Saturday, December 05, 2015

Lines of Photographic Thought


“I enjoy operating between representation and abstraction,
creating conditions where you don’t really know what you’re looking at.”
James Welling

If you’re thinking about looking at images produced by the American photographer James Welling you would be well advised to have some time at your disposal. For his works are not quick studies, they bring together many lines of thought that need to be contemplated to decode their many layers.

As he told Afterall’s Anthony Spira “The idea of coming into recognition, slowly understanding what you’re looking at, is important to me. This is one of the reasons that I like to make images that have multiple meanings. I prefer to make images that are not pictures of the world, that are not street photographs and have no simple reading. You have to work to provide the meaning of the photograph.”

As a teenager he was introduced to modern art indirectly through his father.

About which he told Art in America’s Steel Stillman “My father worked for a printing company that did projects for the Whitney Museum. In fact, a catalog that my father’s firm printed for a 20th Century survey exhibition at the Whitney was my first exposure to modern art.”

It was in his mid-teens that Welling started to take art seriously making paintings inspired by Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Reading publications such as Newsweek and Art Forum introduced Welling to contemporary art. Whilst studying at the California Institute of the Arts he took up video and in his early twenties taught himself the intricacies of still photography.

And it is photography that has engaged him for the last 40 odd years. Making works that range from Polaroids to gelatin silver prints, from photograms to digital prints, Welling’s diverse subject matter includes tin foil, handwriting, drapery, gelatin, railroads, buildings, European cities and factories, his front yard and landscapes from his childhood, all layered with history and ambiguity.

In the early years of this century Welling started to work digitally and in 2007 his architectural digital photographs were printed in the New York Magazine.

About which he has said “I’d already photographed Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House when I approached [the] New York magazine about photographing Phillip Johnston’s Glass House, which was soon to open to the public. Most of the images that appeared in New York [in the May 13, 2007 issue] were made on my second visit there – when I decided to work digitally, in order to move more easily and to see the results more quickly than I could with film. At that point I became hooked and went back as often as I could. Shooting Glass House was something of a performance: I worked holding an array of color filters and diffusers in one hand while firing the camera with the other. Though the images look like they were done in Photoshop, very little of what you see in the photographs was added later.”

The computer in general and Photoshop in particular has become central to his work since then. His 2014/2015 body of work Choreograph sees black and white photographs of dancers superimposed upon landscapes and buildings and then manipulated by Photoshop’s blue, red and green color channels along with hue/saturation and selective color filters to create images reminiscent of double exposures in analogue photography.

For as he says “When I was at Cal Arts [California Institute of the Arts] my ambition was to create dense objects, works in which many lines of thought converge. That is still my goal."

Welling’s exhibition of his Choreograph prints is on show at David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery in New York until the 16th of January next year.


1 comment:

Susan Townsend said...

thanks this is all interesting since I am a photo artist as well. what I am trying to learn or figure out is how to get a photo image on canvas so that I can paint on it. all the ways I have seen so far are though commercial ways. and are not cost effective. working with a photo them enhancing it digitally is so fun to me, and now that I have played with painting I want to include that as well to create an image but have meaning a message in the art. hum! Smile