Interview: Jamal Burger.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Jamal Burger’s hometown holds more than the sentiment of his upbringing; it’s gripped with his unrelenting pursuit of photography—a journey he did not take alone. Burger identifies that success, in whatever capacity you define it, is never the work of a single man or woman, but an aggregate of all influences surrounding you. For Burger, mentors maintained a critical role while coming into his own as a photographer. From the acquisition of his first camera to his career move in photographing the LA Lakers, Burger’s mentors passed on more than motivation or business and creative savvy—they instilled an innate sense of duty to pass his knowledge and experience gained to the next generation of aspiring creative professionals.
Burger recognizes social media forced him to alter his view of content creation, and he hopes to use it as a tool to not only inspire others, but also teach a valuable lesson—one he had to learn on his own.
“It’s possible to live a purpose-filled life in and outside the context of your posts, so long as your content is geared toward real people versus impressions”.
He relates that social media engagement can be your best friend or your worst influence. It’s a platform of constant information and endless noise. “Focus on the reason first—the lesson, the greater purpose,” he explains, “it holds the most significance.”
"My first camera was a Fuji X-E1. I sold about 10–15 pairs of sneakers I collected throughout high school. I used the money I made to purchase the Fuji, along with a MacBook Air."
Q: What is the story behind acquiring your first camera?
Jamal: My first camera was a Fuji X-E1. I sold about 10–15 pairs of sneakers I collected throughout high school. I used the money I made to purchase the Fuji, along with a MacBook Air.
My first professional camera was purchased for me by the owner of Livestock, a Canadian apparel and footwear boutique. He reached out to me with an opportunity, so I proposed something long term, and he believed in the idea. His generosity was the pivotal moment where my lifelong dream turned into the start of a reality.
Q: How did you find your niche in photography, especially in shooting basketball?
Jamal: When I started taking photos, my pictures were shot free range, or very broad. Over the last two years, I’ve gained a lot of experience, learning especially to focus on what I love. Basketball is indubitably a top contender.
Q: Your photos are imbued with such intrinsic, raw beauty. What inspired you to keep the majority of your work black and white?
Jamal: The idea of temporality or lack thereof. All of my favourite photographs were taken prior to the ‘80s, and I take inspiration from pioneers such as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt and Werner Bischof. There are too many to name them all.
I set the bar for myself. I want to leave something meaningful behind with photos that convey intended emotion for today, tomorrow and as far down as 30 years from now. Hopefully then they will hold even more significance.
Q: From the time you first started shooting to today, how has your creative vision evolved?
Jamal: Every day I learn more and more about the layers of a photograph. You start with the basics, like exposure and aperture. Then, you start to think about composition, and when you get there, you learn to separate profession from passion. Now I’m in a place trying to learn how I can capture what means the most to me while taking my past experience into account.
Q: During our photoshoot, you mentioned social media has been a great vessel to reach a larger audience, but has also changed the way you think about content creation. How do you see yourself utilizing social outlets in the future?
Jamal: Social media provides a platform where information and noise is endless. It can be your best friend, or it can be your worst influence. I’ve experienced both. Now with anything personal, I focus on the reason first—the lesson and the greater purpose. I use social media as a vessel to demonstrate that it’s possible to live a purpose-filled life in and outside the context of their posts, so long as your content is geared towards real people versus impressions. It holds the most significance.
Q: From shooting the streets and sneakers to now shooting the NBA, how did you recently find yourself with the LA Lakers?
Jamal: We all start somewhere. When I first started taking pictures, I only had my phone, so I made the most of that. Nowadays, I focus on documenting my travels and shooting sport for work. Finding balance is never easy, so I strive for it every day. I ended up in Los Angeles thanks to the family at SLAM. They gave me the opportunity to shoot Kobe Bryant’s retirement, and it was great—a 2017 highlight for sure.
"Anyone whose day-to-day work revolves around their passion has beneficial insight for others. That knowledge should be shared daily, especially when somebody takes the initiative to reach out for advice."
Q: You work closely with your community, especially the youth. In a world where personal and hidden agendas consume its citizens, how important is it for creative leaders to be involved with the next generation? Why?
Jamal: Anyone whose day-to-day work revolves around their passion has beneficial insight for others. That knowledge should be shared daily, especially when somebody takes the initiative to reach out for advice.
Kids are the future, and it genuinely bothers me to know that some will never realize their full potential because they lack access and opportunity. Everything I do comes from being in that position before. My mentors gave me two things: opportunity and wisdom. I pay it forward to make my mentors proud and open doors for those who don’t hold the keys.
Q: Any plans to take your craft to the next level? A creative agency perhaps or even a studio?
Jamal: My close friends and I started something together early 2017. It’s in the works, but great progress is being made.
"The DSLR Pro Pack. It holds all my lenses, my laptop, a couple books—and the compartmentalization is on point."
Q: Do you have plans for a book?
Jamal: All I can say is that I wake up and work on chasing my dreams every day.
Q: How did you get involved with Incase?
Jamal: I reached out to Incase Creative Director Mike Quinones with an idea surrounding a video concept. He responded saying, “We were actually going to hit you back with the idea of something long term!”
It was music to my ears. We hopped on the phone and all was good. To this day, the DSLR Pro Pack is the bag I always have on me, even before the call with Quinones. That’s the best part.
Q: As a brand, we design solutions that meet the demands of today’s creatives. What are some of your favorite Incase products, and how do they help you execute throughout your day to day?
Jamal: The DSLR Pro Pack. It holds all my lenses, my laptop, a couple books—and the compartmentalization is on point.