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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Jim Welling

Jim Welling
Regen Projects
Through April 5, 2008

Jim Welling’s career spans several decades and during this time, he saw photography move from an underappreciated secondary art form to a theoretical sparring partner for painting and sculpture. He then saw photography’s subsequent demotion to an informational bullet point in conceptual projects and the subject of photography (that thing or scene in the world) reduced to a shaky falsehood used for political gain. After, there was the rise of digital imaging, new printing techniques, face mounts, and engineered framing systems. Now the digital methods leave many cold, and many young artists seek a higher purpose for photography. For that, they turn to history, all those crazy photographic inventors of the 19th century and Jim Welling who, through it all, has ceaselessly experimented and practiced a photography independent both its journalistic and critical uses. He has played with photography, confident that its quality as an object makes it worthy enough of interest and exciting enough to be consistently groundbreaking.


At Regen Projects this month, in anticipation of Welling’s upcoming inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, we see three bodies of his work. First, we have a series of drapes photographed by Welling many years ago and now saturated in monochromatic colors. There is a series of close-ups featuring barely recognizable netting performing the formal role of musculature in sculpture, and finally, there are Welling’s famous sun-stroked flowers, existing on the threshold of being visible. All of these projects could be called abstract photography, a method now gaining popularity through the works both Welling’s students and others around the world.


Loosely put, Abstract photography uses the “stuff” of the photographic process whether it is film, chemicals, light, and the mechanisms of camera itself as a stepping off point for experimentation. An artist may overexpose a photograph for a conceptual purpose. They may directly expose photographic paper to light to create abstract images. Some soil or deface film with dirt or even knives to highlight that a physical intervention has occurred. Ultimately, all of these photographers view a photograph at any stage of its process as an object to be used, defaced, or beautified. In the works of artists like Amy Granat and Jennifer West, these strategies extend to film.


Welling’s particular program not only uses the physical process of photography as a point of intervention, he also uses unconventional cropping, super-close ups, repetition of the same image over and over, and variety of other techniques that leave his photographs feeling if not like anything else, unquestionably a work of art. Welling has described his works in physical terms, saying that he wants “to control it, to organize and massage what I see and put it on a piece of paper.” He also adds that he like to make a photograph “his own.” This is a far cry from photographers that are not involved in the printing process, that transmit a snap shot or an organized scene to a negative and upon printing, accept or reject the final product.

It's not that conventional photographs are in anyway wrong. I reject the idea that journalistic or documentary photography (photos looking to reveal something essential about a subject) is irrelevant or is necessarily a dramatic part of an arching political agenda. Sometimes, as with the Abu Ghraib incident or with Roger Clemens’ steroid case, photographs can be of vast importance politically and socially, but most of the time, photographers settle for doing their best just make people slow down to actually notice and think about what they are looking at. Welling is great at doing this, great in delaying our ultimate judgment about what a photograph is or is of, facilitating the self-conscious mechanism of looking. If this makes people better, which should an artist’s idealistic hope, we receive an added bonus.