Island childhood spawned photographer’s creative passion
As the only child of two R.I. School of Design graduates – growing up amid the everywhereyou look beauty of Jamestown – it seems that Desdemona “Bunty” Burgin was destined for a world beyond the typical 9 to 5 workday.
As fate and her considerable talent would have it, Burgin has been working as a professional photographer since graduating in 2001 from the film studies program at Keene State College in New Hampshire, where she also had the experience of working with noted documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.
These days, Burgin lives in Northampton, Mass., where she specializes in music-related photography such as posters, CD booklets and promotional shots of performers. Although she takes on other types of work—such as weddings and portraits—to pay the bills, she is most passionate about music.
“It’s inspirational to work with people that are energized,” Burgin said. “I feed off of that energy.”
Her desire to be where the music happens explains her move to Northampton, which she calls a “major music market,” since plenty of colleges, along with New York City and Boston, are only a few hours way.
Besides the raw power of a live concert, it’s capturing the subtleties of performance that challenges Burgin.
“I love still photography. In one instance, you capture everything, an emotion. That will always be amazing to me,” she said.
While her parents, William and Virginia Burgin – both of whom still live on the island – are both visual, creative types who influenced Burgin’s outlook, the environment of Jamestown played its own role – and continues to do so.
“Jamestown is gorgeous. I find more beauty now when I return to Jamestown to visit,” she said.
Looking back at her childhood, she said, she’s amazed at what she had.
“It’s inspiring,” she said of her hometown. “If I’m in a funk, I can go for a walk and just be energized. There’s nothing like returning to Jamestown. I still feel a connection.”
Capturing the freedom of a singer, the wildness of a waterfall or the order of nature is what Burgin strives for.
“It’s the technique, the composition, the lighting and waiting patiently for the perfect moment,” she said. “It’s being able to capture the beauty of what I was looking at.”
But however pure the intention, making a living as an artist is notoriously difficult, and Burgin’s journey has been no easy haul.
To get her name out there and build a portfolio to market her business, she has spent countless hours attending concerts, building relationships with band members and doing her craft for free.
“I gave my work away for a year because I needed to build a portfolio,” she said. “Even if I’m not officially hired, I’ll go to a show, shoot it and see if the artist likes it. I’m definitely out there pushing my work.”
The practical side of growing a creative business sometimes goes against the grain of Burgin’s true nature.
“I’ve always been an artist. I want to just go out and make art,” she said.
And when making art, it’s all digital for Burgin. She credits advancements in digital photography with allowing her to learn a lot in a short amount of time.
“I never took a photography class, but with the digital camera, I can see results immediately,” she said.
Especially bad results, she said.
Burgin’s favorite photo is one she took of a waterfall on the Smith College campus in Northampton.
Calling it “a gorgeous photo,” Burgin said the shot illustrates all she has learned in the past decade. When compared to earlier photos, it’s clear to her that she has “a much better eye now.”
But success is fleeting and looking back on photos taken merely months ago, Burgin can always spot faults and gains.
“I’m learning all the time,” she said.
Lately, Burgin has been working with nonprofit agencies, most recently the climate change organization Global Campaign for Cli- mate Action. She enjoys the work because, like musicians, the group is full of energy and committed to its cause.
“I enjoy working with people that are trying to make a difference,” she said.
As Burgin builds her business, she hopes to always keep a balance of work and fun.
“I don’t want to stunt my passion. I love the way [photography] makes me feel, and I get paid,” she said.