Nancy Burson: Selected Works

Composite images, as photo historian Kelley Wilder wrote, “belong in many ways to the traditions of the ideal scientific drawings of the eighteenth century.” In the mid-19th century and after photography’s introduction, composite photographic images were made and used by criminologist and eugenicists alike. In the late 1970—more than a dozen years before Photoshop was released—Nancy Burson began a pioneering collaboration with MIT engineers that explored a computer’s ability to simulate the effects of aging through a system of morphing faces. (Their work was later used by the FBI to update existing photos of missing children and adults.) In the 1980s, Burson’s interests and projects broadened to produce novel and sometimes startling projects in which digitally blended images were created to explore diverse issues including racial and gender identity, cultural constructs of beauty, political and religious iconography, the healing powers of visualization, and the malleability of genetics. Burson’s artworks, widely exhibited and featured in the media, are often as unsettling as they are compelling, the result of a canny blending of photographic fact and fiction, and because they underscore how easily images can be used to influence as well as to inform.