Tony Burba Photography | About

I first called myself a photographer in 1960, when I was a geeky 16-year-old freshman at the University of Illinois. I was looking for something to do besides go to class, and I had a 35mm Petri rangefinder camera bought to take pictures of trains (geeky, yes?). Quickly making a connection, I headed for The Daily Illini and joined the photo staff.

I quickly found that I had an eye for beautiful and/or interesting images, and that I got a kick out of sharing them with others. The senior editors liked my work, and I moved up year by year, to assistant chief photographer, then chief photographer, and finally executive editor of the newspaper (the year after a guy named Roger Ebert was editor-in-chief).  Thus was launched a 23-year career in journalism, mainly as an editor for two of the big Chicago daily newspapers.

When the bean-counters took control of the newspaper business away from the journalists (longer ago than you probably think), I opted out and took a master's degree in architecture from the University of Oregon. Thus was launched my second career, this one lasting for 25 years until I retired (not entirely voluntarily) in 2012.

Many artists writing explaining their work have a lot to say about philosophy and wanting to change the world and so on. I’ve never really felt that way about what I do (or maybe I did once and got over it). I suppose that in my journalism days, there was some idea that publishing “The Truth” would incite change for the better. Perhaps in becoming an architect I had hoped to show the world what “Beauty” really could be.  

What I found out, though, is that the world has its own ideas about which way it wants to go and it doesn’t steer easily. But I also found that if you can’t change the big things, you can enjoy the beauty of the little ones. If you’re doing construction management on a mediocre building, you can enjoy the winter sunlight glowing on the steel structure. If readers ignore your front-page story about corrupt politics, they’ll still get a moment of joy from a photo freezing a girl gymnast in the midst of scoring a 10.

So in my eighth decade, I’m pretty much back to where I was in 1960 – no longer geeky, but still trying to make beautiful and/or interesting images and sharing them with you.  

If you’re still looking for some philosophy or deeper meaning in my images, I suppose it’s this: I believe that, however the universe got here, our purpose in it is to discover its harmony (which is to say, its beauty). Further, we are to use those discoveries to overcome our natural tendency to be a disruptive rather than a harmonious force.

To those who see only ugliness and chaos around them, I say what I used to say in training new photographers back at The Daily Illini: Wherever you are standing, there is a beautiful photograph to be taken. If you learn to look for  beauty, you’ll find it.

I plan to never stop looking.

How I work

Over my 55-plus years in photography, I’ve used just about every size and type of camera. These days, I shoot primarily with a Nikon D800 DSLR and various 4x5 cameras (and an 8x10 view camera – when I can afford the film).

Except for developing film, I no longer work in a darkroom. All my film images are scanned to digital files and processed using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop software, just as I do with original digital images. For the most part, I don’t alter the content of images (the one exception is occasionally removing signs placed insensitively by the National Park Service). I do, however, employ traditional photographers’ techniques of manipulating tonal and color values to enhance composition. (Even Ansel Adams admitted that his finished prints often were far different from the original scene.)

Prints up to 17” x 22” are made by me personally, using my own Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer. For larger prints, I use a professional-quality printing service in Portland.

All prints are made using top-quality materials and are mounted and matted using museum-grade archival materials and techniques. They should easily last for at least 100 years. Please contact me if they don’t.