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Five Questions with Bill Burke, Photographer

Posted 05/17/22

Five Questions with Bill Burke, Photographer

The Ohio County Public Library is excited to open a new exhibit featuring the photography of Bill Burke in the library auditorium. Wheeling in the 1970s: Photography Exhibit will open with a reception beginning at 6:00pm, followed by a talk and exhibit opening at 7:00pm on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

The exhibit will remain in place in the OCPL auditorium through August 2022. It will be accessible during regular Library hours, unless the room is in use by the Library or by the public. Please call 304-232-0244, send an email to [email protected], or stop at the OCPL Reference Desk for information and assistance accessing the exhibit.

In anticipation of the exhibit, the Ohio County Public Library asked Bill Burke five questions about his history in Wheeling, photography process and more. For more information on Bill Burke's photography, attend the Wheeling in the 1970s: Photography Exhibit Opening on Thursday, May 19th at the Ohio County Public Library.

OCPL: Bill, your photos are of Wheeling subjects, but have a classic look such that they could have been taken anywhere. How do you choose your subjects?

BB: I just respond to what's visually interesting to me. It seemed like there were pictures wherever I went in Wheeling. I always had my camera with me.

OCPL: Many of your photos play with lighting and motion. Was that intentional?

BB: Not really, but I tried to pay attention to how people interact and how the background works with the subject. Everything in the frame matters. Film has a texture and a look that can't quite be achieved with digital [in my opinion]. I moved to digital full time in 2002. Editors enjoyed the ability to receive images quickly, without the wait involved with processing film.

OCPL: You've taken photos all over the world. Were there unique qualities about Wheeling that you noticed during your travels?

BB: It truly is the Friendly City. No one gave me a hard time, no threats or anger. I just went about my business. If anyone saw me photographing, I'd get a smile or wave. Everyone seemed to know everyone. Most of the photos in the show were one shot-and move on-situations. My camera was manual focus, manual exposure, and manual advance. By the time I wound to the next frame, the moment was gone.

OCPL: Many of your photos feature the old and the young. Was that intentional?

BB: Not at all, it is something I noticed as I was putting the show together. It's one of the common themes the pictures share, along with crosswalks, hands, and frames within the camera frame.

OCPL: Your photos have been extremely popular in social media groups like Memories of Wheeling. Yet, as stated previously, they seemingly could have been taken anywhere. Do you think people are recognizing something familiar?

BB: For many people it's nostalgia. They are reminded of their childhood, family and friends. Others get into the creative aspect. I tried to show the humanity of the moment. Downtown Wheeling was the place to go for shopping, appointments, etc.. I think younger people will be surprised to see all the people and vehicles that were everywhere downtown back then.

Photographer Biography: A Maryland native, Bill Burke graduated from Wheeling College in 1971. He became focused on photography during his senior year. During that time, the Miners For Democracy, a union reform group, held a meeting at the college. Burke got involved with the group’s struggle. After graduation, he moved to Wheeling and photographed for the UMWA at mine sites in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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