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Backstage Pass By Gina Carusa

Sunday , October 15, 2000 ; Page W14

Before becoming a photographer, D.C.'s David "Oggi" Ogburn was a social worker, postman, mechanic, sound man and automobile executive. Perhaps his tendency to hop from job to job came from a certain restlessness, or a self-confidence, or maybe it was because of his network of connections formed as an undergraduate at Howard University. One thing Ogburn is clear about, he's had some timely breaks.

Ogburn's sister worked for an airline, and three decades ago when his marriage ended in divorce, she gave him a ticket to California and a 35mm Yashica range finder. Then a girlfriend gave him an enlarger and his best friend showed him how to develop film. A few months later another friend offered him a summer job teaching children photography. "I was about two days ahead of the kids," says Ogburn. Soon he was teaching photography to graduate students at the Department of Agriculture.

After Ogburn's first year of teaching, Andre Perry, then musical director at Howard's WHUR radio, asked him to take some pictures of singer Roberta Flack. Record companies (including Epic and CBS) and other local radio stations began hiring him to photograph African American musicians on a regular basis. He was also hired to be Walter Washington's mayoral campaign photographer, and he frequently photographed visiting African dignitaries for the State Department. But for nearly 30 years, Ogburn, now 57, supported himself mostly by documenting performers from various musical genres, including funk, disco, R&B, rap and hip-hop.

His later photographs show the less glamorous side of the entertainment industry: the loneliness and exhaustion of performers when they're offstage; the pensive faces of revered black boxers paying their respects at Joe Louis's grave site; a melancholy Dizzy Gillespie. "I like to capture people the way they really are, when they're out of the public light," says Ogburn. Many of his photographs are taken from the front seat of a limo, where he can have the kind of distance from his subjects that he needs. One of Ogburn's favorite photos is titled "Backstage Pass." "All the other photographers ran out front to shoot Gerald Levert, but I stayed backstage . . . the way the light came in was very spiritual. This is how it is backstage."

2000 The Washington Post