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Meet Jeff Burkhead

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Burkhead.

Hi Jeff, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Having spent many years as a print reporter and editor, I thought of myself as a writer more than a photographer, though I had taken photos off and on over the years as part of the job. That changed in 2008 with a move to Colorado. That’s when I fell in love with photography, especially people photography. With no photography training, I learned as I went. I asked lots of questions. I made lots of mistakes. And I shot. A lot. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t take photos. People would say, I don’t recognize you without your camera. I drew inspiration and motivation from fellow photographers whose work I loved and admired. I am grateful to be part of such a collaborative, creative and supportive photography community. Over time, I developed a style, my style.

Photography, or any form of art, is a very personal thing. I think of myself like the musician who plays music by ear. That’s how I approach my photography, by feel and intuition and instinct. My passion is capturing images of people — individuals, families, couples, community events, senior pictures, weddings, celebrations, real life. I am fascinated by people’s stories and love sharing those stories through visual images. That’s why I decided to call what I do Backstory. One of my favorite projects I started before the pandemic was a love story series, where I told couple’s love stories through words and pictures.

With the pandemic, the community events and happenings I would have normally photographed were canceled. But I still felt the need to express myself with my camera. I took it with me practically everywhere, including many walks with my wife. With all the turmoil that was happening in our community, our country and the world, the walks became therapeutic as well as inspiring. That’s what I wanted to capture with my photos. A collection of photos I took during the pandemic will be published in a book. Information about pre-ordering a copy of the book will be on my Facebook page. My wish is people will find the photos as interesting, inspiring, hopeful and meaningful as I did taking them.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As someone who has struggled with not feeling good enough for about as long as I can remember, that has carried over to about every aspect of my life, including my photography. I continue to work at overcoming fears and insecurities about putting my work out there for the world to see and appreciating that we all see things through our respective lenses.

Life is not always a smooth road. Mine certainly hasn’t been. It was a long road back from a professional and personal free fall in my 40s. Filled with plenty of dark days. But I am grateful for second chances at life and love. I met my wife in late 2014, we were friends for a few years, and then we started dating seriously in 2016. We were engaged in 2017 and married in 2018. She’s the love of my life and the best thing to ever happen to me. Our blended family includes six amazing children and a 2-year-old grandson who is the light of our world.

Two days before our wedding in June 2018, I found out the results of medical tests that showed my heart was functioning at about half the normal rate. In February 2019, I had a pacemaker/defibrillator device implanted. Ever since then, I’ve felt a vulnerability I had never experienced before. Being in a higher-risk category, the pandemic only intensified those feelings. But it also made me more grateful for every day and, literally, for every beat of my heart. I hope that appreciation and gratitude come through in my photography and the way I live my life.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
For six years, I photographed the Leadership Lawrence classes. I was proud to have been part of such a fantastic program. It was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I met so many incredible people and made so many wonderful friendships.

In January 2019, one month before my heart procedure, I was a drag queen in the Transformations Charity Gala. Even though I was out of my element, and even though I was scared sh*tless, it was one of the most memorable and inspiring experiences of my life. And having our family on stage performing with me was something I’ll always remember.

My day job is I am the communications manager for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. I started there in January 2103. I love working for such a caring and compassionate organization. As communications manager, I write stories, take photos and manage the Center’s social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. I love sharing client stories of hope and resiliency and recognizing the dedicated and talented Bert Nash Center staff.

A turning point in my life and career was in 2008 when I went to work for one of my best friends, Mitch Bettis, who owned a weekly newspaper in Northwest Colorado. We had previously worked together at a newspaper in Southwest Kansas and always made a really strong team. I jumped at the chance to work together again. As the editor of Mitch’s weekly newspaper in Northwest Colorado, it was a return to my journalistic roots where I started out in 1980 as editor of three small weeklies in Central Kansas. I will forever be grateful to my friend Mitch for giving me the opportunity I needed to restart my life and career. Mitch has gone on to become owner and president of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Not only is he super smart and talented, but he’s also the nicest guy you would ever want to work with. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Having worked together in the 1990s and the 2000s, Mitch knows me as well as anybody I ever worked with. He told me once he liked the new Jeff better than the old Jeff. I asked him what he meant. He said the old Jeff was more ambitious and driven, more demanding, more interested in status, more get on board or get out of the way. He said the new Jeff is less judgmental, more empathetic, more understanding, more easygoing. I told him I like the new Jeff better, too.

What makes you happy?
Expressing myself through my photography. Documenting people’s lives and families and my community through photos. Doing meaningful work. Spending time with our amazing family and friends. I love our community so much. Being Pops to our grandson Roman is one of my greatest joys.

No one makes me happier than my wife, Jennifer. I smitten the first time we met. And, of course, I managed to take her photo. I remember the moment I fell in love with her. It took us a few years to get together. But once we did, we were all in. Having been single for 13 years before Jen and I married, I never knew if love would come around again. When it did, I was resolved not to take it for granted and to love out loud. My wife is the best person I know, and she makes me a better person. I count my lucky stars every day that we chose to spend our lives together.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Fally Afani Katy Ice Earl Richardson

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