JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 photo-based sculptures, framed in white and unmatted or mounted without framing and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. The works are either c-prints or gelatin silver prints, with additional concrete, white portland cement, wood dowel, or paint. They generally range in size from 24×17 to 28×28, with one larger column piece at 106×17. All are unique and were made in 2012. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Vistas of the Grand Tetons, the flat expanse of salt flats, the rumble of storm clouds, the wave patterns of eroded canyons, these awe inspiring natural treasures have now become the territory of landscape photography cliche. We have already “seen” them, the past masters of the medium having expertly captured these places with any number of emotions and mindsets: grandeur, reverence, joy, picture postcard banality, disappointment, anger, and even irony. But Letha Wilson’s unconventional photo-based sculptures have done something I wouldn’t have thought likely – they’ve brought tactile physicality back to landscape photography, and in doing so, have made the old tropes we’ve generally written off surprisingly fresh and immediate.
Wilson’s photographic raw material is entirely forgettable: photograms of evergreen branches, views of the Badlands, lonely plants in sand dunes and sagebrush underfoot. But her sculptural interventions are unexpected and invigorating. The black and white evergreen silhouettes are geometrically cut through and pulled back, revealing backside images in color. The rocky hills of the Badlands are interrupted by flows of rough concrete, slashing through like thick strips of sediment. The endless dryness of salt flats is covered in a thin white scrim of cement, hovering like a delicate crusted veil. And the swirls and whorls of pink canyons are twisted like a fan, the image folded again and again, but on a turning axis that mirrors the flow of the walls. Each material intrusion matches its subject, and by reminding us of its tangible presence, each manipulation enhances our experience of the land. It’s photography unafraid of its objectness, mixing visual elegance with physical, textural grit.
Wilson is yet another example of a contemporary photographer who is smartly disassembling genre boundaries. Her works find an easy structural balance between photography and sculpture, allowing her photographs to be both representative imagery and paper based things that can be cut, torn, slashed, and filled. The best of these works have an effortless combination of natural beauty and man made construction that settles into an unsteady but harmonious equilibrium. All in, a plenty promising debut.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are generally priced between $4000 and $6500, with the large concrete column priced at $18000. At this early point in her career, Wilson’s work has no secondary market history, so gallery retail is the only option for those collectors interested in following up.