Artistic Insights on Eugene Burger

From the Dean, Larry Hass:

This month’s Museletter is a beautiful offering from the School’s dear friend, Michael Caplan. As you will read, Michael had a profound friendship with Eugene, and was his photographer, videographer, and partner in several important projects. So many essential images of Eugene, so much of what we know about him, came to us because of Michael’s creative talents. Enjoy learning about their extraordinary collaboration!

From Michael Caplan:

I took my first photograph of Eugene in Chicago in 1978. He was performing Hauntings, his tribute to 19th Century Spiritualism, and his first performance of magic as an adult. I was in college and Eugene was twenty years older than me, but from the start, I knew I had met an artistic and spiritual mentor. As Eugene’s career as a magician and teacher of magic grew, I was able to be a witness to his path toward becoming one of the world’s most acclaimed close-up magicians and philosophers of the history and performance of magic. 

Over the years, I collaborated with Eugene to create the photos that appeared on the covers and on the pages of most of his books. I also had the privilege of photographing many of Eugene’s performances, and capturing his personal time with a remarkable group of magicians, from the late Tony Andruzzi to Max Maven.

As I transitioned to film and video production, Eugene became a natural subject for my work, and we produced three remarkable teaching videos, Eugene Goes Bizarre, Real Secrets of Close-up Magic, and Gourmet Close-up Magic.

My artistic path in film and video was inspired by Eugene’s work in magic. His focus on creativity above technique, storytelling, and engaging the audience, all guided me in the work I directed and produced. Also, as a teacher of film, I was sparked by Eugene’s clarity and the shape of his lessons.

My initial work in the 1990s was focused on producing multiple award-winning feature films, but in the early 2000s, I shifted my focus to documentaries. 

My first documentary was about my father’s experience and escape from Nazi Germany. My second work, A Magical Vision, not surprisingly, was about Eugene and his community of non-traditional magicians. I spent five years traveling around the country, shooting the final Mystery School retreat in 2003, and the first Theory and Art of Magic events at Muhlenberg College. A Magical Vision has won multiple awards and was screened around the world, from Chicago to India. 

Since then, I have produced several other films, all of which have been seen around the world, and I have taught film production for the last 21 years at Columbia College Chicago. I am also pleased to say that I shot some of Eugene’s last performances, which were with Larry Hass at Austin College in 2016. 

I am presenting a video of Eugene from 1988, drawn from the very first footage I shot of him. We were at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, which is a grand cemetery, and was one of Eugene’s favorite places to go. Some of Chicago’s most famous luminaries are buried there, and our being there inspired Eugene to recite a poem from Chicago’s premiere poet, Carl Sandburg. It is a very Zen poem about death and acceptance. It seems very appropriate for a tribute to Eugene. 

I probably would not have become a professional filmmaker and college professor, if I had not known Eugene. I was not a magician, and I never wanted to learn how Eugene did his tricks—though I couldn’t avoid learning some of them. But, Eugene’s teachings and his approach to magic was not just about magic performance—it was about the magic of storytelling, the magic of creativity, and the magic of community. Most importantly, it was about self-knowledge,  learning about who you are, what matters to you, and what you want to share with the world. If you can learn about yourself, then you can be an artist and a teacher.

One of my favorite Yiddish words is mensch. It literally means a person—a human being. But what it really means is to be a person with integrity, morality and love, and that is what I learned from watching Eugene perform over forty years. It was to be a mensch.

For more information:

A Magical Vision: The World of Eugene Burger is available from:

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