Let’s Check In With Fine Art Photographer Bill Burke

Multimedia, Prose



Cult hero Bill Burke‘s new book from TBW books is They Shall Take Up Serpents. The new TBW series gathers work by four legendary living American photographers: Burke, Mike Mandel, Susan Meiselas, and Lee Friedlander. From the TBW site:

Continuing with Burke’s tradition of examining niche American cultures, Serpents pulls us into the surreal, intense, and at times consuming world of coal miners doubling as religious snake handlers by the work-week’s end. Here we see Burke building a lyrical narrative connecting the two groups that feels effortless. Known for using a variety of camera and film formats, Burke strings together images that alone might seem out of place but together weave the iconic storytelling the artist has become widely known and respected for.




OE caught up with Burke by text.

OE: Tell me about the new book.

BB: The new TBW book allowed me to revisit some pictures I made between 1975 and 1979. I went back to the contact sheets where I found a number of pictures I had missed before. I photographed the snake handling Christians in West Virginia as an homage to some pictures made by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. The pictures of coal miners and mines were made during the Kentucky Bicentennial Photo Project. Many of the snake handlers are coal miners or related to miners. Linking pictures from the two groups of work was easy and fun. A couple of the snake pictures are to be seen in They Shall Cast Out Demons, which you can see on my web site binhfoto.com.


OE: Looks fantastic.

BB: The pics and the flow are cool.


OE: What sort of new stuff are you doing?

BB: My new stuff is outside the bubble. West Virginia, KY Coal country, Wyoming, gun shops.







OE: Are you showing these anywhere?

BB: Not yet. My gallery is Howard Greenberg. They have prints available of a lot of the Serpents pictures.






OE: I think this is the first time in the 25 years I’ve known you that you haven’t had a girlfriend. What kind of girlfriend are you looking for? And do you like babies?

BB: I don’t like babies. You got a girlfriend with a baby for me?

OE: No.






OE: What do you think about fossil fuels?

BB: The book I’m working on now will have Gasoline in the title.

OE: Do you know that book by David Wojnarowicz, Memories that Smell Like Gasoline?

BB: No. A Life at the End of the Gasoline Age is my title.







OE: Anything else?

BB: This pistol-packing Mama called me “Sir.” She works in a gun store pawn shop.


OE: Nice.