A Man Without Gravity
——David Burnett: Eyes of the Stadium
Artists: David Burnett
Curator: Robert Pledge
Academic Adviser: Na Risong
2016.09.27 - 2016.10.23
In December 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The United States in protest boycotts the Olympics in Moscow the following year. The USSR responds in kind by not attending the games in the US, four years later. These postures reflect the tense political climate prevailing in the world at that time. From the outset, Contact Press Images, the independent picture agency David Burnett and I formed in 1976 in New York, chose to focus on the major international developments that would define our era. This is why Burnett came to cover the Los Angeles Olympics from which the Russians were absent and South Africa banned because of its racist apartheid policies, but in which, for the first time ever, China participated.
From international tension and disputes and presidential campaigns in the USA and France for which David Burnett became widely known, to the more peace-minded Olympic games constitutes a big step. Neither a war nor a sports photographer, Burnett happens to be a meticulous observer and chronicler of the big and small events that shape our social landscapes, too often with much fracas. Sport is not his field, yet he falls in love with the Summer Olympics in California. Every four years since, he has attended the games — Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and recently Rio de Janeiro. He made two forays into the winter editions: in his hometown of Salt Lake City in the US in 2002, and in Russia’s Sochi, in 2014.
A free spirit, Burnett switches from color to black and white using a range of cameras of many different formats — small, medium and large including a historical Speed Graphic that Weegee and most of the press photographers worked with in the 1940s — but also, today, from digital to traditional and even Polaroid film depending on mood or inspiration. The images presented on these walls appear the way they were shot: full-frame as their black borders indicate.
The Man Without Gravity exhibition along with its accompanying book, is an attempt to reveal the common thread that brings together the extraordinary abundance of pictures produced over thirty-two years on the occasion of eleven editions of the Games and a few qualifying tournaments in America: the photographer’s athletes are continuously in motion, most frequently in mid-air, positioned in space as if the universal laws of gravity no longer applied. Often with the grandiose settings of manufactured landscapes as a backdrop, David Burnett’s photographs challenge those laws too, defying gravity and generating eternity out of fractions of seconds. The trace of the sublime ephemeral exploits could solely be preserved through photography, and only by one who magically masters its art.
President, Contact Press Images
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, in 1946
Graduated in Political Science from Colorado College, Colorado, USA, in 1968
·the launch of Apollo 11 that put the first men on the Moon in 1969
·the American War in Vietnam (1970/1972)
·the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971
Last photographer taken under contract by Life in 1972 before the magazine closed, and joined photographer Raymond Depardon at the French Gamma Agency
·the military coup in Chile in 1973
·the Revolution of the Ayatollahs in Iran in 1979
·the famine in Ethiopia in 1984
·the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
·the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1973
·the World Press Photo Premier award in 1979
·the Philippe Halsman Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers(ASMP) in 1986
·received the award for ‘Best Reporting from Abroad in Magazines and Books’ from the Overseas
Press Club of America on three occasions (1980, 1985, 2010)
Every Summer Olympics since the Los Angeles Games in 1984, including Beijing in 2008 for China Daily’s special Olympian supplement, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016
His iconic photograph of the fall of American runner Mary Decker in 1984 continues to be published around the world and is recognized as one of the XXth century’s greatest sport photographs by both Sports Illustrated (USA) and L’Equipe Magazine (France). It has also been selected as one of the 100 most important images of that century
Published L’homme sans gravité (Man without Gravity) in France (Marabout-Hachette) in 2015, and the updated Chinese language edition of the same book (China Nationality Art Photography Publishing House, Beijing) in September 2016
The co-founder with Robert Pledge of the highly regarded "boutique" agency Contact Press Images in New York City, in 1976