PDN Photo of the Day

Willa Nasatir’s Layered, Expressive Still Lifes

In Willa Nasatir’s nearly abstract still lifes, it can be difficult to retrace the steps that went into making the dark and shimmering tableaux. On view in a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City that runs until October 1, her work incorporates sculpture and studio sets, which Nasatir photographs, prints and rephotographs, building layers of reflection and opacity and “confounding depth, scale, and materiality,” the museum writes.

Her earlier work explored the material limits of the photographic process. “I’ve torched stacks of photographs; submerged prints in water, frozen them, and photographed them; stripped prints with acid and sanded them down. I use photographic effect (light, reflection, shadow, glow) to abstract the surface of a picture,” she told an interviewer. But in recent work, below the abstract surface are evocative arrangements of objects that suggest narratives and personas. In “Butterfly,” a doll-sized bed set on a mirrored surface faces the ragged shape of a butterfly, its shadow looming in the ambiguous, dream-like space. In “Red Room,” the head of a flamingo sits on top of a rough form driven with nails and resting on what looks like a paint can fitted with a door handle. Suggesting an odd if sympathetic creature, the sculpture seems to float in waves of red light. As Nasatir explained, “In my own work, I want to make images where there’s the sense of a figure’s presence, rather than total abstraction.”

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