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David Burnett: A Worldview Through the Lens

American Photographer

David Burnett

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David Burnett – Wikipedia

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David Burnett [1946 – Present] is an American photojournalist renowned for his compelling visual storytelling across five decades. 

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Burnett began his career in the late 1960s, covering the Vietnam War for Time magazine. 

He co-founded the photographic agency Contact Press Images in 1976 and gained recognition for his diverse work ranging from politics and sports to international conflicts and culture. 

Burnett’s evocative style blends a keen journalistic eye with creative artistry, often utilizing unconventional techniques such as tilt-shift lenses and vintage cameras. 

His portfolio includes iconic images of the fall of Salvador Allende in Chile, Bob Marley, and numerous U.S. presidential campaigns. 

Burnett’s dedication to his craft has earned him prestigious awards and exhibitions worldwide, cementing his legacy as a versatile and influential photographer.

Read the full Biography below.

Photography Quotes From David Burnett

📸 Did you know?
Although known for his photojournalism, Burnett has an unusual knack for capturing key historical events with antique cameras. He famously used a 60-year-old Speed Graphic camera to cover the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, adding a unique, old-school quality to his contemporary photographs.

Videos about David Burnett

📸 Did you know?
Burnett’s career includes a rare opportunity where he captured the last public execution by guillotine in 1977. This chilling assignment was part of his broader work documenting news events and cultural shifts across more than 70 countries.

Photography Books: David Burnett

📸 Did you know?
David Burnett co-founded Contact Press Images in New York, an internationally recognized photojournalism agency, showcasing his commitment not just to his own photography but to supporting the work of other photojournalists around the world.

Biography of David Burnett

Early Life and Introduction to Photography

David Burnett was born on September 7, 1946, in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Growing up during the post-war era in America, Burnett was exposed to the burgeoning field of photojournalism through magazines like Life and Look, which featured vivid photographic narratives of events that shaped the modern world. 

His interest in photography began during his high school years when he joined the school’s camera club and started developing his own photographs.

Education and Early Career

Burnett attended Colorado College, where he studied political science. 

While at college, he worked as a photographer for the school newspaper and yearbook, further honing his skills and passion for capturing the news through a lens. 

His professional career began in earnest after graduating in 1968 when he was hired to cover the Olympic Games in Mexico City for Time magazine. 

This assignment marked the beginning of his journey in photojournalism and sports photography.

Joining Magnum Photos and International Work

In the early 1970s, Burnett moved to Vietnam to cover the closing years of the Vietnam War as a freelancer. 

His work during this period captured the complexities and tragedies of the conflict, gaining him international recognition. 

In 1975, he co-founded Contact Press Images in New York City, an international photojournalism agency, with fellow photographers Robert Pledge and Charles Harbutt. 

His association with Contact Press Images broadened his opportunities to cover significant global events, including the Iranian Revolution and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Diverse Photographic Assignments

Throughout his career, Burnett has been known for his versatility and ability to capture a wide range of subjects beyond conflict, including politics, sports, and culture. 

His photographic coverage includes several Olympic Games, using traditional film cameras to create compelling narratives that stand out in the digital age. 

His work in political journalism is notable for its intimate portrayal of figures such as American Presidents and international leaders, capturing pivotal moments in global politics.

Notable Projects and Publications

Burnett’s work has been published in all major international publications, including Time, Life, National Geographic, and The New Yorker. 

He is also known for his unique project during the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, where he used a large format, 4×5 field camera, to capture the essence of the campaign trail, a technique reminiscent of early 20th-century photographers. 

This approach was both a nod to the history of photography and a statement about the contemporary pace of news consumption.

Style and Approach

Burnett is celebrated for his humanistic approach to photojournalism. He often focuses on the human elements within larger narratives, whether covering wars, political events, or sporting occasions. 

His style is characterized by a sense of immediacy and intimacy, often getting close to his subjects, thus allowing the viewer to connect with the subject matter on a personal level.

Awards and Recognition

Over his extensive career, Burnett has received numerous awards, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal by the Overseas Press Club, World Press Photo, and Pictures of the Year International awards. 

These accolades are a testament to his impact and contributions to the field of photojournalism.

Legacy and Influence

Burnett’s influence on the field of photojournalism is profound. 

He has mentored many young photographers and continues to inspire through his commitment to the power of photographic storytelling. 

His work not only documents significant historical events but also encourages a reflective look at the role of photojournalists in shaping public perceptions and narratives.


David Burnett’s career is a testament to the enduring power of photojournalism in documenting human history. 

His photographs transcend mere documentation; they are a powerful commentary on the human condition, capturing moments of joy, tragedy, and triumph. 

Through his lens, Burnett continues to remind us of the importance of looking at the world with curiosity, empathy, and an unyielding commitment to telling the truth.

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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