DAVID BURNETT ON PHOTOJOURNALISM

"The story on Story" is a series of conversations about the craft and commerce of telling stories. Vignette Creative starts interviewing photojournalist extraordinaire and co-founder of Contact Press Images, David Burnett in Contact’s offices in New York City. Here’s a short excerpt:

"The essential act is to get a camera pass doors, around stairwells, through walls; and if that doesn’t happen it doesn’t matter if you’re Cartier-Bresson or (…) it doesn’t matter: you won’t get a picture.” (David Burnett)

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© David Burnett, 1974, Two young boys: the Sahel drought, Niger

The Sahel drought was a series of historic droughts, beginning in at least the 17th century affecting the Sahel region, a climate zone sandwiched between the African savanna grasslands to the south and the Sahara desert to the north, across West and Central Africa. While the frequency of drought in the region is thought to have increased from the end of the 19th century, three long droughts have had dramatic environmental and societal effects upon the Sahel nations.

Famine followed severe droughts in the 1910s, the 1940s, and the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, although a partial recovery occurred from 1975-80. While at least one particularly severe drought has been confirmed each century since the 17th century, the frequency and severity of recent Sahelian droughts stands out. Famine and dislocation on a massive scale—from 1968 to 1974 and again in the early and mid 1980s—was blamed on two spikes in the severity of the 1960-1980s drought period.

From the late 1960s to early 1980s famine killed a 100,000 people, left 750,000 dependent on food aid, and affected most of the Sahel’s 50 million people. (read more)

© David Burnett, March 1976, Lee “Scratch” Perry at his studio, Kingston / Jamaica

"….we went to see the producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. He was a wild and crazy guy, and I mean that in a good sense. He was not on the same charts I was on. He understood the music and where it was coming from and what it represented for society. He was a one-man operation, trying to help people create music and churn it out there." (David Burnett)

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