Burson is best known for pioneering new technology in digital photography that has allowed her to create composite portraits which challenge notions of visual perception and identity. The software that Burson developed with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1970s also has had practical applications, eventually enabling law enforcement officials to locate missing children and adults, for example. More recently, Burson has received significant press for her Human Race Machine, which allows viewers to see themselves as a different ethnicity. Her newest work revisits the discourse of visual credulity—specifically focusing on what Burson refers to as “God Consciousness.” Through her artwork, she is attempting to materialize presumed intangibles such as spiritual phenomena and the supernatural while realigning the audience’s expectations of the objective camera.
In her celebrated series first exhibited in 2002, Guys Who Look Like Jesus, Burson presents a grouping of ethnically diverse models who bear a resemblance to the icon. In this series, as well as in the companion piece, Women Who Look Like Mary, the artist completes the portfolio with a composite portrait of all the likenesses. Burson takes viewers’ expectation of the appearance of the religious icon and juxtaposes it with the images of her photographic subjects, addressing issues of race.
In other photographs Burson depicts such spiritual phenomena as healing agents and energy fields. In one suite of large-format Polaroid prints collectively titled The Vibhuti Series (pictured above) the artist photographed sacred healing ash which is known to fall from the hands of Indian avatars such as the infamous Sathya Sai Baba. For a photograph (titled Archangel Michael), Burson once again collaborated with members of the scientific community to use new technology that pushes the limits of visual perception. With a gas discharge visualization camera she captured the energy fields surrounding a small, plastic figurine of the saint. And in another group of artworks, with a variety of more typical digital cameras, the artist explored the documentation of “orbs,” described by geophysical researcher, John Burke, as: ”. . .a form of plasma energy similar to lightning—in a sense, electrified air.” Photographed in locations around the world, a bulk of Burson’s “orb” images were shot in crop circles in England over several years.