James Welling

12 February – 4 April 2003

From traditional gelatin silver prints to digitally processed prints, the exhibition demonstrates the remarkable diversity of Welling’s photographic process. Welling’s New Abstractions, included in the exhibition, were created in three phases: strips of bristol board were placed on photosensitive sheets and exposed to light, the resulting photograms were digitally scanned to make negatives, and photographs were produced from the negatives. Likewise, with the Mystery Photographs Welling made an abstracted photographic composition by enlarging and blurring small sections of a painter’s palette. Here, Welling uses abstraction to continue his investigation of the formal qualities of photography. The medium-specificity of these works and their strict nonobjectivity have led some critics to link the works with the gestural practice of modernist painting. In her essay for catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Rosalyn Deutsche counters this reading:

Photography, and therefore knowledge and vision, for which photography serves as a figure, are vulnerable to endlessly repeated abstraction, where abstraction is a state in which both the photographed object and the clarity of the image are drawn or taken away…What distinguishes Welling’s description of his work as a discourse – a use of language to talk about the world – from modernist interpretations of his art is that whereas for the latter photography, whether it is seen as arbitrary or motivated in relation to its referent, is canceled by the unity and stability of the aesthetic image, the basic premise of Welling’s approach is that there can be no stability of image or subject.

She makes the important distinction between the manifest subject of Welling’s work – the photographed object – and the latent subject, which is the viewer’s quest for meaning in the image.