Born 1959 in Kansas City, Philip Heying (pronounced "High-ing"), moved to Lawrence in 1977 to study painting at the University of Kansas. Through his friends John Lee and Karl Gridley, he met Burroughs' manager, James Grauerholz. In 1980, Heying was introduced to Burroughs.
MYSTICAL CANDY SKULL
Interview with photographer Philip Heying
B100: Did that elevate your cool on campus?
Heying: Those KU girls didn't care. The William ticket did not get you a date.
B100: How was the first meeting?
Heying: I was intimidated, anxious. I've been completely intimidated by three people in my life: William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Irving Penn. And they were all perfect gentleman; gracious, friendly, supportive. William was a very polite man, a good listener and got a kick out of showing off his new guns, knives and eccentric weapons.
An amateur photographer for most of his life, Heying forsook painting for photography in 1983. He graduated with a BFA in Painting from KU the following year.
B100: Was there one picture that convinced you to become a professional photographer?
Heying: The revelation came in Lawrence, 1983. That's when I started to think of myself as a photographer, taking it seriously as an art form and committing to it. I was waiting at a railroad crossing and there were these mythological-looking black dogs sniffing around. Then the train rushed by. I took two pictures that became a diptych, those dogs and the train. The verbal description doesn't do the picture justice. It got lost when I moved back from Paris. It had a surprising, haunted quality...
B100: What was your first photo hit?
Leary was leaving for the airport, his ride was waiting. I had the wrong camera, the wrong film… a skin-of-the-teeth shot. But it turned out fine. It seemed to work that way with William. On the way out, Leary said "I like your style" and gave me his address.
B100: Did you become an official WSB photographer?
Heying: Sort of. In a very respectful sense, always on William's terms. He usually asked me, or we both sensed it was the right time, to take a picture. Didn't happen often; I wasn't snapping pictures left and right. I knew him for 17 years and I have five portraits of him. Only one is a candid shot.
I had just finished one of his brutal vodka Cokes so I was pretty loaded myself.** I was putting my gear away and I turned around and saw this scene. I immediately unpacked my gear, praying he would stay there long enough for me to frame the picture and shoot. I got just enough time for one single exposure. As I said, it seemed to work out with him.
B100: What about Fletch the cat?
Heying: Fletch knew he had it good. He had William wrapped around his black little paw. He wasn't very affectionate toward strangers; he and William had a private bond. Fletch was a one-person cat and William was his person. He never let William get too far away. Prince of the house. He got fat when he was older. There was a three-year stretch when I had not seen Fletch and then next time I visited he was three times the size he was before. I said: "Fletch! Good lord, what happened! You've turned into Elvis!" William, a bit huffy, replied: "I think he's more like Orson Welles."
Allen was visiting. He and William had decked out the front room for the trick-or-treaters. Jose Ferez-Kuri [Burroughs' art dealer] had brought a dozen huge candy skulls from Mexico and William and Allen had set up a display of the skulls, just inside the front door, and all kinds of candy on the table. We had a nice dinner but no trick-or-treaters. At 7pm, past prime kid time, William was pacing. He was depressed that no-one showed up.
Around 7:15, they started coming. About 10 kids rang the bell, greeted by William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. You can see part of Allen in the picture, in the doorway. A couple of kids were dressed like Bob Dole. William spoiled all those kids rotten: showered them with candy, doted on them, posed for pictures… He was the model--if heavily armed--neighbor. Those kids went away with life-sized, mystical candy skulls in their bags, given to them by William S. Burroughs.
Philip Heying is currently an Adjunct Professor of Photography at Johnson County Community College in Kansas City. He was the featured artist at the Land Institute's annual PrairieFest this year and his photographs are in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. His photographs have been published in the New York Times, International Herald-Tribune, Liberation, Le Monde, Velo News, Art in America, Conde Nast Traveler, Penthouse and Rolling Stone.
* Burroughs asked Heying to collaborate on visual projects. Here is an excerpt from Heying's essay for the catalog of "Creative Observer," the multi-media Burroughs show opening January 18, 2014 at the Lawrence Art Center:
"After his dear friend Brion Gysin died in the early summer of 1986, William began making paintings in earnest. Not long after that he asked me to help him use photographic techniques in creating visual analogies to cut-up recordings. …I would come over to his house in late mornings. He always had his materials ready. He always offered to get me high and I always deferred until we were finishing up. The first time I came by he asked me to shoot macro detail slides of some of his favorite parts of pieces he was working on. “Do you see that fox, right there, coming out of those bushes?” he would ask, pointing at a swirl of color on wood. Even though I wasn’t the slightest bit high yet, I could nearly always see exactly what he described."
**Four fingers vodka, one finger Coke.
By Tom King 10/10/13