NEW YORK, NY.- Wild & Precious
(Daylight, Fall 2015) by American fine art photographer Jesse Burke brings together landscape photographs, portraits, and still lifes he made during a series of road trips he took with his daughter Clover from 2010 to 2015 to explore the natural world. To encourage a connection between his child and nature, Burke used these adventures to give Clover an education that he considers essential -- one that develops an appreciation and respect for our planet's wildlife and natural resources, the importance of conservation, and self-confidence.
For five years, the father and daughter team travelled to incredible locations throughout their native New England, as well as to the Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the Southwestern Sonoran Desert, and the beaches of North Carolina and Florida. At each site, they studied the trees, the land, the sky, and the animals they encountered during their hikes through woods and meadows, climbs up hills and mountains, and treks along rugged shorelines, rivers and through waterfalls. They carefully documented the routes they drove, the landscapes they discovered, and the creatures, great and small, they met along the way -- from elks to eagles to raccoons. They even charted the quirky roadside motels they slept in when not camping outdoors. In each location, they collected artifacts that they would bring back home to catalog, study, and photograph.
Burke's photographs reveal the tender love he has for his daughter, as they trace Clover's growth from a curious little girl to a strong and confident pre-teen. Her occasional painful confrontations with nature from a bloody nose, to a fractured wrist, to a black eye, are also documented and remind the viewer of her fragility. In some photographs Clover is depicted as a dominant presence, while in others she blends into her surroundings -- a beautiful "wild child" becoming one with nature.
Wild & Precious is as much about love and parenting as it is a hands-on training manual of new age environmentalism. The book reveals the increasingly fragile, complicated relationship that humans share with nature and serves as a call to arms for parents everywhere to get outside and explore the natural world with their children. This exquisite and touching monograph is bookended by poetic letters Clover and Burke wrote to one another. All of the image titles in Wild & Precious are named after songs Johnny Cash wrote or recorded. His music was a big part of their collective experience while on the road.
In his artist statement Burke writes, "I want my children to genuinely understand how magical the world we inhabit is and how we, as humans, are an integral part of the system. I want them to feel a deep connection to every aspect of their surroundings."
Wild & Precious is a modern-day love story between parent and child, the natural world and civilization. It is a valuable addition to the libraries of parents and the entire family, educators specializing in childhood development, and anyone interested in contemporary photography, the environment, nature and conservation.
In his essay, author and environmentalist Ben Hewitt, who wrote Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, remembers the countless shelters that his sons made in the woods and how they would return home "their skin smelling of leaves, dirt, and woodsmoke, their hands smelling of fish guts." He stresses the importance of exposing children to nature. "Research shows that children who feel connected to the wild do better in school and have increased self-esteem, that they are more sensitive to the needs of others and to nature itself."
In her essay, Karen Irvine, curator and associate director, Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, references famous artists who have explored the "fraught relationship" between nature and humans that inform Burke's work, including Sally Mann, Emmet Gowin, and Wynn Bullock. She writes that Bullock's iconic photograph of his daughter, Lynne, Los Lobos (1956) "deliberately evokes the idea of the wild child" and that "arguably had less to do with portraiture than with symbolism." Like Bullock, Burke uses his daughter "to symbolize our fundamental human connection to the wild and to consider our inherently animal nature."
A solo exhibition and the New York Premiere of work from Wild & Precious will open at ClampArt (531 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001) in New York on October 15 and remain on view through November 14. There will be an opening reception and book signing with Jesse Burke on Thursday, October 15 from 6-8pm.
Jesse Burke divides his time between personal art projects and commissioned work. A New England native, he currently lives in Rhode Island with his wife and their three daughters, Clover Lee, Poppy Dee, and Honey Bee. He received his MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, where he is a faculty member, and his BFA from the University of Arizona. Burke's work deals with themes related to vulnerability and identity, as well as human's complicated relationship with nature. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S. and abroad including The Haggerty Museum, the Perth Center for Photography, the Tucson Museum of Art, the Print Center in Philadelphia, and the Lishui Photo Festival in China, and is held in many private and public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Burke was recently named one of Time Magazine's top 50 US photographers to follow on Instagram.
"There are so many things I want to teach you. I want you to know which leaves belong to which trees, what the bumps of a toad feel like, the sweet smell and taste of wild honeysuckles. I want you to trust the night air, to not be afraid of spiders, to know things that I don't, things I was never taught. I want you to feel at home in the wild." -- Jesse Burke (excerpt from a letter to his daughter Clover)