Jerry Burchard 1931-2011

Jerry Burchard December 1 1931 - May 17 2011

The San Francisco veteran photographer Jerry Burchard has died. His particular creative corner of the image world was a dark one, shot through with accidental and long-travelled light. I first met Jerry in Bangkok in 1985 when he lived in a rooftop apartment opposite my ground-floor one on Soi Wittialai Khru. He was a warm, jolly, rotund man in colourfully-patterned shirts. He walked the city at night with his camera, catching not so much the people as the way streetlight and neon bounce off buildings. He was a third-generation Rochester Kodak boy and a patient hoarder of ambient light.

I wanted to use his seminal photo ‘Dancing Trees, Ko Samet’ as the cover of my book The Fever Wards, and this initiated an email exchange last year. My publishers had other ideas but here it is again in all its ghostly glory. The acid green and warm umbers have an almost hallucinatory joy to them, and this on an island where the larger trees are swathed in saffron swatches and spirit houses placed underneath them.

Dancing Trees, Ko Samet 1986

Jerry’s Bangkok is a two in the morning one, a night out on the town. His images strip away so much in order to get back to the light. His old teak house I remember well and from the image you’d never guess there were six lanes of traffic behind the photographer. The sky seems to have gathered all the pollution of the city into an extra-terrestrial purple and the house itself has become a sort of south-east Asian Bates motel. I suspect the developers have eaten up the house but Jerry’s haunting image remains in light.

Old Teak House, Bangkok, 1992

40 minutes in Ko Samet, Thailand

This last image reminds me of those weekends out of the city in the mid-Eighties when we might spend half an hour before bed on the rickety bamboo terrace that fronted the island’s stilted bungalows. The stars were out in force. There was a smell of mosquito coil and salty beach-wear hanging up to dry. We might not have been in our right minds – we were far gone. The sea has come right up to the rocks. Further up the beach there might be late-night revels at Edgy Sue’s. John would be reading Kapuściński and I might be reading Bowles. When down the beach would come Jerry Burchard, tripod in hand, forty minutes of night light locked away in his camera.

More photos and tributes to Jerry Burchard here:



5 thoughts on “Jerry Burchard 1931-2011

  1. Jerry Burchard was one of my teachers at the San Francisco Art Institute during the late 1960’s. I remember one occasion when I visited him at his home in North Beach. I was on my way to photograph African-American teenagers at public housing projects on Potrero Hill. By the time I left his house that day, on my way to the projects, I was so stoned on hashish, I had trouble finding my car.

    • I knew Jerry in Bangkok much later, in the mid-80s.I hope you’ve kept up your photography and that in the interim you’ve kept closer eye on your car!

  2. I too was in one of Jerry’s classes 1969/70. That, and a class with Imogen Cunningham, were the highlights of my time at SFAI. I’ve just been looking at some prints I made during my Art Institute days, including an image of Jerry with one of the class models, and a classmate all frolicking in the nude on Muir Beach – interesting time. The days when you could rent a San Francisco three bedroom railroad flat for $165 a month and gas & electric came to $10.

  3. Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog centered on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.|

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