A CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHER RETURNS TO THE BOROUGH OF HIS YOUTH TO LEAD A CELEBRATION OF ITS FAVORITE SON COUNT BASIE
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSK
When organizers sought the ideal artist to lead a year-long celebration of musician and bandleader William James “Count” Basie in his hometown of Red Bank, it was only fitting that artist also be from the historic borough. A photographer whose distinctive works could be mistaken for paintings, Alan C. Burgess, who moved to Red Bank, his father’s hometown, as a child, was a born creative.
“I use a variety of software to manipulate and embellish photos to achieve a painterly look for my images,” said Burgess, who now resides in Los Angeles after living in Florida, where he participated in art exhibitions in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Miami.
“The images are my way of making sense of the world and savoring as many moments as I can of the time I’m granted in this life,” he continued. “The people, the places, and the things that find their way into my photos are the result of my quest to learn to see.”
Potentially thousands will see Burgess honor Count Basie at Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center during the exhibition A Love Letter to Count Basie: From the Great Migration to the Harlem Renaissance, which opens September 25 with a VIP reception attended by Burgess, who also wrote the content that accompanies the exhibit and fills its commemorative booklet.
“I saw some of Alan’s images and reached out to him,” said Gilda Rogers, vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation Board. “His participation is special because he’s from Red Bank. He did an art piece that will be unveiled at the opening.” It was Rogers, a journalist, professor, and more, who spearheaded the restoration of the dilapidated home of Timothy Thomas Fortune (1856-1928), a journalist and publisher who was a leading African American civil rights advocate. He lived in the stately circa 1850s home, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976, with his family. It reopened last year as a museum and multi-purpose community hub.
Rogers long wanted to present a comprehensive event to “recognize Count Basie and salute this person who put Red Bank on the map with his song, ‘The Kid from Red Bank.’” Finding Burgess completed the mission. Primary funding for the Basie exhibit came from Morgan Stanley, and the Count Basie Center for the Arts is supporting and helping promote it.
“The very house that the cultural center is in was actually a part of my childhood and young adult life,” noted Burgess. “It’s actually a symbolic marker for me. Getting the chance to make a statement in that building resonates in a way that I’m not sure the people at T. Thomas Fortune House, except for Gilda, are even aware of.”
In Los Angeles, Burgess is creative director of Benduka Arts, a platform sustained by the commercial distribution of his works. The primary content is open and limited edition photographic prints, visual merchandise, and speaking engagements and workshops. Its mission, Burgess said, is “to facilitate education, cultural exchange, public discourse, activism, and healing.” He cultivated those skills working at an arts and education center for at-risk youth.
“I’ve spent years honing the ability to communicate with a non-verbal child through pictures and sounds, and helping someone after years of suffering the ravages of an addiction or eating disorder start to express thoughts and emotions they haven’t in years,” explained Burgess. “ at awakened the idea that I might be an artist. I began seeing what had been a casual pastime as an integral part of who I was, and how I moved through the world.” Today, his works appear in a number of private collections, including those of singer Angelique Kidjo and sculptor Lisa de Kooning.
“The things I see are sometimes beautiful, sometimes messy, sometimes confusing, and sometimes I don’t have a clue what they are. The best I can hope for is that I can find a way to reveal what is beautiful.”
T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center
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