As a professional photographer, timing, of course, is critical, but timing also applies to her career and personal life. After 36 years as a photographer for the Fayetteville Observer, Burnham left the newspaper last September because … well … the timing was right.
“It clicked for me when the family, who had owned it for over 100 years, sold the paper,” says Burnham, now a professional freelance photographer. “I said I don’t want to be part of this. I’d rather do my own thing.”
The Fayetteville Observer’s robust daily circulation of 90,000 at its peak had dropped to a sickly 40,000. A newsroom at its heyday that had been packed with 110 reporters, editors and photographers was now down to a measly 30 or so. And the photo staff that was 12-strong when she started, was reduced to two full-timers and an intern or two.
“The timing was everything,” says Burnham about her decision to leave her working home for over three decades and strike out on her own. “I said, I can make this happen. I’d rather be my own chief of me, anyway. Then I was offered a buyout, my golden parachute. I said I’ll take that and start freelancing. It’s all about timing.”
But a funny thing happened to Burnham on her way to “semi-retirement.” She got busier than she’s ever been. She started her own business, the seemingly ironically named A Lucky Shot Productions, she co-owns a video production business with her husband, cameraman Rick Allen, shoots and produces with a newspaper writer friend Personal Family History Books that have proved to be quite popular, still shoots weddings from time to time and still freelances for various publications, such as Business North Carolina.
During her long and storied newspaper career, in which she was honored regularly by both North Carolina and South Carolina press photography associations, her images have appeared on the covers and pages of Newsweek, New York Times, Sports Illustrated and the Time Life book, “Sky Soldiers.” She had also appeared in publications such as the Army Times, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and a number of other monthly, weekly, and daily publications.
“I don’t know if you’d call it a second career,” she says when asked about the biggest change she’s had to deal with after leaving the Observer. “And I don’t know if change is the word. I just picked up where I left off. I just have more control over it now.”
For example, Burnham can now pick and choose her projects instead of being assigned one, as she did during her tenure at the newspaper, where she shot pretty much everything there is to shoot on a newspaper — news, sports, military, animals, kids, portraits, politics, even underwater.
“I created my business as if I was still the assignment editor, except for myself,” she says. “With this career I get to do a lot of happy stuff. For example, it has to be fun, happy people if I’m shooting a wedding. Or I won’t do it. And if it’s snowing and there’s ice, I don’t have to go outside! That’s the part I’m glad I don’t have to do anymore. And if they want me to do it, they have to pay me a lot of money!”
Her job with the Observer was only the third job she had as a working photographer and she got it in true Burnham fashion — timing was everything.
She was freelancing for the Observer and was midway through a summer internship when one of the photographers got into a disagreement with the chief photographer and was fired. She just happened to be there at the time and the chief photog turned to her and said “You want to job?”
She not only became the first full-time female photographer for the Observer, she was only one of four or five female photographers in the entire state of North Carolina at the time.
Personally, Burnham is open, laughs easily (especially at herself), is gregarious, talks animatedly and is the type of person one gravitates to at a backyard barbecue or a cocktail party because you just know she’s a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with. She probably makes friends easily and seems loyal to a fault.
Her photographs are like her personality too: warm, open and inviting. There’s a lot of kinetic energy at work in her images, even when her subjects are still, there’s a palpable sense of movement and energy, as if they’re going to jump off the paper at you.
When asked about the name of her business — A Lucky Shot — which seems ironic since one would never imagine a shot taken by Burnham was just lucky, she explains it’s named after her dog, Lucky, a golden retriever shelter dog who has his own Facebook page and website.
“You’ve gotta be good to be lucky. You have to put yourself in place to get the shot,” she says about what makes a good photographer. “It ain’t happenin’ if you’re not in the right spot. It’s all about timing.”
She should just get it embroidered on a throw pillow: “Timing is Everything.”
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