William S. Burroughs and Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman’s surreal Polaroid creation
Ralph Steadman, a Welsh illustrator best known for his friendship with Hunter S. Thompson due to his innate ability to realise his gonzo vision, managed to develop his own Polaroid style which caught the eye of the great American writer and visual artist William S. Burroughs.
Having provided the illustrations for several of Thompson’s books and articles—including the iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—Steadman’s respect and desire to say what he wanted and how he wanted to was unparalleled.
In 1995, Steadman’s path had led him to Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, Kansas, armed with a specially created print, Something New Has Been Added, while Burroughs himself was armed with an assortment of different types of ammunition. The idea, of course, was for gun-nut Burroughs to shoot the shit out of Steadman’s work—a challenge he was more than happy to take on.
At the time, The Independent detailed the event and explained how the group drove “out to Burrough’s friends place outside town, where he does his shooting” adding that “Burroughs, Steadman and his wife Anna and Burroughs’ entourage take turns blazing away with .33s, .45s, pump-action shotguns and Saturday-night specials at a variety of targets,” including Steadman’s art.
While the work proved to be a success, the same Independent report of the incident labelled the moment nothing more than a “contrived event” with “swarms of assistants and acolytes” following the group in order to “tape the whole thing on video.”
Despite some high-profile criticism, Steadman was there to create his art. Not content with the singular shooting of his work, the artist carried along a wealth of his Polaroid cameras in order to capture some what surreal results:
While it is Steadman’s illustrations and cartoons that have largely defined his career, this Polaroid work came somewhat as a later ‘hobby’. His ability to manipulate the film led to similar stylistic creations that resembled his surrealist work.
Below, Steadman runs through his method of changing the appearance of a photograph: