Every Occupation in America
Photography and Reflections on Earning a Living
by Robert Burke
EP 18: “What does invisibility look like? More specifically, what does an invisible system look like? More specifically still, what does the invisible system that keeps us alive look like?” These are some of the questions ROBERT BURKE poses and tries to answer in his book, EVERY OCCUPATION IN AMERICA: PHOTOGRAPHY AND REFLECTIONS ON EARNING A LIVING.
Traveling when he could from state to state with his camera and pen and only with the most limited of means; armed only with his wit and caustic eye, and a succinct but limpid style that borders on the laconic, but always even-handed, never cruel, and always sincere and embracing, BURKE, the consummate raconteur and portraitist, attempts simply to record the lives of men and women in the workplace. An endeavor of epic proportions, undertaken with no presumptions and the grace and modesty that goes with looking at people as individuals rather than as part of a category, class, or mass. In the spirit of August Sander and Walt Whitman, he says: “Each person I take a picture of is a brushstroke with an individual integrity and a contribution to make to the entire portrait. The difference from traditional portraiture is that when the project is finished what will have been described is a network in which all the viewers are actors, all the consumers are producers, status is meaningless, and income is trivial. Knowing begins with seeing and seeing begins with illuminating darkness. These pictures illuminate the darkness caused by vast scale, legal barriers, topography, and the inability of any individual to be in more than one place at any given moment. In the end, the key to finding the meaning in the mass is finding the meaning in the individual. That’s what it all comes down to, a single woman or man working out their destiny in an office somewhere, or in a mine, accepting the responsibility for their fate and abdicating it simultaneously to the greater whole that is the eternal, intangible give and take of economics and to its inseparable parent, life.”
Robert Burke was born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was educated at the Hartford Art School, Pratt Institute in New York. He has exhibited his paintings widely, both in Europe and the U.S. His ongoing photography project, “Every Occupation in America,” was recently exhibited in New York.
First edition paperback, May 2005, 102 pp., sewn, bound, and printed in Italy, with a two-color cover, sixteen color photographs printed on patinated paper, and a black and white photograph of the author on the frontispiece.