Andy Burgess Photography

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Narratives March 2017

Andy Burgess is a British artist and photographer currently living in Tucson, Arizona.  Whilst Andy makes his living from painting and collage he considers his photography to be an integral part of his artistic practice, nourishing his soul and providing a perfect escape from the loneliness of the studio. Generally Andy carries with him a small digital rangefinder camera (Fuji x100) wherever he goes and trains his lens on interesting looking people and things. His preference is for urban street photography and portraiture. He loves shooting light falling on buildings, strange, bleak and overlooked nooks and crannies, discarded ephemera, wabi-sabi walls, vintage cars, old signs and doorbells and anything remotely mundane and poetic. 

Although best known as a painter of urban landscapes and mid-century architecture, artist Andy Burgess has had a serious engagement with photography and photographic processes for over twenty-five years. His photographs not only inform his drawing, printmaking, painting and collage but also stand-alone as a significant body of work, a testament to years of travel and observation, and a distillation of a way of looking at the world.

Burgess is a compulsive image-maker, drawn to the urban environment, the accidental geometry of the city, the intersecting curves and planes of the modern world and the interplay of light and shadow in the human environment. This is a form of street photography but with a quiet aesthetic influenced by abstract art and modernist preoccupations.

In one sense Burgess’s photography could be described, as the renowned art critic Norman Bryson famously described still life painting, as “looking at the overlooked”. Burgess seeks poetry in the mundane, the ordinary and the discarded. He is fascinated by the remnants of the past found in the peeling paint and street signs of our downtowns, the melancholy of the broken and abandoned.

There is an interest also in the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi, an ancient aesthetic rooted in Zen Buddhism that celebrated humility and the beauty of imperfections. The aged, the discarded, the beaten, and the ugly: all objects possess personalities and histories that imbue them with spiritual value. As such Burgess focuses the lens on quiet corners, and downtrodden spaces...brick walls, rusted cars and junk filled yards. We are urged to look more closely and find beauty in the everyday experience of life. 

Presence and absence is another recurring theme. What is seen on the surface rarely reveals the full meaning. A shadow on a wall looks tangible but isn’t. Old signs want to speak to us but their text has faded or their letters are missing. A haphazard paint job covering graffiti looks like an ephemeral floating cloud. Mannequins are sad and mute, trapped behind glass, reflecting long past days of glamour.

Over the past several years, Burgess has become increasingly drawn back to analogue forms of expression as an antidote to the ever-increasing digital and mediated on-line experience of the modern world. He started using film, shooting in black and white and printing in the darkroom.  A chance meeting in Tucson has led to a wonderful collaboration with a master of the darkroom, Teresa Engle. Engle, for many years a New York resident, has printed for some of the greats of Twentieth Century photography, including Robert and Cornell Capa, Lucien Clergue, Andreas Feininger, Dorothy Norman, Bruce Davidson and dozens of others. Invited to Tucson to by the Centre for Creative Photography to print many of the negatives for the huge Gary Winogrand retrospective, she ended up moving to the South West permanently.

According to Engle, Burgess is the youngest photographer she has ever worked with, but this new collaboration is proving to be inspiring and motivating for both photographer and printer alike as they forge a distinct printing aesthetic to match Burgess’s unique visual preoccupations and photographic eye.

The new body of work, Narratives, is being presented in “groupings” of images, grids of nine, that add a narrative dimension to the work, a beatnik journey into the American psyche and a poetry of light and shadow.