Michele Robecchi talks to Andy Summers
Michele Robecchi: First of all, how did you
take up photography?
Andy Summers: Well, like most people in my life, I
took pictures, but I think I was probably a bit more obsessive about
pursuing a normal snap than most people. But for me it was really when The
Police got underway and I thought to myself Ďnow Iím really kind of doing
this music thing, but I want to do something elseí, and I wanted to do
photography. And it was very natural for me, although I wasnít someone who
was going to get up and really go for it, but I obviously was drawn to it. I
loved black-and-white photography and I just started to study it, probably
in about 1978 or í79.
MR: You were already touring in the í60s. Were you interested in art at the
AS: To be honest, I think I was very influenced by
film or at least the films I used to see as a kid, mostly black-and-white
films. I always just liked them. Loads of Ö well, I was going to say cinema
veritť, but particularly the new-age cinema of France. And I tended to see
that sort of imagery as very romantic. Iíd think about making films, or
music for films, and always with that sort of black-and-white imagery in my
head. I think actually my decision of starting to shoot so seriously was
probably dictated by my desire to try to recreate a lot of the stuff that
influenced me growing up. And that was actually black-and-white cinema. It
was just a way of creating that sensibility in my mindís eye.
MR: Your early photographs were staged. They were mostly still-lives with a
strong Surrealism flavour.
AS: Yeah, yeah, well, of course. I was very influenced
by Surrealism when I started. It was a huge influence.
MR: I remember the three stripes of photographs on the ĎSynchronicityí album
cover (1983). Yours was definitely the most art-oriented.
AS: Yes, we decided to reserve a section of the cover
for each one of us to interpret. We had to choose a photographer and I chose
Duane Michals. So, there was that photograph of the piano with the egg or
the one with the telephone burning.
MR: And then you moved to street photography?
AS: It sort of happened by chance. Street photography
involves more social contact, more political contact. I take art out on the
street generally Ö not always, I do a lot of interior shots too. Itís just a
context that youíre sorting out to create some other kind of metaphor. When
you shoot a picture, itís loaded imagery, you know; itís not just a picture
of someone standing by a lamp-post Ė thereís more to it than that.
MR: Were you influenced by the work of photographers like Walker Evans?
AS: Sorry, I donít know him.
MR: Heís the so-called master of the Boston school of street photography.
His work was very influential on a whole generation of artists, from Philip-Lorca
diCorcia to Nan GoldinÖ
AS: I like Nan Goldin. I like her work.
MR: This series of photographs, ĎCity Like Thisí, is something that you have
developed for three years, right?
AS: Yes, Iíve shot more and more of this night stuff
over the last two or three years and I think when I get back to LA Iím going
to start putting this into a book. In fact, immediately Iím going to start
work on it, because I have all the pictures pulled out ready to go, so now
itís just really sequencing.
MR: So how did you select the images for the exhibition?
AS: What I did was I pulled out 60 pictures and said
here, look at these, you choose them, because I like all of them, but I let
the gallery pick them and I didnít really mind because I liked them all.
MR: How do you think the work evolved during these three years?
AS: Well, you know, itís just like anything else: the
longer you do it, you just get more and more refined. Itís like the taste of
wine, the longer you leave it, the more refined or dark it goes. The same
with photographic art Ė you get more sensitive. And you also get more
confident. You have this sort of privileged sense Ö because youíre trying to
catch people all the time in a natural state so the picture is real, but you
donít want it to look that real. Itís quite difficult to do and you have to
be very subversive. Yet when youíre in action you feel a sort of adrenaline
rush. I go through one or two rolls and then your mind and your eye start to
click in and you start to suddenly see everything. And it really happens.
You start to get into a flow, and I absolutely feel, after an hour or two
behind the camera, I suddenly start to see everything. And itís not that Iím
not getting anything. I mean you kind of know when you get one.
MR: I like the one of the black man with a white hand on his shoulder.
AS: That was in Times Square. When I go to New York I
love to go to Times Square and hang out there. It tends to bring good
material. Itís always kind of got an atmosphere and a lot of attitude. And
when people are messing it up on a Friday or Saturday night in that sort of
scenario, weirdly enough you can creep around them and they tend to not see
you; theyíre talking away with their buddies or whatever. Itís the same in
London on a Saturday night if you go down to Soho Ė thereís a real mob
scene. When it comes to taking photographs, you can sort of go there almost
with impunity; people donít seem to see you. Even if you go right in their
face, their mind is elsewhere. You can go click and youíre gone and then
thatís it. So itís good when it works like that, but itís not always like
MR: I noticed there arenít many from LA, which is where you live.
AS: No, because you canít find that sort of tight
crowded scene where you can really do that. I was thinking about that
recently. I havenít got much in LA. I think I might go to San Francisco for
a weekend sometime. Thereís a great scene up there and I could probably get
some pretty good stuff. And Iíd like to go down to Texas, to the border
towns, like Laredo, El Paso, San Antonio. Itís pretty weird down there,
cowboys and shit, itís pretty cool. Iím thinking about driving down there
sometime between now and the summer and trying to do some photography. I bet
I could get some pretty good pictures. There are definitely some trips like
that on the way. Iím going to go to Brazil too.
MR: Youíve been to Brazil recently, right?
AS: Yeah. I just came back. I was there with Mark
Gibson. We went to Brazil to a three-day, intense, crazy festival, way out
in the Amazon. Youíve got to get a small plane and fly right into the
jungle, where thereís this town on the river there somewhere, with this
three-day carnival, and we went and photographed that together.
MR: Youíre also a painter.
AS: I did painting for about six years and I was very
into it. The problem for me with painting as opposed to photography is
really that painting is so involving. Youíve got to spend so much time with
it, and I started to get worried that I was never going to play the guitar
again. So I finally stopped doing as much, and went back to photography,
although I never really stopped doing photography.
MR: Some of your photographs seem to have a painterly quality.
AS: Yes. There is actually one in this show which was
printed on canvas. And we think we might be on to something there because
everybody loves that. Well, itís a great photograph, but having it on canvas
really worked. And I thought maybe if we started doing the big ones on
canvas I might even paint on them, do something with that. Iím going to
experiment, see which photographs would work. I think you want very strong
graphic images to do that. So yeah, I could paint on them, but then if you
are painting on them, then you are making some other kind of statement.
MR: You are obviously aware of the fact that some people might be interested
in your photographic work because of who you are and not just because of the
quality of the work.
AS: Yeah. I mean, they might be. Itís important to try
to avoid that, but itís impossible for me. I am who I am, I cannot avoid my
own history, but that doesnít make me any less than any other photographer.
I might be a better photographer than they are, I just happen to be a major
musician and I can take photographs.
Michele Robecchi is Senior Editor of