As I flipped through the book I was a bit mystified yet intrigued. At first glance, it was hard to define what type of photographer James Welling is.
The images were often mysterious to me in subject or in production method. They range from the more traditional subject matter of landscapes and still life’s rendered in technically perfect black and white to abstractions and abstract compositions printed in vibrant color. I recognized many of the abstractions as photograms, a darkroom technique that uses a photographic enlarger as a light source and the subject is placed between the lens and paper negative. I could tell from the image quality that James Welling is a technical master of photography and there must be a deeper layer to these images.
As I flipped through the book I came across the production notes, each series of photographs has notes about how the images were made. Welling lists detailed technical information about the camera and darkroom equipment, as well as film, paper, filters or any other materials used in the production of the images. It is common for a photographer to keep detailed notes about the production of an image, but seeing the level of detail for the more abstract images told me that all these works were created with intention and calculation.
Through these technical descriptions I learned that the majority of the images were made with analog camera equipment. Only film cameras, enlargers, filters and the manipulation of chemistry were used to produce almost all of the works in this book, only a hand full involved a computer, photoshop or anything digital.
Welling often pushes physical limits of the medium in ways that appear digitally manipulated yet are created with a play of light and materials; making conceptual works that often reference the medium of photography and the history of image making.
This monograph spans the breadth of Welling’s artistic career. From early explorations to images created close to publication. The quality of reproduction impressive and many of the images are on full-page spreads. Four Writings on Welling’s work are also included. Three of them are essays and one is an interview with the artist. Each is informative and highlights a different aspect or series of the artist’s work.