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  • Anthony Burgess’ Typewriters

    In an interview for the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Martin Amis divides writers into two types, A and B. Awriters being those that concern themselves with the traditional tools of writing: plots, character, metaphor and such. Bwriters on the other hand are in love with language and like to show what can be achieved when playing with words. Many of Burgess’ novels toy with this idea, depicting a lexicon familiar in form, but alien in content. This ability to use language itself as the formal device for conveying narrative distinguishes Burgess from other writers. His knowledge of languages and invention of others (Nadsat and Ulam) attest to his admiration for the components of the written word, as did his non-fiction in books like Homage to Qwert Yuiop. Burgess only briefly made the reluctant leap to word processor towards the end of his life and most of the books, articles, and essays he wrote started on pages turned between the rollers of a typewriter, itself an analogue for nostalgic artforms. From the perspective of both photography and the archive, it seemed obvious to document the tools of Burgess’ trade with the tools of my own. But beyond the mere continuation of exhibition from one object on display to another captured and distributed as image, we can engage in the process of narrative and the tools of the artist more critically. Firstly, our knowledge of these objects is mediated through our understanding of both the artist and the artworks produced. Indeed our lack of knowledge compels us to ask more than the image is able to confess. Which typewriter was used to write which book? Where were they used? Or even, did the tool influence the art? But these questions attest not to the validity of any narrative, either of the artist or the strokes of his brush, but to its absence. Despite hammering out thousands of words and harvesting the individual components of a multitude of linguistic and narrative works, these remnants tell us no more about the artist or his artwork than a monkey could tell us about Shakespeare. It is here that image and text begin to collide. Neither the camera itself nor the image produced serves to offer a definitive understanding of a photograph’s true meaning. Rather the story outside the image dictates and shapes its definition. The nexus of these components combine to create our own personal feelings and understanding of both the object and the image representing it. And in this instance, in the same way that the structure of language can be disassembled to highlight the deceit of formal devices and create new works, these images attest to a photograph’s ambiguity of both form and intention by reflecting the empty signifiers produced by the camera. They may even suggest the work of a B photographer.