An exhibition of recent work by American photographer James Welling will open at David Zwirner gallery on January 10. Transform includes three bodies of work—Julia “Mamaea” (2018–ongoing), “Bodies” (2014–ongoing), and “Chemical” (2010–ongoing). Each series was created using unorthodox photographic procedures.
Welling is known for an evolving body of images that considers both the history and technical specificities of photography. His work breaks with traditional ideas of photography that focus on mimesis by shifting attention to the construction of images themselves. While Welling produces distinct series whose subject matter ranges widely, “his work is united by an examination of what might be termed ‘states of being’ produced by photographically derived images and how such states are, in turn, read by the viewer,” writes the gallery in a statement.
The series “Julia Mamaea” was conceived on a visit to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art where the artist came across a Roman portrait bust from the third century AD of Julia Mamaea. Welling created a single exposure of the bust and then made a suite of unique gelatin dichromate prints coated with aniline dye. This process results in handmade color images that bear visible traces of the procedures that produced them. “Exhibited serially, ‘Julia Mamaea’ presents a study in repetition and difference, underscoring the way meaning is projected through materiality and sequence,” explains the gallery.
Welling’s “Bodies” also incorporates classical sculpture within complex and layered compositions. The series utilizes Greek and Roman stone sculpture as its root imagery. As Welling notes, “The origins of modern dance derive from early twentieth-century recreations of dance as practiced in antiquity, and it seemed appropriate to photograph these dance antecedents.” To make “Bodies” Welling uses Photoshop to alter three different black-and-white photographs.
“Chemical” continues Welling’s ongoing experiments with camera-less photography. In “Chemical,” he paints photographic chemicals on chromogenic paper and further inscribes the surface with graphite and other materials. The resulting compositions are at once paintings and photographs—both chemically derived and handmade.
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