Wednesday, March 26, 2008

James Welling

While recently in New York I went to the Whitney Biennial and saw some photograms by James Welling. A photogram is a cameraless photograph. The process begins at the printing stage. A simple photogram would be to take a leaf from a tree into the darkroom, place it on a sheet of photographic paper, expose it to the light of an enlarger and then run it thru darkroom chemicals. Other variations on this process are to place objects between two pieces of glass and put them in the negative carrier of an enlarger, use alternative darkroom processes such as cyanotype, gum bichromate, platinum printing or using a large sheet of film to print the objects on and then contact printing them. The digital equivalent would be to place this same leaf on a flat bed scanner, scan it and print the file on a ink jet printer with photo inkjet paper. This is not just a trick to be used by people who are getting tired of their cameras limits. Significant bodies of work with photograms have been crated by Joan Fontcuberta, Adam Fuss and Abe Morell.

Welling’s photographs at the Whitney are from a series called “Torsos”. He took aluminum window screening and shaped it in such a way that when placed on color photographic paper in a darkroom and then processed in darkroom chemicals the end result is a photograph that does look like a torso. Why do this when you can photograph a torso? I don’t know Welling, so I can only guess at this. Much of making art is trying to create something visually that never existed before, but is close enough to existing art that it gets a viewer’s attention. This work got my attention. A very informative article about Welling appears in the current version of Aperture (#190 Spring 2008).

All text unless otherwise noted is ©2008 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.


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