From its beginnings, one of the great promises of photography has been unparalleled immediacy — the sense that the image puts the viewer in a specific place to witness a particular moment in time. In this new double show at wall space, the ghost of that initial promise, now distorted beyond recognition by technology and time, returns in work that trades the illusion of photographic transparency for a different connection to the here and now.
For Christa Blackwood, whose work refracts the romantic landscape tradition of such masters as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams through a feminist lens, the beauty of nature inspires an imaginative offset in the form of a transparent red dot. By placing these markers within her elegant photogravure prints of deserted western landscapes, Blackwood inserts a sign that substitutes for the nude female figure, that ubiquitous symbol of natural beauty employed by so many of her predecessors as a means of humanizing empty spaces.
Like the “you are here” markers on functional wall maps, these dots invite the viewer to reimagine the subject of the image as it relates to his or her own experience of the current moment. Although that imaginative act of placing a woman’s body in the landscape is already loaded with potential complications, when Blackwood’s red dots start showing up in stunning portraits of shirtless young men, the equation becomes exponentially more fraught. By combining such coolly deliberate strategies of estrangement with evident technical facility in archival developing and printing processes, Blackwood embodies the aesthetic mission of many of the artists who show at wall space, which is to restore the shock of the new to photography, a medium in which even the most controversial gestures rapidly devolve into clichés.