"Sally Weber: Fractured"

These photographs, made with scanners and full of distortion, offer not a precious image of a leaf but a fresh way to perceive a leaf

<i>Spared</i> by Sally Weber
Spared by Sally Weber

One of the fantastic things about contemporary photography is that it can be almost anything. One of the fantastic things about photography in general is that it has historically been so difficult to pin down. Just for starters: What exactly is the relationship between a photograph and the person in the photograph? That conversation extends into the more basic, "What is a photograph?" A few years ago, artist Jason Lazarus made an installation that only displayed the writing on the backs of found photos. Are those photographs? Why not?

Photography began as a technological science rather than an art form. It is uniquely embedded with technology in the same way that, say, DJing is. Much of what photography has become is due to its relationship with the apparatus. In recent years, that has often meant scanners. For "Fractured," Sally Weber has taken dead leaves and plants dried out to shades of brown and gold, scanned them, and printed them to a large scale so that the minutest fibers and fluctuations in their surfaces are visible. The precision and detail of the images recall photography's roots as a science, a method of capturing what the human eye never could.

Here, the opportunity to look close is balanced with a sense of awe at the sculptural quality of the plants and leaves. They often float in the middle of the image, like asteroids. But they are not simple nature shots. We are talking about a scanner here, and scanners, if you've ever played with them this way, will tend to leave feedback, particularly in the places where the scanned object doesn't meet the scanner's surface. What you end up with are various fuzzy streaks – distortion – places where the scanner tried but failed to pick up information that wasn't there to be picked up. The best example is Spared, a little curled-up leaf or seed casing hollowed out so that it looks like a lacy piece of gold jewelry with a stem. Rather than center it, like much of the other work, Weber chose to place the leaf toward the bottom of the image. The finished photograph looks a lot like a Rothko painting. The bottom half, where the leaf rests, is a darker gray with shades of black, and the top half is mostly white. Between the two halves is a dark bar like a chasm featuring computery streaks, a reminder of the digital origins of the piece that balances out the organic subject matter – the leaves and such that one might typically remove from the technological orbit.

It'd be easy for the artist to be apologetic about the scanner feedback, to try and downplay it unnecessarily, to spend too much time trying to use the scanner as a replacement for the camera. But the scanner and the modern camera are not interchangeable, just as the digital camera and the film camera are not, much less color film and black and white. The scanner has its own strengths, and the feedback, like Jimi Hendrix playing "The Star-Spangled Banner," is what makes it worthwhile. I don't need another precious image of a leaf – what is more useful is a fresh way to perceive a leaf. This is what Weber offers. In any event, the photograph and nature are more or less one anyway. The essential medium of a photograph is light. What's more natural than that?

“Sally Weber: Fractured”

Photo Méthode Gallery, 2832 E. MLK #107, 512/294-9550, www.photomethode.com
Through Feb. 24

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