We rediscovered and met Nancy Burson at Paris Photo 2019. Nancy Burson produced some of the earliest computer-generated portraits. In collaboration with MIT engineers Richard Carling and David Kramlich, she became a pioneer in the now familiar territory of computer-manipulated imagery. Burson continued to collaborate with Kramlich, who later became her husband. Together the two developed a significant computer program which gives the user the ability to age the human face and subsequently has assisted the FBI in locating missing persons. In Evolution II she combined the face of a man with that of a monkey to produce an imaginary portrait of a species (as well as a technology) in transition.
„Since the beginning of her artistic career, Nancy Burson has been interested in the interactions between art and science and was among the first artists to apply digital technology to the genre of photographic portraiture. Through the synthesis of several photos made possible by the use of her very personal working method, Burson generates completely new works that challenge photographic truth with the birth of digital manipulation. Her work is to be considered unique because she was the first artist to indroduce “composite” portraits into the electronic age. Indeed, she is known for her pioneering work in the use of morphing technologies: the use of computer programs to overlay and manipulate photos showing new aspects of the age, race or character of the original subject. In addition, by merging two or more images into a “composite”, Nancy Burson’s work also includes computer-modified images through a distorting system that intervenes by changing the reality of an image, aging and rejuvenating photographs, and thus projecting a portrait in the future or in the past.
In collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nancy Burson began producing computer-generated “composite” portraits in the late 1970s and early 1980s: she developed software that could be used to “age” a human face. Her work has its roots in centuries of social, scientific and pseudo-scientific studies on the human face. However, the artist’s attitude towards science has always been imbued with irony and a profound awareness of the absurdities inherent in many historical concepts, such as those of race and gender, which we take for granted today. This great anthological exhibition “Composites” explores the first pioneering works of Nancy Burson from 1976 (“Methods and Apparatus producing an image of a person’s face at a different age”) to the “composite” series of the ’70s and’ 80s. By digitally combining and manipulating images of often well-known individuals, including movie stars and world leaders, Burson examines political issues, gender, race and beauty standards.“ (Gallery information text of Paci Contemporary Gallery, Brescia, Italy)