I came to New York for the sake of photography and I met a painter. In Chelsea. 14th floor, brick building. This unexpected collaboration became an enlightening experience in my New York journey.
For two months, I sat twice a week for a few hours at a computer surrounded by books, notes, pictures and worked with James Burgess to obtain digital prints as close as possible to his original paintings. So, with the digital prints in hand, James and I were constantly running from the small computer room to his bright studio where the original works were standing in their monumental scale… And their powerful colors. Against the wall or on the floor, James would move them for us to look at them properly and compare the print results to them. We were trying to catch their true colors with the instant memory of our eyes. Then we ran back to the computer and I transferred our understanding of the stream of colors on the digital files, using the diverse tools of Photoshop. A very exciting exercise, I have to say.
Week after week, we traveled in his paintings with our eyes. I was discovering them and he was looking at them with a new look, as our process required an accurate analysis of the tonalities, the intensity of the lines, the relationships between the shapes and volumes, the chromatic dominant. Multiverse, Mountain-Water, Petrograph, The Kant Series are the titles of his series. Now these words contain a particular music, colorful, symphonic with a life of their own. One after the other, each work in each series was an organic and cerebral world in itself, invented by James and I had to understand its rules, its energy to be as loyal as possible to the original, which was a real challenge. From this, a first lesson was learnt: the original is the master, the screen is a liar and the printer sets the tone. Two human beings and two machines (computer and printer): we had to get along altogether.
Thoroughly a painter, James also writes, teaches and reads, with passion. And, while hearing the steady sound of the printer, selecting pixels or correcting the color channels on the screen, it was delightful to listen to James’ stories and puns. He talked of literature, art, photography, traveling the world, Paula his beloved companion, Meryl Streep, Anselm Kiefer, Daniel Day Lewis, Dürer and Kandinsky. Back in Paris, his paintings haunt my mind. I realized how nurturing it was to hang out with this witty and generous New Yorker, living in Chelsea for 30 years. As a person as well as in my quest for photography, I was taught my second lesson almost at the end: "come closer" he told me a few times, that day I made a few portraits of him. And he was right.