Early Photos and Collages by William Burroughs

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“There couldn’t be a society of people who didn’t dream. They’d be dead in two weeks.”
– William S. Burroughs

William Burroughs was an American novelist, essayist and social critic that worked deeply in autobiographical topics, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation [also with Jack Kerouack and Allen Ginsberg], he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. He finished high school at Taylor School in St. Louis and, in 1932, left home to pursue an arts degree at Harvard University. After leaving Harvard, Burroughs’s formal education ended, except for brief flirtations as a graduate student of anthropology at Harvard and as a medical student in Vienna, Austria.

We just found this rare and remarkable archive of early photographic work from the original scrapbooks of William S. Burroughs:

The collages date to the mid-to-late fifties when Burroughs was living in Tangier and writing what was to become the text of Naked Lunch. As such, they offer a uniquely rare portrait of Burroughs’ state-of-mind while he was in the midst of creating what was to become one of the seminal works of the Beat movement. Most obviously, these collages echo Burroughs’ famed “cut-up” technique and reflect the influence of long-time collaborator Brion Gysin, whom he would have recently met at the time of these creations. Perhaps more importantly, however, these works reveal Burroughs in many ways re-creating in visual form the “Interzone” of his early novels, an “imaginary city” which was “a combination of New York, Mexico City, and Tangier” in which he “construct[ed] hallucinatory, interconnected narratives for its numerous characters”

This collages, linked to the Fluxus Art [Fluxus Boxes were collections of printed cards, games, and ideas, organizing them in small plastic or wooden boxes] and the “do it yourself” of the 50s and 60s, drives us through imaginary places and elements that can be found in his novels, as the Naked Lunch and Interzone.

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We can read about Interzone:

Interzone features many characters and concepts that would manifest themselves in such better known books as Naked Lunch, Nova Express and others. In fact, the title Interzone was at one point considered for Naked Lunch. Moreover, the concluding section entitled “WORD” was part of the original Naked Lunch manuscript but was cut during the editing process (this according to an introduction by the editor of this book, James Grauerholz). Interzone represents a transitional phase in between the first-person traditional narrative style of the earlier “Junky” and “Queer” and Burroughs’ later, more experimental work.

The similarities between the way Burroughs worked in his novels and the collage’s techniques don’t need any explanations: Cut, paste, superimpose. There is a direct relationship in his artistic interest in photography, collages and literature, and seems like he wrote his novels as if they were collages of diferent histories and narrative styles.

“The photo collage is a way to travel that must be used with skill and precision if we are to arrive […] The collage as a flexible hieroglyph language of juxtapostion: A collage makes a statement.” – William Burroughs (1962)


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