William S. Burroughs is a major American writer and artist of the 20th century. He became very well known as a kind of itinerant travelling American writer. Even though he took thousands of photographs throughout his life he is not really known about his photography work. No one really knows the reasons why he took so many photographs and whether he intended of using them at all in an exhibition like this one. I was very intrigued by that fact, so I decided to visit the Photographers Gallery in order to view his photography. His exhibition features over a 100 works including; vintage photographs, collages and assemblages alongside related ephemera such as postcards, magazines, newspapers, books and advertisements used in Burroughs’ pieces.
What I loved most about the exhibition was the neat and ‘clean’ presentation and the creativity of the photographs (cutting technique, ink on paper, collage). Starting with presentation, I enjoyed how structured the space was. Every picture was in black and white, had similar black frames and approximately the same size. Also the way the photographs were placed on the walls, helped enhance their beauty and said something about their meaning. These small details made the exhibition coherent and thus easier to move from one photographic series to the next.
To give an example, the following image shows a series illustrating a car accident taking place in New York. The series demonstrates how photography has the ability to record perceptions and events, counterpointing people, place objects and actions in complex patterns and layers. Every image plays an important role to the concept of the series as a whole, so they all have the same size and are all placed in a very structured way, giving the same importance to every photograph.
One of the things that is occurring in many of the images in the exhibition is the way the artist is using photography to make a record of artworks in process, then takes his time and transform the artwork and then goes back to his photography and records it again. So what we get in this exhibition is the sense of photography and its relation to time, to things developing, things in the process of becoming a complete artwork. And in some few cases what we see in the exhibition are photographic images that depict artworks that in reality do not exist in their complete form.
Something else that is very interesting and brings me to the second thing I enjoyed was the artistic creativity found in the images. More specifically, I liked how the artist edited the pictures in an artistic and unique way. The following untitled images, are created using collage and also edited with ink and colour on paper. I love the different effect it has on the simple black and white picture, the fact that the image now has a touch of colour but still keeps its vintage style.
“Burroughs used photography partly as a research tool, but also as a medium of visual experimentation. Processed cheaply and treated as disposable items, many of his photographs bear markings and scratches, and most are not titled or dated. The fragmented nature of his photographic work resists a thematic or chronological layout and is reflective of his nomadic lifestyle and state of mind.” (Notes from the exhibition space)
Burroughs tends to use the cutting technique in newspapers, where he cuts randomly the letters of texts and again randomly puts them back together by sticking the letters in different part of the text, making it unreadable. In his photography, he is pushing this technique further by cutting up photographs and also texts and images from different media such as newspapers laced them out together, takes a photograph and that process is done over and over again until he ends up with the tiniest bit of fragment which returns in as a piece of a bigger photograph
I really like the previous artwork shown and its incredible detail. I like the thought process behind it, and the way it has been constructed. I find its complexity very unique and for me that is what makes it so beautiful. Taking a closer look, you can see the repetition of the imagery , the mirror effect created and even though it may look abstract but it is actually organised and structured.
Burroughs works in a unique way, as he arranges and assembles photographs and objects to conceive new connections and meanings. In his complex collages his assemblies are photographed and printed, then reassembled and photographed again and again, creating a near-infinity of images. These pieces functioned as a form of time travel, where the camera was used to literally cut pieces from the continuum to then be repositioned and disseminated.
What I really noticed and enjoyed about the two images above is their simplicity. Both of them are smaller sized images in larger frames. They do not have to be larger, they have an important effect even in a smaller size. Moreover, I really appreciate when something is not very big because it makes you have to move closer to the artwork, take your time and search for the details. Only in that way, you get the chance to take a second look, find the hidden details and messages yourself and get a better sense of what the artist meant to say through his work.
“This is not an exhibition, which closes down and defines what Burroughs’s photography is but actually opens it up and hopefully invites people to reconsider Burroughs’s work in light of these images and to start really digging still more thoroughly into his artworks which are related, but not part of his written work. People will find their own narratives, their own stories and interpretations which are as valid as any other ” Patricia Allmer (Exhibition curator)
I personally believe that every artist’s aim is to get the attention of a wide audience, and make them not only view but also think about his work. Observe his works details, dig deeper into the hidden meanings and messages they might have and even create their own story and own truth. Did you manage to create your own narrative?
Thank you for reading,