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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Jack Burman

Dates:  1949 -
Born:  Canada, ON, Hamilton
Active:  Canada
Canadian artist whose series "The Dead" concentrated on human remains which have been used for scientific purposes or embalmed as a part of a religious rite. He has completed other series on "Retablos" and in "KZ" he addresses the surviving evidence of concentration camps.
Seven Questions
Why did you decide it was important to depict death in your photographic work?
Sebald wrote that “Physicality is most strongly sculpted and its ‘nature’ most perceptible on the indistinct borderline with transcendency.” I seek to work near the body & to place the work on that borderline.
What would you say is the purpose, if any, of your post-mortem photography work? Are you just photographing the bodies, or do you seek something more?
I seek some of the presence of the body. The strength of damage & loss. The hardness & motions of time as laid on & under the skin. The feel.
As with all things that challenge our denial of death, the macabre and unsettling tone of your pictures could be regarded by some as obscene and disrespectful. Were you interested in a particular shock value, and how do you feel towards the taboo nature of your subject?
Do you remember the girl’s hair at the start of Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons? The hair is the girl’s years, eyes, nerves. Thus each hand & face.
When I enter the privacy of the dead it is with slow hard respect for their hands, arms, shoulders & eyes. The very few who take my prints into their hands & rooms—those I know of—see with the same discipline.
Was it difficult to approach the specimens, on a personal level?
No; never.
Are there any particular and interesting anecdotes regarding the circumstances of some of your photographs?
Some time ago the work led to a town in the Peruvian Andes. Each morning at dawn a herd of alpacas was led to pasture down a narrow alley beyond the wall the bed was against. Their movement came up the wall through the bed as a series of vibrations. It was interesting at that point to get up & go to work with the dead of the 1500’s.
Would you like a post-mortem picture to be taken of you after you die?
Yes—provided the person who took it saw with my eyes, my past, my need.
How would you like to imagine that photo?
Clear; dark; damaged; plain; light-riddled.

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