Shirley Burden

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Shirley Burden
Shirley Carter Burden

December 9, 1908
DiedJune 3, 1989(1989-06-03) (aged 80)
Education Browning School
OccupationWriter, photographer
Flobelle Fairbanks
(m. 1937;died 1969)

Julietta Valverde Lyon
(m. 1971;his death 1989)
ChildrenMargaret Florence
Shirley Carter Burden, Jr.
Parent(s)William Armistead Moale Burden
Florence Vanderbilt Twombly
Relatives Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly (grandmother)
Hamilton McKown Twombly (grandfather)
FamilySee Vanderbilt

Shirley Carter Burden (December 9, 1908 – June 3, 1989) was a prominent American photographer, [1] [2] author of picture essays on racism, Catholicism, and history of place. [3] [4] He served on advisory committees of museums, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California, and was the Photography Committee chairman at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and of Aperture, [5] which named the Burden Gallery (New York) in his honor.


Early life

Burden was born on December 9, 1908, in New York City, the youngest son of William Armistead Moale Burden and Florence Vanderbilt (née Twombly) Burden. He was the brother of Ambassador William Armistead Moale Burden II. [6] His maternal grandparents were Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly (1854–1952) and Hamilton McKown Twombly (1849-1910), [7] and he was a great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. [6]

He was at the Browning School in New York City until 1926, but did not go on to college or university education. [8]


Beginning in 1924, Burden assisted at Pathé News. In 1926, he and his cousin filmed an Ontario Indian tribe for their The Silent Enemy, and from 1927 held a minor position at Paramount Studios. A 1929 meeting with Edward Steichen inspired his interest in photography and later gained his mentorship. He sought better motion picture prospects in California and Hollywood [9] and from 1929 to 1934 used his contact Merian C. Cooper to gain associate producer work, most significantly at RKO on Academy Award nominated "She".

Commercial career

During World War 2 Burden established Tradefilms in 1942, successfully producing training films which were then in demand from the US Navy, the Office of Education, and Lockheed Aircraft. This business was unsustainable postwar and Burden and Tradefilms partner Todd Walker opened a photography studio in Beverly Hills, California, in 1946, producing advertising and architectural photography for magazines Architectural Forum, House and Garden, Arts and Architecture.

Fine art career

Dissatisfied with commercial photography, and having embraced Roman Catholicism, Burden decided on a more fulfilling fine art career, encouraged by Minor White [10] whom he met in 1952. The friendship developed into his patronage of White's Aperture magazine. He assisted Edward Steichen in gathering photography for, and subsequently contributing images to, MoMA's highly successful, international travelling Family of Man (1955), working on this also with Dorothea Lange whom he befriended. These contacts and experience launched a successful fine art photography career. His photo-essay on the all-but-abandoned Ellis Island, [11] which was exhibited under the auspices of the City of New York, and an invitation to exhibit his essay on the Weehawken ferry at MoMA in Diogenes With a Camera IV in 1958, curated by Steichen, who encouraged Burden to photograph Trappist monks at the abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky (God Is My Life). [12] Travel to Lourdes in 1960 resulted in Behold Thy Mother, published by Doubleday in 1965, and notoriety continued with the well publicised I Wonder Why, which documented racism experienced by a young black girl. [13]

He continued with his photo essays (on Japan, and his ancestors, the Vanderbilts [14] ) and he repaid his success by chairing or advising a range of photography organisations, and teaching (1978–81, at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.).

Personal life

In 1934, Burden married Flobelle Fairbanks, an actress who was also the niece of actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. [15] Together, they were the parents of two children, a daughter and a son: [6]

After the death of his first wife Flobelle on January 5, 1969, [16] Burden married Julietta Valverde Lyon in 1971. [8] [19]

Burden died June 3, 1989 above Teterboro Airport, on a Los Angeles to New York flight. [6] His grandson, S. Carter Burden III, is the founder of the managed web hosting provider Logicworks. [20]


He gifted or exchanged, in memory of his first wife Flobelle, large numbers of photographs from his generous and eclectic collection of modernist works to MoMA, The Centre for Photography and other institutions. In 1989, 5 years after Aperture moved headquarters to a five-story brownstone at 20 East 23rd Street in New York, [21] the building's second floor was devoted to the Burden Gallery, in recognition of Burden's longtime support. [6] The Burden Professorship in Photography at Harvard University in 1999 was established posthumously by his family.



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  1. Burden, Shirley C (1981). Presence : Photographs With Observations. Aperture Inc, Millerton, N.Y
  2. Shirley Burden: Photographs of Ellis Island in the 1950s Dates: June 17, 1987 – September 14, 1987 accessed Feb 17 2015
  3. Burden, Shirley C (1985). Chairs. Aperture : Distributed by Viking Penguin, New York
  4. Kotker, Norman & Jonas, Susan & United States. National Park Service & Montclair State College (1989). Ellis Island : echoes from a nation's past. Aperture Foundation in association with the National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior and Montclair State College : Farrar, Straus and Giroux [distributor], New York, N.Y
  5. Shirley C. Burden, 1909–1989. (obituary). (1989-06-22). In Aperture. (n115), p78(1).
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Shirley Burden, 80, a Writer-Photographer". The New York Times . 5 June 1989. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  7. "H. M'K. TWOMBLY, CAPITALIST, DEAD; Brother-in-Law of W. K. Vanderbilt Never Recovered from Shock of His Son's Death. DIRECTOR OF MANY ROADS His Death Occurred at Florham Park, His Beautiful Estate and Model Farm, Near Morristown, N. J." The New York Times . January 12, 1910. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  8. 1 2 "Mrs. Lyon and S. C. Burden, Investment Banker, to Marry". The New York Times . 1971. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  9. Fahey, D., & Rich, L. G. (1987). Masters of starlight: photographers in Hollywood. Los Angeles County Museum.
  10. Hall, J. B. (Ed.). (1978). Minor White: Rites & Passages: His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from His Diaries and Letters (Vol. 80). Aperture.
  11. Jonas, S. (Ed.). (1989). Ellis Island: echoes from a nation's past. Aperture Foundation.
  12. Book Review: Out of Gethsemani. In Renascence Volume 15, Issue 1, Fall 1962 Essays on Values in Literature Sister M. Thérèse, S.D.S. Pages 46-50 DOI: 10.5840/renascence19621519
  13. Keliher, A. V. (1966). Helping Children Identify. Childhood Education, 42(5), 275-275.
  14. Friedman, Bernard Harper. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: A Biography. Doubleday Books, 1978.
  15. "S. C. BURDEN TO WED FLOBELLE FAIRBANKS; Betrothal Is Announced of Screen and Stage Actress to Vanderbilt Kin". The New York Times . 3 March 1934. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  16. 1 2 3 "MRS. SHIRLEY C. BURDEN". The New York Times . January 6, 1969. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  17. Van Gelder, Lawrence (January 24, 1996). "Carter Burden, Progressive Patrician, 54, Dies". The New York Times . Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  18. "People, Jun. 26, 1972". TIME Magazine. Jun 26, 1972. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Last week Amanda, 28, filed for divorce for "cruel and inhuman treatment." Carter, 30, replied: "I'm very surprised and disappointed."
  19. "Shirley Burden, A Banker Here, Weds Mrs. Lyon". The New York Times . January 24, 1971. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  20. "Management Team - Logicworks". Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-09.
  21. Anthony Ramirez, "A Patron of the Arts Needs a Patron," New York Times, February 16, 1997