Artistic portals leading to and encouraging wonder: The Washington Post

Artistic portals leading to and encouraging wonder
June 17, 2022
By Mark Jenkins

Experimental photographer Colby Caldwell has two interests that might seem incompatible: nature and digital distortion. For his Hemphill Artworks show, “over & under,” Caldwell hauled flatbed scanners into the woods to grab close-ups of the forest floor or, less often, panoramas of sky framed by treetops. The bulk of these wax-coated pictures are crisp and detailed, but they’re partly tinted in electric shades of red and pink and punctuated by swipes and swooshes of random pixels. Here and there, traditional nature imagery melts into computer-generated incoherence.

A former Washingtonian who now teaches in North Carolina, Caldwell previously built a whole series of abstract photos from a corrupted photographic computer file. His “Over & Under” images are related to those, but are mostly representational. They peer precisely at clumps of moss, beds of fallen foliage and the surface of a tree stump. Some pictures, such as one of decayed leaves, match organic deterioration to its cyber equivalent. Another photographically slices a tree trunk, as if to reflect the violence done by loggers.

Caldwell’s landscapes are paired with longtime collaborator Bernard Welt’s prose poem, a few snippets of which are printed on the gallery walls. Welt’s text extols “a long walk,” which must be one of the attractions of this work for the scanner-lugging artist. Caldwell communes with the forest as he denatures it, conveying the threat to the natural world in partly mangled images.

Colby Caldwell: over & under Through June 25 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW.

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