ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Best of 2017 Winner – David Burnett

By December 31, 2017Best of 2017

Washington, DC

“Egyptian Synchro Swimming Team: RIO”

Second Place – Magazine/Editorial

© David Burnett

“I was impressed by the level of their dedication and commitment to doing the hard work. They eventually placed 7th, I believe, in the competition, but watching their efforts that morning was very impressive.”

ASMP: Can you provide some background on your winning photo?

David Burnett: I had the chance to work with a small team of photographers for the Int’l Olympic Committee Images department at the Rio Games. I arrived a few days before Opening Ceremonies, and found that those days can provide rich opportunities in photographing training, very often from a behind the scenes p.o.v. The general level of tension is far less than in the days of competition, and it affords chances to move around that would be problematic once the Games start. I’d gone early one morning to the pool where Water Polo and Synchro Swimming take place (the ying and yang of water sports, I suppose) and the Egyptian team was working out with their coaches. I was impressed by the level of their dedication and commitment to doing the hard work. They eventually placed 7th, I believe, in the competition, but watching their efforts that morning was very impressive. At one moment, they all gathered on the end of the pool just before resuming their statue like positions for the start of their routine. One of the swimmers kneeled, and there was my picture.

ASMP: What was your inspiration for taking this photo?

DB: What I truly love about the Olympic games is the celebration of athleticism, and though this team of swimmers was not about to win a medal in the competition, watching them work out and practice their routines seemed to be with the same gusto the Bronze Medalist Japanese team was showing at the other end of the pool. The Olympics brings out something special not only in the athletes, but among the photographers who are trying to make pictures which represent that incredible sense of athleticism.

ASMP: What type of setting inspires you the most?

DB: I love being out of the way, behind the scenes, or in a lesser traffic-ed place. I enjoy working with no other photographers around (though I do love the company of photographers when we’re not working) and am always trying to find something which a viewer might be surprised about.

ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?

DB: Unique? Probably not. But I do know that you can only make pictures as long as you are in the mix. If you go home early, or stay in your hotel room, you can be pretty damn sure you won’t make a picture. Get out there, stay late. Bring good shoes.

ASMP: Was there anything unique about the type of lighting you used for this image or series?

DB: I was shooting with a Canon 5d modified for b/w infrared. It has a very clean, monochromatic look, and sometimes it just suits a subject or a location.

ASMP: How long have you been shooting this type of photography?

DB: I’ve only owned an Infrared b/w camera for about 4 years now, and I try taking it with me when I have to do a “normal” shoot, and get a few frames in. The mellow look of the b/w can be very pleasing.

ASMP: What other photographers’ or artists’ work inspires you?

DB: I love the energy that Joe McNally (“the hardest working man in show business!”) brings to his work. I’m intrigued by the simplicity of Nadav Kandar’s portraits, where he generally turns Less into More. Almost any subject which Daniel Berehulak chooses to engage is one worth looking at.

ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?

DB: I joined (I THINK!) in 1972 after returning to the US from two years in Asia, and having seen my position with the weekly LIFE, ended when the magazine closed. Having ASMP to speak for photographers in all those times when help is needed – with authorities, with clients, with the public, has always been helpful.

ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?

DB: I like knowing that it is a professional group of photographers (and editors) who know the business, and try to enforce traditional understandings of the value of photography at a time when those values are challenged by new media, and the ubiquitous presence of cameras on phones.

ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?

DB: Currently I shoot with Canon 6d’s, Leica M9, and Lumix G7 & GX7, and I am seriously looking at the new Sony systems (a9 and a7riii). Everyone is making great cameras these days. It’s a joy to see what quality a few hundred dollars can buy.

ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started taking photos?

I more or less always wanted to OWN my negatives and the rights to my work (in a world where so many young photographers willingly give up major rights for little compensation, this resonates) and have been lucky enough to have about 50 years of work neatly arranged in file cabinets (except the very early few years which are still in my shoe boxes) where they can be accessed very quickly. The process of digitizing a life’s work is cumbersome, but slowly ongoing.

ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your work?

I wish there was a way to make young photographers understand how much craft (manual focus and exposure, and darkroom technique) was required to be a journeyman photographer a generation ago. I think putting a piece of gaffer tape over your camera back screen for a week would make everyone a much better photographer.

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