Posted by: kerryl29 | December 28, 2020

In Memoriam: Danny Burk

On Saturday, as I was making the long drive back to the Chicago area from Houston, I received an email that my friend Danny Burk had passed away earlier in the week.  Danny had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor about 10 months ago and, following multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a subsequent experimental treatment that failed, I learned a few weeks ago that attempts to treat the cancer had been abandoned.  It was just a matter of time.  I knew this.  And, somehow, it still came as a complete shock when I read the news.

Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I’d known Danny for about 20 years.  We originally met due to our mutual participation on a photographic website that included a forum centered around landscape photography as well as one devoted to nature photo enthusiasts of all sorts based in the Midwest.  I was trying to take the final step in my attempt to get “serious” about my photography and Danny played a key role in helping me master the skill of spot metering, which was critical to successfully using an emulsion like Velvia Classic, the slide film that I was shooting at the time.  Danny was always doing helpful things like this, for just about anyone who appeared in need of help.  In 2002, he spent the better part of a day showing me the ins and outs of using a view camera when I expressed an interest.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Danny had a longstanding commitment to very large prints and, as a result, continued to shoot film using large and medium format (primarily the former) cameras until relatively recently, but he was no Luddite.  He was firmly committed to the digital dark room more than 20 years ago and acquired, and became expert in the use of, a drum scanner so he could extract as much out of his transparencies and negatives as possible.  He also owned a digital camera about a year before I did, though he ultimately determined that it wouldn’t allow him to print, with results he deemed satisfactory, as large as he wanted to…which, as I mentioned, was very large.  He finally became convinced, about four years ago, that advancement in smaller format digital cameras had proceeded far enough to meet his exacting standards, and jumped into the digital realm with both feet, selling off all of his film gear.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

When he was still shooting film, Danny acquired more varied pieces of medium and large format cameras, lenses and accessories than anyone I’ve ever known.  But Danny was no dilettante when it came to photographic equipment.  While he was a bit of a gear hound, he was expert in his knowledge and skill with all of it.  He didn’t collect photo gear; he bought it to use it.  He was an active advocate of the notion of, as he put it, having the right tools for the job, and that meant more than just acquiring equipment; it meant having the needed gear at hand and being facile using it.  If you’ve photographed with large format equipment–or even if you’ve just watched someone else do it–you know that the only chance a large format photographer has to realize his/her vision is to know what he/she is doing.  Large format equipment isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for someone who isn’t willing and able to commit to learning how to use it properly.  Danny not only taught himself, many years ago, how to use such equipment, for years he held workshops to demonstrate the proper process for doing so to others.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I mentioned Danny’s “exacting standards.”  He was a stickler for proper technique and squeezing every ounce of quality available out of his gear.  Part of this was a function of embracing large format photography, which requires meticulous in-field workflow to avoid screwing something up.  The process is no stronger than its weakest link; make a mistake with any of the many steps involved in exposing a single frame and you’ll have a very expensive candidate for the round file.  But part of this was also clearly a function of Danny’s personality; he was highly detail-oriented and this attention to what might seem like minutiae, in my view, is part of what made his photography sing.

Danny was as close to a photographic mentor as I’ve ever had, or ever will have and he was, in my opinion, an absolutely outstanding photographer.  His website is still accessible as of this writing, and I encourage everyone to have a long look at his work.

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

Danny and I had this eerie, uncanny tendency to photograph the same scenes in nearly identical ways, without knowing that the other person had even visited the common location.  On numerous occasions one of us would send the other an image from a particular spot only to have the other person respond with an image that he had taken, sometimes years earlier, that was a dead ringer for the photograph that started the exchange.

Council Lake in Morning Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I think a big part of Danny’s inherent–it certainly wasn’t planned–influence on my own photography came in the emphasis on a deliberate approach to subject matter in the field, another thing that was partly a function of using large format equipment, which absolutely requires patience and a plodding pace.  Not long after I met him, Danny paid me one of the highest compliments that he could offer anyone when he told me:  “I think you have the eye and, every bit as important, the patience to be a large format photographer.”  This was not something he said to many others, so I’ve always remembered it as a personal badge of honor, even though I decided, for a variety of reasons, not to go the large format route myself.

Big Tree Trail, Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Over the years, I had the good fortune to photograph with Danny on many occasions, in numerous places, from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (three times), the Smokies and Acadia National Park to Sleeping Bear Dunes (with mutual friend Gary Dardas) and various places in northeast Indiana and southwest Michigan.  We always talked about him joining me for a shoot in one of my regular haunts–Starved Rock State Park in north-central Illinois–but, sadly, it never happened.  All of the images accompanying this post were made on photo shoots that I went on with Danny over the years.  In fact, he was no more than steps away from me when every single one of these images was made.

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

There were few things I enjoyed more than being in the field with Danny, looking over a scene, and discussing composition.  In many cases, we were finishing one another’s sentences, given our inexplicable propensity to view scenes similarly.  We also shared a natural affinity for what Danny (and subsequently I) referred to as “soft light.”  Many photographers regard overcast conditions as producing light that they describe as “flat.”  Our attitude was, if you think soft light is inherently “bad,” you need to broaden your list of acceptable subject matter because many, many scenes, particularly intimate ones, are made for such lighting conditions.  It’s no accident that the vast majority of subjects Danny and I photographed together over the years were not only amenable to such light; they positively begged for it.  Just look at the images accompanying this post.  Al but a couple of them were made under soft light conditions.

Fern Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

The last time Danny and I photographed together was in the fall of 2018.  We had made plans to shoot along stretches of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail that cuts through parts of St. Joseph’s and Elkhart Counties in northwest Indiana.  The conditions turned out to be pretty disappointing; the color generally wasn’t what we’d hoped for and the weather conditions were less than ideal, but we made the best of it, had a pretty good time and still managed to find a few hidden gems, some of them in unlikely places.

Red Maple, Elkhart County, Indiana

We had a few plans for additional photo sessions in 2019 and beyond, but, to my everlasting regret they never came about.  Things got in the way on my end in the first 2/3 of the year and then, in the fall, during a period of time when we were making plans for a couple of possible local fall outings, Danny had the first of multiple seizures that led to what ultimately became the diagnosis that I mentioned at the head of this post.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Communication gradually became increasingly difficult for Danny and, eventually, impossible.  And it all culminated with the sad news I received after checking into a motel Saturday evening following a 500-mile drive.  Not great.

But as depressing as this news was near the end of a year that was filled with depressing news, I’m going to try my very hardest to remember my experiences with Danny, which were, after all, relentlessly positive.  Hopefully that will become easier over time, because if anyone deserves to be remembered in a positive light, it’s Danny Burk.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee


Responses

  1. A beautiful tribute, Kerry. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Thanks very much, Michael.

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. Danny sound like a wonderful person.

    • Thanks, he was indeed.

  3. I’m sorry for your and our loss. The message on his website is poignant: “I’m seriously ill and not accepting work at present. I plan to renew business re: June. Thanks.”

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Yeah, I took note of that message myself in visiting the site several times in recent weeks. I think it was originally posted back in March or April; sadly, things declined significantly and steadily thereafter.

  4. I hope you share your eloquent tribute with Danny’s family. The photographs that are reminders of the time shared with him are a lovely accompaniment.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

  5. Such an eloquent tribute to a dear friend and mentor. He will always be with you as you size up that next shot, in the details of the soft light and the discovery of the hidden gems. Yes, I too think you should share this with his family, and I send you my sincere condolences.

    • Thanks very much, Jane.

  6. Very well said Kerry, a beautiful tribute to a fine photographer, a multi-talented person who will be keenly missed by his friends and admirers. Danny was always willing to share his knowledge and experiences, ready with advice if requested. He was a master of his craft, a teacher, a gifted artist, a kind, caring person.

    • Thanks, Gary. Your words describing Danny are Very well-stated.

  7. Kerry, a moving tribute that must have been both difficult and rewarding to write. The tale of your friendship with Danny was so moving, yet reminded me of certain of my own friendships. Being in sync with another like-minded person is such a rare and wonderful experience, something of a blessing. Thank you for sharing this experience with those of us who treasure your work – through your words, we can appreciate the beauty of your friendship with Danny and how it threaded itself through your work. Peace.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.

  8. You shared with us the best of Danny’s character and your art reflects what you leaned form him. There is no better tribute.

    • Thanks very much; your kind words mean a great deal.

  9. Kerry – Your tribute is touching. This is very sad news. I did not meet Danny but often visited his website to get inspired by his beautiful landscapes and panoramas. Rgds, Nagendra

    • Thanks very much, Nagendra. I really appreciate the kind words.

  10. Thank you Kerry, your thoughts meanso much to Pricilla and I at this difficult time.

    • Thanks, Larry. I’ve thought of you and Pricilla–and Danny, of course–a great deal over the past few days. Take care.

  11. Beautiful tribute, Kerry. I’m sorry for the loss of friend Danny 🙏

    • Thanks very much, I really appreciate it.

  12. This is a lovely, touching and emotional tribute to a much loved friend. The accompanying images are stunning. I hope that 2021 brings peace and tranquility to you, yours and everyone.

    • Thanks very much. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year to you and everyone else who may read this.

  13. A friend never forgotten,great atmosphere thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks very much!

  14. ❤❤

    • Thanks very much.

  15. Thank you Kerry for sharing this wonderful remembrance of Danny! I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person although we had many Internet conversations over the years.

    I thought you might appreciate seeing how many other photographers were touched by Danny from this thread on Fred Miranda:

    https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1685250/0

    • Matthew, thanks very much for pointing out the FM forum thread about Danny. It really lifted my spirits to see so many others who were, as you wrote, touched by Danny.

  16. Thank you for sharing all your personal and artistic experience with Danny! I’m so glad you were able to spend these times with him, acquiring beautiful images and being in the outdoors together. I had several dialogs with Danny on the Fred Miranda forum, and we shared experience in large format, shifted to digital. I bought a lovely Zeiss lens from him and still have and use it. He will be missed, but he will be well remembered!

    • Thanks very much, Jim. It’s gratifying to know how many people have positive memories of their connections with Danny.

  17. It’s been very heartwarming to see that were multiple people in photography community who valued and cared about Danny. I was just a friend of his but we talked quite a bit in the few years I knew him. He was always such a wonderful guy and easy to talk to. I’ve missed him all of last year and really wish I could have met him again in person before this.

    Thank you so much for writing this blog post. It’s helped a lot.

    • Thanks very much for weighing in, Adam. It does indeed help to know that Danny had such a positive impact on so many people.

  18. I was searching for Danny and saw his website down. So sad and sorry. I live in the Western Caribbean and he did a drum scan for us. Now I am looking for someone like him to do prints and more drum scans. Send me recommendations please. One of the scans he did for us was adapted and lives as a precision CNC of our Coat of Arms. See here: https://belize.com/belize-flag/

    • I may be able to indirectly recommend someone for drum scanning; not someone I’ve used personally, but a friend of mine has, and has been satisfied. I’ll get some information and post another reply in this topic.

      As for printing, there are a number of high quality commercial vendors out there. I only know them by reputation, however, not personal experience.

    • A friend of mine has referred me to someone based in Greely, Colorado for drum scanning:

      alexburkephoto.com

      I can put you in touch with my friend if you want additional background about the scans, but he does highly recommend this service. Hope this helps.


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