Seeing is Believing: David Burnett’s Photographic Art of Inspiration

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Acclaimed photojournalist David Burnett was drawn to the National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale for the same reason Growing Bolder was — to record and share the inspiring stories and images of athletes from age 50 to 103 who are defying the stereotypes of age.

Burnett has seen the world through the lens of his cameras. He’s covered the Vietnam War, the Iranian revolution, the coup in Chile and 12 Olympic Games for publications like Life, Time, People and National Geographic. He’s authored large-format photography books on the Apollo 11 launch and reggae singer Bob Marley. His work has been widely celebrated. American Photo Magazine named him one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” and he received the Sprague Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Press Photographers Association.

Now 75, Burnett finds himself increasingly drawn to photographing masters athletes. He became the first photographer to win the Greenfield Prize along with a $30,000 commission to produce an exhibit of his choosing and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Burnett spent two years photographing older athletes in training and competition. His exhibit of stunning black and white images, “Fourth Quarter: Senior Athletes and their Indomitable Spirit,” was featured in 2019 at The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.

Burnett’s fascination with aging athletes didn’t end when his show did. There was something powerful about the subject matter that continued to hold his interest. “Every time I’m in this world of older athletes I feel 10 years younger,” he says. “The photos capture some of the ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude that so many older athletes possess. It’s inspiring to capture inspiring images that say, at least to me, ‘nothing’s going to get in my way.’”

One of Burnett’s favorite photos is of 80 and 90-year- old hockey players in their locker room. The photo captures the passion, energy and vitality in a way that transcends age. “I want to put my skates on and skate with these guys,” he says. “And I think that’s the magic of what this is all about.”

And that’s the power of Burnett’s work with senior athletes. His images are beautiful but also relatable. It’s easy for any of us to find ourselves in one of them. They have the power to move the mind and compel us to act. In a single frame they reveal the reality that countless research projects have proven – more is possible for all of us as we age. They’re an inspirational shortcut from what is, to understanding what can be. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a David Burnett photo can transform a thousand lives. To see more of Burnett’s award-winning work, visit DavidBurnett.com.


This story was featured in the July 2022 issue of the Digital Digest. Check out more stories from this issue.

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