Drawing with Space and Light
James Welling's new work, "Choreograph," is a series of large-scale color photographs that features images of dancers digitally laid over images of architectural structures and landscapes in such a way that they resemble doubly exposed analogue film. The series was borne of chance. Welling was commissioned to photograph the Museum of Modern Art's sculpture garden, which was designed by Philip Johnson in 1953; he began looking at archival footage of events that took place in the garden, and found himself drawn especially to the dance performances. Around the same time, he was experimenting in Photoshop with RGB color channels as a way to understand the basis of human vision, which is informed by receptors in our eyes for red, blue and green. "The way the ["Choreograph"] images came about is similar to the way that the roots of an apple tree are grafted with the stem of another species of apple to create fruit," he explains over the phone from his studio. "I had this process of working with photograph RGB channels, and I grafted onto it the archival images of dance."
The resulting "psychedelic" images, as he describes them, inspired him to begin his own independent series of images of dancers layered with architectural photographs. In his studio in Los Angeles, he held six different sessions where he had some of his students at UCLA, where he teaches photography, assume poses inspired by choreographer Martha Graham and the Ballets Russes. He photographed them using tungsten lighting and a digital camera.