Q-and-A with Jesse Burke, Photographer for Wild and Precious

The book brings together photographs from a series of road trips traveled over five years by photographer Jesse Burke and his daughter Clover to explore the natural world.

Wild and Precious, by local photographer and RISD alum Jesse Burke (who also contributes to Rhode Island Monthly), is an exploration of Burke’s time with his daughter, nine-year-old Clover, on the grandest stage of all: the natural world. Burke took Clover on a road trip through New England and beyond, snapping photos of her interacting with her surroundings. The solo exhibition is now on view at the RISD Museum through September 25, 2016. There's also an informal artist talk and book signing at  Providence bookstore Books on the Square tonight, Friday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.

The photos are poignant, simple and quiet, displaying Clover’s curiosity for the world around her as Burke captures the moments. The photos show her snuggling up to a raccoon, lying in a motel bed with pillow marks on her cheek and tracing the circles in cut wood stumps.

More than just a chronicle of a journey, Wild and Precious shows the intimate connection between father and daughter through the lens of the father’s camera. A film was also created throughout the experience. We sat down with Burke to find out how the project came to be and how it shaped his relationship with Clover.

 

Why did you do decide to embark on this project?

I was working on my last project, which was called Intertidal, an exploration of masculine identity, but it also has images of landscapes, and traveling photos. I took her with me, and since we were out there on the road I just started taking pictures of her.

Because she was with me, we were in beautiful locations, she was cute, I had a camera –  it just happened.

Once I got back to the hotel, and started to look through the pictures, I started to realize that I had sort of started this new project…and that was it.

“Because she was with me, we were in beautiful locations, she was cute, I had a camera – it just happened.”

 

Why is it important for kids to be exposed to nature?

I think…that humans are connected to the earth…but we are generally lacking that spirit of that connection. In my family, we are very connected to the earth. We go hiking and connect through the landscape in lots of different ways. We are always out in nature; we are very interested in animals.

It is important for all children to have this connection. Children are the next wave of stewards of the earth, so I think if we train them to have a sensitivity and connection, then they will carry that on in their life. How could they not?

Training the next wave of conscious citizens is my agenda with my kids. I’m just living our life the way we choose to live it based on our likes and dislikes. So I just started documenting that process. It’s not like I go out on adventures explicitly for the sake of documenting them for a project. I go out on adventures and also document them; it’s a little bit different.

“Children are the next wave of stewards of the earth, so I think if we train them to have a sensitivity and connection, then they will carry that on in their life. How could they not?”

 

Were there any specific places Clover connected to?

She is a very independent soul; she’s very at home in the wild and that comes with exposure. She’s not afraid of very many things in nature. She’s afraid of the dark and afraid to be upstairs in her room by herself when I’m downstairs. But she’s not afraid to grab a snake in the woods or to be outside in the woods at night.

I would say the places that she really responds most are more interactive, like the beach… rivers and streams where she can play in the water, throw rocks and look for animals, places where she can get dirty, physically and metaphorically.

I don’t think that there is a place that she doesn’t interact well with, because once you get them out there, it’s just second nature to them. They’re children. I know it sounds cliché but they’re just like wild creatures. They just go out and explore and act like wild creatures, like baby animals. It’s really beautiful to see, actually.

“I know it sounds cliché but they’re just like wild creatures. They just go out and explore and act like wild creatures, like baby animals. It’s really beautiful to see, actually.”

 

Tell me about the letters that you wrote to each other to accompany the book.

The letters serve as the introduction and conclusion for the book. The letter (I wrote) acted as a way for me to tell her… how I felt, and then I asked her to do the same.

I’ll be dad of the year when she’s thirty, but I don’t expect that now.

She had a class assignment the other day where she had to pick someone in her family that she was proud of and write about them. And she wrote about me and these trips. So my comment about not responding or not appreciating it until she’s thirty, maybe I’m wrong about that.

“She had a class assignment the other day where she had to pick someone in her family that she was proud of and write about them. And she wrote about me and these trips.”

 

What did you learn about your daughter and nature?

I learned a lot actually. I learned that this project is collaboration; I’m not a dictator, I’m not a director. I thought I was, but she showed me that’s not the best way to produce the work that I wanted. I learned that I had to relax and let her be her own person and then try to document that. I put guidelines around it, but after setting these loose guidelines, let her run wild, be her own spirit. Once I realized that was the proper way to behave and approach this project and to work from that place, the project changed completely for me.  

“I learned that this project is collaboration; I’m not a dictator, I’m not a director. I thought I was, but she showed me that’s not the best way to produce the work that I wanted.”

 

Watch a film about the making of Wild and Precious. The book can be purchased at wildandprecious.co/book.