first ever African American president, Barrack Obama, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and lastly all the summer and winter Olympics starting from the Salt Lake winter games till the London 2012 games. Where David Burnett travels all depends on the news at hand and the international events and or tragedies that may take place. Remembering he is not only a photographer but also a journalist is important in analyzing his pictures because in many cases the article is not needed, the picture tells the whole story. Primarily most of his pictures are from the United States where he lives in Washington, D.C. Distress and tragic international events are photographed by Burnett (Vietnam war & Hurricane Katrina). Wherever an important and interesting news story occurs, Burnett will be there to capture the situation and emotion in one frame.

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Working in the photojournalistic field for approximately 40 years now David Burnett has used many different ways of having his powerful pictures seen. In the beginning of his career he worked for Time magazine and Life magazine in Washington, D.C. and Miami, and later in Vietnam. Any and all photos of his were sent to the magazine agencies and reviewed for possible use. Burnett said in an article that at first his pictures were never used and how he wanted to have his picture on the front cover of the magazine. This pictures were rarely used not because they were bad but because he was young, unknown and not respected by the field of photographers around him. That soon changed when David co-founded Contact Press Images with Robert Pledge, this enabled Burnett to share his photography to the world threw his agency. davidburnett1792690 Now at the age of 66 Burnett was a website filled with galleries of his pictures, he also maintains a blog where he posts pictures and articles of local and international events. In curiosity I emailed Burnett asking him about his work, specifically what he wants his viewers to take in from his pictures and articles. Surprised to say the least, Burnett replied to my email in which he explained what he thought most of his work represented and what he took in. In a nutshell David told me that he travelled the world, seen and experienced different very positive but also some tragic events. He wants people to feel small, for people to know how big the world is but yet how one tragedy, one event, one achievement can affect everyone. I now follow his blog, and look forward to any future photojournalism he intends to post.

Composition Photo


Taking my time while examining this photo I look for the details. In any pictures it’s important to always take note of what action is not only taking place in the focus of the image but also the action out of focus. The car is the main focus of the image, the car seems almost transparent due to the amount of refrigerator magnets placed upon the car. The car acts almost as a podium for the magnets which are filled with life and color.

The Environment surrounding the vehicle is bare, beaten and covered in dirt. This gives me the idea that either the area in which the picture was taking is pour our ruined for some reason. Plastic, cardboard and debris is scattered everywhere in the out of focus background suggesting a wrecked area or destruction of some kind . The out of focus is filled with action in this photo, three men, all wear the same bright yellow fest seem to signal, safety & help, and or danger. Their similar white trucks also suggest they’re working together for the same cause. The caption reads:

 “Thousand of magnets, where 1000’s of refrigerators were trashed.” 

Trashed, the New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast were hit by Hurricane Katrina. This image brings together so many separate stories all to the hood of a car. Every magnet represents someones life in New Orleans. No matter what ethnic or beliefs when a natural disaster hits, everyone is equally, we are all human and try to survive. Without the magnets the image would be lifeless. Instead of being just a plain car the dull paige vehicle is covered in colorful and lively magnets. This medium shot photo has a great depth of field giving viewer lots of insist on what might be happening in the situation. The photo is taking at an eye-level height looking downwards ever so slightly. The angle in which the picture is taking is from the right side of the car, this is important because if it was taken from another angle the background would be much different. The image is taken outside, using the outside natural sunlight Burnett’s image is well light enabling us to see the details in focus and out of focus. Contextually the one aspect of the image apart from depth of field I enjoyed the most was the contrast in colors. The background is dull, brown and destroyed by the Hurricane therefore there isn’t much color apart from the cleanup crew and there vehicles. The magnets on the car however are the opposite from the background; Colorful letters from the alphabet, cartoon characters and pieces of fruit all make up just some of the magnets on the car which represent life and joy. Not only do the colors contrast but also the events/emotions the colors represent contrast from happiness & joy to death and destruction.


2 thoughts on “David Burnett Photojournalism

  1. Well written, engaging and informative article. Effective balance of information about his career and the content and meaning of his life’s work. Good quotes and selection of images. Effective story. Include caption with images. Slightly redundant leading up to an otherwise effective conclusion. Watch out for spelling. Excellent work and initiative. 90

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