Colby Caldwell: Washington City Paper
June 2, 2022
By Louis Jacobson
When photographer Colby Caldwell began using a bulky digital scanner to record nature around his Asheville, North Carolina, home in January 2020, he called his works the forest floor series, since many of the images dwelled on mosses, ferns, fallen leaves, and other woodsy detritus. Now that he’s mounted a formal exhibit at Hemphill Artworks, he’s chosen to call the series over & under, giving equal billing to a related but separate branch of his imagery—works made by looking straight up from the ground, through the treetops, and into the sky. The double focus is a wise decision by Caldwell, a Corcoran School of the Arts and Design alum who spent years working in D.C. On the one hand, Caldwell’s forest floor images live up to their early promise, depicting natural elements within wavy glitches, unreal pink-hued distortions, and adventures in broken vertical hold settings. One work, “otff_(23),” includes a spectrum-like pattern that could be a crypto-homage to the Washington Color School, while another, “otff_(12),” suggests a Robert Motherwell abstract expressionist canvas limned in shades of brown and pink. But Caldwell’s photographs of the forest canopy and the sky more than hold their own. The skyward images are more conventional—essentially free of the digital glitchiness seen in the forest-floor works; as such, they offer a respite from the dizzying brambles below. One square image features the sky in a pleasing shade of robin egg blue; another looks almost monochromatic, suggesting a 19th century sepia-toned salted paper print. Caldwell’s finest work, however, is “ftff_(12),” a rectangular image whose centripetal tree trunks offer a satisfying radial symmetry. Ultimately, Caldwell’s decision to train his electronics towards the heavens lends our digital-obsessed age a welcome sense of calm. Through June 25 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays. On June 11 at 10:30 a.m. the artist leads a walk and talk with free coffee. hemphillfinearts.com. Free. —Louis Jacobson
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