CITY LIKE THIS – FOREWORD BY DAVID BAILEY
One always dreads the request for a foreword to a photographers work.
Suppose you don’t care for what they have produced, even if you think it is good but does not appeal to your own tastes, it is so subjective. With some anticipation I open the e-mail from Andy Summers. What a relief, the images were more than ok.
First impressions were an influence of Edward Hopper, as I click on more images I could smell the wet dark streets, a feast of 21st Century redefined film noir.
You feel they should have a sound track of a lonely saxophone playing. I hate comparisons but in this case I feel it is a compliment to compare them to Brassai’s streets of Paris.
It is a great achievement that he has mastered his music and visual arts to such a great plane…David Bailey.
P.S. Maybe there is a signed print for me to add to my collection of masters…
CITY LIKE THIS – SHOW INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL VON JOEL
Back in 1927 it was Frank Bernard who first said: “one picture is worth ten thousand words”. However, it would be more accurate to say that the nuance of a single picture could take ten thousand words to explain – and in these extraordinary images by Andy Summers, possibly even more might be required.
David Bailey applauds Summers’ work as offering a parallel to Brassai’s famous city by night images of 1930’s Paris. Indeed there is an immediate if superficial, relationship – as there might well be with the harsh black and white depictions of British life by Bill Brandt. But despite a resonance with these masters of the art, Summers’ preoccupation is not with reportage, nor does he stage events for maximum theatrical impact. The unique quality of Andy Summers photographic work is illustrated by his uncanny and highly intuitive ability to detect that fleeting instant when a particular episode undergoes an unexpected metamorphosis. When the literal reading of a given image is suddenly subverted by a glance, a gesture, a hanging of the head, a shadow…a smile.
These unpredictable moments, seized and frozen from the streets and bars of cities around the world, expose exhilaration, loneliness and personal tragedy. Summers’ unobtrusive lens captures the zeitgeist of metrolife – and the desperation and optimism ever present within the chaotic modern city.
This exhibition will surprise some, astound others. Especially those who know Andy Summers’ primarily as a musician, previously with the rock band The Police, but latterly as an innovative, virtuoso guitarist earning international acclaim with his jazz synthesis trio and experimental works released under his own record label. Others will be aware of his lifelong dedication to the art of the photograph and City Like This offers a small, fascinating introduction to an extensive body of work from a mature artist who is clearly destined to be a significant figure in contemporary photography.
EVERY SHOT YOU TAKE BY CLIIFORD THURLOW
While we all know Andy Summers as the legendary lead guitarist in Police for many the greatest rock band of all time, what is little known is that when he wasn’t on stage performing to sell-out crowds, he was wandering the late night streets with a camera recording his impressions of the world about him. When the band went their separate ways, Summers followed his artistic muse along the corridors of jazz and classical music. He also started to spend more time with his camera, developing a street smart style that is resonant of film noir and instantly recognizable. The inspired virtuoso whose haunting opening of ‘Every Breath You Take’ still has the power to leave us breathless has, remarkably, the same innate skill as a photographer.
His is able to seize the moment and capture scenes in an evocative, documentary style that makes you go back to his pictures again & again as if in them are insights to the human condition.
From nudes in Toronto to midnight in Soho’s Chinatown, from Mexico City to the beaches of Bali, we can visualise Summers on an eternal quest to find Roxanne in the shadows cast by neon signs, her face aglow in the red light. His images are intense, often lonely reminders of the life led by those on the outside of society, while his ability to frame and light his subjects has a feeling of symmetry and, of course. Perfect harmony.
Some of the most poignant images from Andy Summers’ collection go on show this month under the title City Like This at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery. David Bailey has written the exhibition notes and remarks that from the first impression he saw an influence of Edward Hopper and feels the photographs should have a soundtrack of a lonely saxophone playing/ “I hate comparisons but in this case I feel it is a compliment to compare them to Brassai’s streets of Paris.”
P.S., he adds. “Maybe there is a signed print for me to add to my collection of masters…”
A private vernissage takes place on Tuesday 5 April and the show will ope to the public the following day at Beaux Arts until 7 May. The gallery began life in Bath 25 years ago and in 1993 expanded to London with a policy of showing dynamic artists in the heart of Mayfair. Andy Summers certainly fits the remit
FROM THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW – 03.29.05
The wee small hours of the morning are a special time on city streets. The everyday throng, with its clamour and sense of purpose, has been replaced by a sparser set of individuals, whose motivations and provenance are harder to assign ? whether they’re sucking on a street-side cigarette, falling asleep on a bus or just mooching down the road. These moments are the inspiration for one of the more unlikely denizens of the metropolitan penumbra. The one-time blond-topped guitarist of The Police, Andy Summers once stared down from a million posters on girls’ bedroom walls. But now he’s on the other side of the camera lens, using it to capture a series of fragile, atmospheric, Edward Hopper-like moments. Some of these have been brought together for his first major solo show, which features more than 30 images of cities from London and Toronto to Mexico City and Stonetown, Zanzibar.
Summers now 63, is quick to assure me that he’s doing more than indulging a rich person’s hobby. “I’m an artist. I bring an artist’s eye to the composition,” he says. As a youngster in Bournemouth, he was inspired by his brother’s photos, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that he started to take it seriously. “It was when I was in The Police,” he explains. “I made a decision to do it properly.” He
subsequently published Throb, a photo-essay on the behind-the-scenes life
of the band.
Now resident in Los Angeles, Summers is almost never without his beloved Leica, and sees his work as being in the tradition of the great photojournalists. “I’m a big fan of Henri Cartier-Bresson, and I think Robert Frank is probably the best photographer in the world,” he says. Cartier Bresson posed some of his most iconic shots, but Summers is adamant that his are almost all “found” moments. “I’ve developed this technique of roughly focusing and setting the exposure for a shot by pointing the camera at something the same distance away, and then swinging around quickly to get the shot.” But he doesn’t steal the images. “I’ll often talk to people, and ask them if they mind me shooting them, and give them some money ? not much, just a couple of dollars.”
Summers’ music has moved on since The Police (“I haven’t played pop for a very long time”); he now plays a lot of jazz-fusion. He appreciates it when I say that many of his images would work as cover shots for jazz albums, and David Bailey, no less thinks the same. In Bailey’s foreword to the upcoming exhibition, he says: “You feel they should have a soundtrack of a lonely saxophone on them”, and compares them to Brassai’s images of Parisian streets.
I wonder whether Summers hears music in his head while he’s taking the shots. “No, it’s not like synaesthesia. But I think of the composition in musical terms. I’ve been realising how similar, though, that they might be interchangeable: asked to choose between a guitar or a camera, he doesn’t hesitate. “Guitar, definitely. Music is the superior art form.”
Almost all the photographs in his upcoming show, which is called City Like This, feature a solitary person, often apparently taken unaware, and with the appearance of being part of but at the same time alienated from the cityscape in the mid and long-distance. Summers plays down any suggestion that this reflects his state of mind. “I sent the gallery a lot of photos, and these are the ones they chose. I also do a lot of crowds, for instance.” But there is a mood set by his preference for capturing scenes in black and white, and he admits that this can help romanticise images of street folk. “Definitely. I like the blackness, the darkness of these late-night times, and I don’t think they would work in colour. I use it occasionally ? I’ve just taken some photographs in Africa ? but there’s something special about black & white.” He’s also passionate about traditional film. “Digital is so much easier, but there’s something about the pattern of film grain.”
It seems that, for Summers, photography is a kind of netherworld into which he escapes from the bright lights of his musical career. “I did some gigs at Pizza Express in London, and afterwards people were coming up to me and saying how good the gig was, and so on, but as soon as I could I nipped out into Soho with my camera. It was raining, and I got some great shots.” But those bedroom-wall posters are never far-away. “It can be strange. You’re out with your camera and people start pointing, saying: ‘Look who’s over there!”
TIME OUT LONDON – 04.27.05
Best known as a member of the rock band The Police and more recently as the guitarist in a jazz-fusion trio. Andy Summers has been in the habit of taking a camera with him on tour since the1970s. “The photographs in this collection,” he writes, “represent a somewhat pernicious habit of wandering around foreign cities after dark.” The resulting black-and-white shots show an after-hours world of people eating, hanging about in bars or heading home. A man with pebble glasses and a cloth cap sits at the counter of a Madrid bar, his mouth stuffed with food. In a Copenhagen cafe’L, a man has just finished eating; he rolls a fag, his brow furrowed with concentration. The scene is mundane but the image is magical; the smoker is in the shadow but myriad lights twinkle behind his head, which is framed by headphones. A black man in Times Square is similarly framed by city lights. Is he glancing over his shoulder in anxiety, or is he simply crossing the road? It is tempting to see these atmospheric shots as stills from a movie recording the end of a day all over the world. A woman and her daughter catch some sleep in a Madrid bus while, in Mexico, a bag lady shuffles across Garibaldi Square. At a junction in Bolivia, stray dogs roam dirt roads lit only by shop windows, and you imagine yourself holed up in this one-horse town. It sounds rather corny, yet the photos are often very moving, mainly because pictures of lone people suggest loneliness as well as solitude. Sometimes there’s only a shadow glimpsed in a puddle in the gutter, sometimes the damp streets are completely empty, in which case you are the one with no home to go to. The most beautiful image though, was taken in Denmark in the late afternoon. Silhouetted against the pale sun, a man walks toward a steaming train. While fellow travelers cast long shadows down the platform. In fact, light is as much the subject of Summers’ pictures as loneliness and this is what makes them special.