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Aug 12, 2015

A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL BURK

THE FINE PRINT: Tell us more about YOU. What’s your deal, Michael?

MICHAEL BURK: Well, I’m a photographer, art director, graphic designer and sometimes production designer based in Brooklyn, New York. I moved here about 5 years ago from my home in Florida and I’ve been doing the New York hustle ever since, trying to build some sort of career out of what I love to do.

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TFP: Something I found to be rare in your industry – you are ALL over the place! From lookbooks, editorials, to graphics, art direction, personal projects, with all very different styles, we could say you are one versatile, talented man! You even draw on shoes! How important is it for your artwork to be so diverse?

MB: Thank you! I truly am all over the place, and I haven’t yet figured out if it’s for better or worse. I find that I love working on all aspects of image-making and that I get bored if I’m only doing one thing for too long. It seems that the fashion industry can be a place where a person like me can really flourish, but I also sometimes feel like I’m being punished for not being easier for people in the industry to compartmentalize. I just keep doing projects that excite me, and trying to build a body of work that I’m proud of. And I think that even though my work is varied in scope and style, there are subtle threads that tie everything together.

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TFP: Some of your work is very colorful and playful, while other projects are minimalistic and angular. Trading one hat for another, how do you adapt yourself to your client’s needs?

MB: I think if a person understands the principles of design, they can apply those tools to anything they do. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with brands that allow me a lot of creative freedom, but I also always tailor my ideas to fit a client’s image. I think it’s a fun challenge to be given a prompt and guidelines and see where I can take it. The best is when I can create something that the client and I are both really enthusiastic about.

TFP: I’m not gonna lie – I was kinda taken aback (ok, fine, jaw dropped the entire time) when watching your ‘Colby does New York’ art directed video. Seriously, what was filming it like?

MB: I was really nervous before the shoot day, thinking about what was going to happen, how I was going to react, how I would interact with the performers and whether or not I would be too aroused to focus. But the actual process of capturing all that activity wasn’t arousing at all— there’s something very strange about asking someone to perform sex acts on someone else, but in the same tone that a boss might ask their employee to sign a document or send a fax. Everyone was very professional and easygoing.

I didn’t film the video myself— I was in charge of the art direction and building the sets— so I spent most of the day on my knees (painting the floor!!) and making sure everything looked how I had imagined it. We shot it all in one work-day and it’s all sort of blurry and surreal to me now.

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TFP: What aspects of being a photographer do you like best and worst?

MB: I see photography more as a means to an end for me; a tool that helps me create the images I want to create. I’m not the type of photographer that is super passionate about complicated lighting setups or the latest tech gear. I think that’s my least favorite part of the job— the technical aspect. I just don’t think that way. I think the best part is the feeling of control. Knowing exactly which moments I want to capture and not having to second-guess myself (though I do).

TFP: My favorite part of your work is your photo diary. They reflect very underground, flamboyant, almost grotesque sceneries. Could you tell us more about your vision for this part of your work?

MB: I carry around a little point-and-shoot 35mm camera wherever I go, taking pictures of people and things that I find interesting or funny or beautiful. The diary came about just from looking through past photos and seeing visual and conceptual links between images. Once I realized I was telling a story, I became more interested in figuring out what that story was.

New York City is just what you said— flamboyant and grotesque— and that’s what I love most about it. There is a tongue-in-cheek, sardonic humor to the photos, which I think reflects my personality and the way I see things. I can express that in my personal images more so than in my commercial work. I’m usually photographing people in my social circle— drag queens, porn stars, performance artists and club personalities. I myself am very reserved in social situations, but these characters really inspire me. I guess, in a way, taking photos of them is my way of being a part of the action.

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TFP: Your mixed media section is under construction. What’s that all about?

MB: I should probably remove that. I used to paint, draw and do mixed media collage work more than I do now. I have some material that I’d like to get onto my site eventually, but for now it’s empty.

TFP: From FL to Brooklyn, would you say being brought up in the Sunshine State influenced your work, or has the NY state of mind taken over?

MB: Definitely. Florida is such a bizarre world and growing up there totally shaped how I view things. All I ever wanted was to move to NYC (ASAP) but being stuck in Florida forced me to observe and dissect the weirdness that surrounded me. I definitely feel like I fit in better here, but SoFla will always have a place in my heart.

11 133 77Photography is a courtesy of Michael Burk. 

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