At first glance, guitar playing and photography seem quite different from each other in that one medium provides an auditory experience and the other offers a visual one. But the two are also quite similar in that they both involve a certain artistry and technical expertise, and that they can generate a variety of emotions.
In his long career, Andy Summers have straddled between those two mediums. Primarily known as the guitarist for The Police and as a solo musician/composer, Summers is also a professional photographer whose images have been shown at galleries internationally. Lately, he has fused both music and photography together as a form of art—as was the case with his one-hour audio-visual presentation, A Certain Strangeness, which occurred at last Saturday at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (The event coincided with the museum’s ongoing Play It Loud exhibition, which showcases numerous instruments performed by the musicians of the rock and roll era).
The one-hour presentation inside the museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium consisted of Summers in a solo performance as he played guitar instrumental pieces by the side of the stage. The music was accompanied a slideshow of his mostly black-and-white photographs projected on a large screen. “Over the years with music and improvising,” Summers explained at the event, “it was a great preparation to be on the street with a camera. I’ve learned to take chances and risks. I did take to it and I loved it—I stayed with it. It’s been wonderful. It was only recently that I thought, ‘Why not put the two [music and photography] together?’ I should’ve done this years ago.”
The eclectic sounds that came out of Summers’ guitar playing complemented the subject matter of the photos. For instance, his performance of the exotic song “Triboluminescence” matched with images he took of Balinese dancers. During a segment in the presentation that highlighted scenes of Brazil, Summers performed a piece that paid homage to the country’s bossa nova genre; at one point, he used one hand to pluck the strings of his guitar while using the other hand to tap its neck to evoke a percussive beat reminiscent of the drum sounds of carnival. And during Summers’ rendition of Thelonious Monk immortal jazz classic “‘Round Midnight,” his romantic photography of New York City at night was shown on screen.
Casual music fans are most likely familiar with Summers’ famous rock riffs during his time with The Police. But they perhaps don’t know of the guitarist’s multi-dimensional solo music since The Police’ disbandment in the mid-1980s. At the Met performance for A Certain Strangeness (which is also the name of his book of photos recently published by University of Texas Press), Summers showcased his eclecticism as both player and composer, drawing from variety of genres such as jazz, world, classical, ambient, New Age and funk. He also created a variety sonic and atmospheric effects through guitar pedals. But amid the stylistic diversity of the pieces, Summers’ playing remained recognizable and distinctive going back to the years with The Police—from angular and experimental, to lyrical and subdued.
And just like his guitar playing, Summers’ surrealistic and evocative photographs from his travels covered a wide range as well at the event — including close up shots of greenery; scenes from a solemn religious procession in the streets; and an image of standing mannequins wearing dark sunglasses. Even his photographs of everyday New Yorkers crossing the street in SoHo have a dreamlike quality to them.
One of the takeaways from his photography was his depictions of people from various countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America continuing to preserve their traditional ways and customs through such forms as music, religion and dance—despite the ongoing encroachment of modern technology. He not only captured those people in their element, but also their humanity.
Despite the high-art nature of the music and the photographs, Summers was quite gregarious and even funny in his audience banter in between songs. About where he was going to perform at the museum, the veteran musician joked, “I came to ‘antiquities,’ where I thought I was supposed to be.” He didn’t leave the audience members disappointed by the end of the presentation: for his final number, he launched into The Police’s beloved classic “Message in a Bottle” as an instrumental. As he performed that song, archival images of the band in the recording studio and on tour from nearly 40 years ago flickered on screen.
Following the performance, Summers sat down for a short conversation with Jayson Dobney, the museum’s Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge in the Department of Musical Instruments, to talk about both his photography and guitar playing. Topics covered in the talk included Summers’s initial exposure to photography; Jackson Pollock; and his signature instrument, the Fender Telecaster guitar, which he performed on several of The Police’s major hits. “I hope I’m changing for the better,” he says, referencing to his ongoing evolution as a guitar player. “The guitar is a drug-like instrument. I still love it, I’ve played it all my life. I knew that probably when I was 12 years old—that was it. It was my companion.”
This article was originally sourced from here.