Volunteer Spotlight: John Burke

July 30, 2020 by Rachel Olson

By Margie Weeks

John Burke has a passion for photography that is contagious. It was so interesting for me to hear him talk about the experience he has with this pastime he has made a living at for so many years. It means a lot to him. John has volunteered his photography skills to The Umbrella for the last 6 years. During that time, he has taken photos of a number of things: the Artists In Residence (something he had done quite a bit of prior to his time at The Umbrella), photos of several other artists, the Board of Directors, The Umbrella staff for their website profiles, as well as a special clay master class.

Prior to his start at The Umbrella, he had his own business as an advertising photographer, specializing in fashion work. He was self-employed for 37 years. After finishing college, getting married, and moving to Boston, John was at somewhat of a loss as to what he wanted to do, so after working at an array of different jobs, he opened his own photo studio in 1976 and concentrated on women’s fashion almost exclusively. He has shot on location for catalogs like Talbot’s, Carhartt and Dickie’s as well as many ad agencies. He worked all over the U.S., and with clients from the UK and Scotland.

After retiring, he started was working on The Artisan Project. He has photographed craftsmen and craftswomen from many disciplines, from glassblowers to harpsichord makers. His work is listed in the catalog of Getty Images that licenses and sells visual media. John has worked on this project for 6-7 years and was able to collect the royalties from his photos. The project served as a segway to volunteering at The Umbrella. Some very impressive images from The Artisan Project can be seen at johnburkephotography.com.

Most recently, John developed a series of photos he calls the Quarantine Portfolio. At the time Covid-19 and quarantining began to affect his life, he felt the need as time wore on to get out every day and use his camera. “Photographing makes me feel so much better,” he told me. Since mid-March, the Sudbury resident has shot pictures all around his community (approximately 10-15 miles from where he lives) In April, it became more than just an exercise. He pulled together a number of friend’s emails and posted his pictures every few days. John ended the Quarantine project in early July. He sees this work as a visual diary with text of his time spent in the last few months, an exercise that has proved very compelling to him, as he has shot photos of places and things such as conservation land and wildlife he has never taken before. Several of his Quarantine photos, each with text written by John, are included here.

The Effects of Staying Home

Missing Your Friends

Losing Your Head

Rush Hour in Concord Center

Creatures of the Marshland...They survive if we preserve their habitat.

Blue Heron - Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge

Muskrat - Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Frog - Punkatasset Conservation Land

Duck - October Farms Riverfront


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