Professor Alex Hewett’s ENG 225 and ENG 324 Creative Nonfiction & Memoir class hosted guest speaker Jim Burger, a traveling artistic photographer and author, who came to speak to the class and share how his creation What’s Not To Like: Words and Pictures of a Charmed Life, a collection of photos and stories, came to be. I’m currently enrolled in the course and had the opportunity to ask Jim a few questions alongside my classmates about how his life changed since he planted his feet in Baltimore and through a decade of life experiences captured behind the lens, and how he found himself to be opening art shows showcasing his imagery used in the book.
In 1988 Jim was taken on as the Baltimore Sun’s photographer where he stayed for 10 years. When asked about how his feelings for photography changed when he began freelance work after leaving the Sun he expressed re-finding love behind the camera when he began to take photos of his choosing, though his passion for the connections, relationships, and stories captured in his images is shared between his assignment work from The Sun and Jim’s individual clientele.
Jim was very kind to have gifted the class his memoir giving us a chance to get familiar with his work. Eras of youth, smiles on the faces of the elderly, perfect moments captured in the snow, artistic nudes, Baltimore city fires and landscape, paired with stories of the weird and uniquely bizarre sharing space with stories of love and triumphant journeys: What’s Not To Like: Words and Pictures of a Charmed Life is a kaleidoscope of decades holding a time capsule of memories.
The multiple dimensions of imagery and stories that are within the memoir adds to the reflection of the depth of experiences Jim has had in life through the lens: next to a shirtless portrait of a woman with scar tissue on her breast who is holding a polaroid of her torso after having her breast removed, a paragraph reads “In the Fall of 1998, The Sun was doing a spread on breast cancer, and I was handed a sheet of paper with the names and phone numbers of three women. This was Sue Reedy, she was the only one to call me back.” (58).
Next to a page of neon city lights and bright headlight traffic is Jim’s recap of a Style magazine assignment he was hired for in 2006 to photograph Baltimore’s red light district. Blaze Starr, a notable burlesque idol, loved the image so much she wanted a print of it. In exchange Jim asked for a signed photo of her and when he offered to take portraits of her at this time she said, “Oh Honey no. I want people to remember me as I was” (81). And, there next to the page of Baltimore’s red light district is the black and white autographed photo of a bare nude Blaze Starr signed ‘To Jim with love Blaze Starr.’
A long-awaited shot of ‘Mt. Vernon In The Snow’ stands pristine and beautiful beside a story of the chase for the perfect shot. The joy Jim felt capturing and sharing his experience of capturing the shot exemplifies how vital authentic love and genuine passion is in what he does.
The photos within the memoir have been showcased in multiple art museums and exhibits, one of the last being the Baltimore Art Museum. The final stop for these photos will be at Johns Hopkins University where Jim will be donating them. The photos and stories attached to them can be felt thoroughly through Jim’s printed memoir What’s Not To Like: Words and Thoughts of a Charmed Life, a literary and visual object to experience.