JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 color and black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the single room gallery. All of the works are inkjet prints, each sized 30×28 and available in editions of 5. The images were made in 2011. There are 6 color photographs and 4 black and white photographs in the show. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The idea of allowing for chance in a photographer’s artistic approach is certainly nothing new. In the nearly bygone era of physical film, this has usually meant one of two things: the chance (and mostly fortuitous) alignment of subjects and compositions in front of the camera, creating Cartier-Bresson’s famous “decisive moment”, and the chance alchemy of the darkroom, where chemical spills, random drips and photogram oddities have led to unexpected, sometimes painterly, modifications of underlying images. Both approaches have been thoroughly and expertly mined by dozens of photographers over recent decades. But the idea of digital chance is one that we are just beginning to investigate, and Melanie Willhide’s new work digs into some of the unexpected possibilities provided by soured computer storage. Armed with a laptop full of reconstructed and corrupted image files, she embraced the visual artifacts left behind by the unintended destruction, uncovering a new kind of hard-edged digital abstraction.
Most of the works here start with recognizable imagery: male and female nudes (either new or appropriated), along with a series of pictures taken in a Palm Springs swimming pool. From there, the digital breakdown begins. In many of the images, there is a skittering, skipping effect, where slices of the image are repeated in endless loops, stacking up and taking over the available space. Rows and rows of identical lip and torso fragments spin out of control. In other pictures, digital gremlins and greebles crawl across the surface of the images in thin lines, obscuring the content underneath, creating tiny stripes and striations. In both groups, the colors have been kicked out of whack, sometimes creating all over tints or layered screens, in others, an eye-popping, day-glo psychedelia. The overall feel is mechanistic and computational rather than gestural or expressionistic.
While I can easily pick out a couple of winners here (the nude on the far right of middle installation shot being my favorite in the show), to me this show feels more like a hopeful beginning than an end. Willhide needs to run with this seam of originality, let it get much weirder and wilder, and push the concept further. Simple repetitions, inversions and kaleidoscope effects are a good start, but I think she should encourage the digital chaos to come through more strongly and allow the chance decay to reduce the legibility of the subject matter even more. The path of mixing human images and the unintelligible soul of the machine seems ripe for deeper aesthetic exploration and examination.
Collector’s POV: The photographs in this show are priced at $3800 each. Willhide’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for collectors interested in following up.