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Monday, 26 March 2012


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He certainly has reduced the G2 to the most important part- poor autofocus. I sold mine years ago, but I still miss the great lenses, just wish they would focus in my lifetime.

So glad you got this interview. It makes me feel like a poser because I am new to the game, but I hope David understands that there are those of us out there who want to learn from a craftsman like him.

Make is the key, don't take, Make a image.


This was made, not taken.



I could feel the undercurrent of frustration from Mr. Burnett. To be at the top of your game in a game that no longer pays. An amazing photographer looking for pathways to show amazing work.

I remember going to a talk he gave in a private high school near where I live. He had spent at least a day with the students (not sure it might have been two days) and at the end there was a talk that was open to the public.

I remember his unassuming manner and his desire to teach and show what you could do with a camera. He was always focused on teaching the students (I found that particularly touching since I am also a teacher), for example every time he explained how he had taken a photo with his Speed Graphic he reminded the students that the glass would show the image upside down and flipped on the side. He encouraged them to get out and take photos. He also reminded everyone that most people now a days could always take a photo, using a camera phone or a very simple small point and shoot. That had made the work of photographers change over the years, but had opened other possibilities.

All this while showing us marvel after marvel and explaining how he had shot it. He mentioned how hard and at the same time rewarding was working with the Speed Graphic, not that you could imagine how he could have any problems with technique after looking at his results.

I remember distinctly the photo he took of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame with a Holga, and some of his campaign photos (for the 2004 and 2000 elections) with the Speed Graphic. And over everything I remember his love for the craft, for the people that were the subjects of his photographs, his humility, and generosity.

That day I did not want to sell my equipment and cry myself to sleep. I wanted to take my camera (did not matter what it was) and take photos and try to see the world a little like the way he did. I couldn't but I am still trying.

Thank you for this great interview.

Damn that John Camp/Sandford. The only portrait photographer I get, is the clerk at the motor vehicle office.
Can't wait for part two.

I've enjoyed David Burnett's work for many years now and it's sad to see so many photographers with his skills and ability having less and less work in an age when everyone and his brother are competing with him. Many outlets are using images submitted by cell phone camera toting average joe's in the street so photojournalism's future unfortunately is not looking bright.

One tidbit about David I'm sure most people don't know is he appeared on Jeopardy many years ago. I don't remember if he won, but as most contestants on that program he was very knowledgeable on many subjects and his worldly experience was very evident.

Being just over 30 I have to admit that a lot of DBs most famous work came when I did not know of him. But, I have tried to make up for it by collecting odds and ends. I have the 2007? WPP master class video somewhere... and a 1980's era Kodak video (I think he was photographing a cowboy poet)... I was amused to see him in the gefilte fish chronicles ( I didn't know it was his work until he showed up in a frame at some point).

I took away a lesson from the world press photo video that I carry with me every day I have a camera. If he had a regret it is that he didn't shoot life and family when he was young - focusing on sports or whatever he thought would make good images.

Don't want get all gearhead here, but I like Mr. Burnett's comments about the Leica M9. My thoughts exactly.

Please don't accuse me of being a member of the Cult of Leica, but shooting a rangefinder is a unique experience--I've always thought of a Leica as putting about nothing between you and your subject--it seems as if you just think it, and boom, the picture's taken....okay, enough raving....

Only thing I'm a little puzzled about is his comments re Canon and Nikon not putting out versions of their rangefinder cameras. Nikon did reissue the S3 and SP back in 2004-2005 or thereabouts, in limited editions. Maybe he's thinking they should have put out digital version of same, like Leica did?

Great interview with that rare (unique?) phenomenon, a great photographer, still working at great editorial photos, using good old fashioned (and some new fangled) tools.
To get the full picture I recommend you go to
it's the best collection of DB you can get, and just like the man , for a real cause.
DB if you're reading this , thanks for your inspiration and the kind words about taking a case of Holgas to an assignment a few years back.
Do a workshop somewhere (in Europe) please, both Roger and I will come!

As a beginning photographer struggling to simply improve I find David's work and his approach incredibly moving. He is making/has made the types of images I wish to make. I knew nothing of David until I read this article and went to his site...thank you. Lots there to study and enjoy.


I took him as meaning a digital Nikon SP or Canon 7, equivalent to the M9. They clearly still have the technical chops for these mechanical beasts, so ...

OTOH, I heard Nikon lost money on every SP 2005 it sold. I also heard that the hardest bit to source was the clockworks for the mechanical self-timer. No-one makes 'em anymore.

On the gripping hand, since Nikon's already sunk the cash into resurrecting the tooling, why not stick a D800 sensor in the back and charge 8 grand a copy?

thanks for all the kind words.. it is always satisfying to hear from folks who learn about your work the first time... Holga workshops in Europe? Wow, that is a totally excellent idea... (note taken!) My issue with the RFDR cameras is.. basically as John H says: take a Nikon D700/Canon5D chip (proven, capable, cheap)... put it in a new SPdigi, CanonP/7 digi body.. put a screen on the back as good as any $400 point/shoot.. (there are plenty), and PUT A FRICKEN RANGEFINDER with an M mount on the body. It's not rocket science.. though perhaps it's being seen that way. God bless all the x100/X1Pro 5Nex etc etc etc cameras.. let them all fight for the wanna be crowd.. but make a $1500 RFDR body, (no need for video.. let it just be a PHOTO camera) and you will be a) Camera of the Year b) unable to keep up with demand c) loved by a very loveable group of shooters... thanks again all DB

David, so the Epson RD1wasn't far off at the time, we just need the same idea , full frame with a better chip! ( I'm still using a pair of these)
European workshop, not just Holga but Speed/aero and all the other stuff that no one else does, why not?

Dear mr. Pearce, the answer to slow autofocus is not fast autofocus it is NO autofocus. How to do so? Use the power of the aperture......I took this


last sunday at a local half marathon atracting some well known an fine athletes. I used a combination of a brilliant Nikon 80-200 F4.5 (build 1976) and set the aperture a F11.....then I looked at the depth of field table engraved on the top of the barrel as a fan of lines the one for F11 showed that at 90mm (180mm using the GF1 that was on the other side of the barrel) mm I had a depth of field from 5.5 till 10 meters. So I framed loosely, and took a shot of both the runners (avoiding the timer car and some motorcycles) when they were in that range. Click, done....at 1/640's of a second at 400 iso. Then crop a little.....and presto done.

It is not the camera that takes the picture it is the photographer. David Burnett is one of my hero's for understanding the meaning of skill that comes with the art of photography and the acknowlegment that skill seperates the enthousiast from the pro..not the kind of equipment that he or she needs to use.

And mr. Burnett if you convince Nikon and or Canon to build one of these camera's please drop me a mail so I can start saving up for one (as i'm saving up GW690 now to use in tandem with my GSW690).

Greetings, Ed (and keep up the Facing Change website, we need this).

Well, one more...

Looks like what Mr. Burnett is saying is why don't they make the digital equivalent of a Zeiss Ikon ZM? Good point. And why doesn't Zeiss make a digital ZM, for that matter? It's a nice camera, and all set up with a good rangefinder and an M-mount. Seems a shame it's dedicated to film only.....

Ed, all very well if you've got lots of light. When I need a shutter speed of 1/250 for indoor action, I frequently end up at ISO 3200 and f/2.8. To go to f/11 I'd need 4 stops higher ISO -- which even on my D700 would show a difference.

Sure, people took good pictures before we had this. What you'll find, if you skip over the not-very-good people both then and now, is that the GOOD people now take much better pictures frequently. Trying to use just the old tech (in places where the new tech is usefully better) will constrain your photos, and an equally-good photographer will get less-good pictures.

I also remember him being very enthusiastic about ricoh's grd series, but maybe not anymore?


That is true.....but I have a healthy dislike against auto-anything (even the automobile :-)). Of course there are situations like you mention, and if you see a camera focus in pitch dark using infrared it looks like a miracle (every time). And yes, no one likes you when you bring a knife to a gunfight (except the gunfighters of course). But having said that, resourcefullness and some skill can compensate for lack of stuff (in Holland we have a saying....."Je moet roeien met de riemen die je hebt"...which translates to "you have to row with the oars you have").

You notice that that same talent would be better of with more, newer and thus more expensive gear, I agree. The later being the problem in my case (shoestring budget), so that closes of the D800, 70-200 F2.8 option quit nicely. So no 36 Mp actionshots in dimly lit interiors for me....I can live with that :-), untill I have saved up for a D800......or your proposed Canon/Nikon RF.

Greetings, Ed

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