Levi Wedel

Canadian photographer Levi Wedel creates his work in series that are thoughtful and concisely edited with a dream like quality to them. Be sure to look at his website as well as his beautiful collection of images curated on his blog. Links to both are at the bottom of this post. I was especially drawn to his Producing Landscape series.  The blending of random organics with geometric framing results in a sort of inverted facade for the eventual completed residence being constructed. As if the house has been turned inside out to expose the surrounding pre-existing site. These images evoke a mixture of elements from the New Topographic school and in particular the work of Lewis Baltz and Henry Wessel Jr. who both focused on the relationship between construction and the immediate surrounding landscape features.

Levi Wedel describes his Producing Landscapes series as follows...

The wood framing stage in the construction of houses presents an unfolding of space, one which enframes the surrounding landscape as much as the surrounding landscape enframes it. This causes a production of landscape—a doubling of the existing landscape through the creation of a simultaneous perspective from the interior of each house, a view in which the outer landscape becomes framed by the space of each interior and reduced to an image.
Likewise, each photograph depicting these internal landscapes reduces this play of landscapes and images into a further image while simultaneously opening a new perspective, a new unfolding of space and landscape in the space in which a viewer observes each photograph.

all images by Levi Wedel from Producing Landscapes

After viewing this series and his other related work, I asked Levi to comment on the continuing and sustained influence of the New Topographic style of photography among many photographers today. He presents a thoughtful an well written response to my query...

I think the effect of New Topographics never really dissipated and has continued to influence select individual practices through the years; it perhaps just wasn’t as popular or at least visible until the Internet allowed it to be widely reintroduced to new generations. I think the documentary style used in New Topographics continues to find relevance today, even if the landscape is no longer a newly-tamed frontier. I think it has particularly found new relevance within the context of postmodernism. New Topographics was never defined very strictly or concisely and that vagueness has allowed a flexibility as its influence has seeped into past and current practices. I think there still remains ample conceptual headroom to continue to explore, extend and redefine what New Topographics started.
There is a group of photographers I know in Hungary who are very interested in this style and last year they exhibited in a show called Hungarian New Topography, which is very interesting because apart from the documentary style their landscape is far removed from the new frontier that drove the original New Topographics. I wrote a foreword for their show.
Here is an excerpt from that foreword which I think is relevant:
“An important aspect of the New Topographics photography was the use of a documentary style which enabled the works to be viewed in a context of art. The photographs of New Topographics documented objects and places that seemed common, boring, peripheral and ugly—things not ordinarily documented. Walker Evans termed the documentary appearance found in such photographs as a ‘documentary style’. Evans used this term to differentiate between the document, which has a use value, and art, which is useless and only emulates the styleof the document through its presentation of factual information. Photography in an art context has no restrictions or guidelines regarding the information it frames or the way it frames that information because it has no use value.1 The New Topographics photographs exemplified this lack of use value and embraced the freedom to frame their information in ways that avoided standard conventions and the idealized landscape models of their time.”
I think the new prevalence and use of digital images causes some issues for the documentary style and its future. The digital image is a different kind of document and far removed from the fixed artifact of the photograph, yet its manifested form (on screen or in print) bears a semblance strikingly similar to the photograph, allowing viewers to view them in a similar way, perceive similar images, and use them for similar functions (despite the other many differences between photographs and digital images, both ontologically and in potential use-values).
In being a different kind of document, even when manifested in print which forms a different kind of physical artifact, digital images invoke a different set of implications and potentials; they are documents not rooted in physical objectivity but in the subjective forces of language (which is sometimes then manifested in a physical document but a document of a strange sort: objective in what it is but with a difference in source and in what has been objectively documented from that of the photograph). The photograph’s document indexes light that reflected from what was photographed (often second-hand in a final print from crystals affected first-hand), while the digital image in print indexes a mechanical process (how ink was splattered from a print head in an inkjet print or how lasers interacted with silver crystals in a photographic print like Lightjet). The digital print is a simulacrum. With regard to the digital image file as a document, documents based on language have been around far longer than photographic documents, yet the digital image file is new in the sense that it is a hybrid of sorts because its language signifies visual values.
Just as the art photograph can be of a documentary style (that is, appears as a document through its presentation of facts but without a use-value), the art digital image is often of a photographic style (appears as a photograph through its presentation of visual qualities but without any facts).
It is probably too early to begin to define the ramifications of these differences and their effect, though there is some interesting work being produced which explores the possibilities, such as work by Jeff Wall and Scott McFarland. Each has made work manipulating the digital language to produce images in the style of the photograph that are anything but. Digital images allow one to build one’s own hallucinatory “reality” that has no truth value (facts) at all, yet looks as objective as a photograph.
On a side note, I find digital images fascinating and use them myself, both from DSLRs for what they are and as scans of film that represent physical photographs (which are also simultaneously their own new thing—a digital image). My preference is dictated by conceptual necessity, and sometimes both mediums can be used together for the same work.
I have purposefully scanned film to print digitally onto photographic paper to create a photographic simulacrum, such as for a show I did with my work from Invisible City. It is true that people are unlikely at a glance to determine what source the work such as my digital photographic prints for Invisible City originate from or how they were made, be they digital or photographic, let alone a photographic simulacrum produced by digital means, but I think this is ok and does not harm the work. I think people worry too much about what a viewer can discern from a work, which is unquantifiable and unpredictable anyway; I am more concerned with what things can potentially be, are becoming and what they are. When art is created with the focus on an audience that is already defined, the work becomes restricted and begins to cease as art as it conforms to a model, a parody of itself and its potential. I am interested in the work that builds its own model.
1 Britt Salvesen, New Topographics (Göttingen: Steidl, 2009) 

Lewis Baltz   from Park City (1978-81)

Henry Wessel Jr.   Tuscon, Arizona  (1974)

1 comment:

Willson Cummer said...

I don't see at all how a digital print is fundamentally any less real than a film print. Pixels are somehow less real than grains of silver ?? I think the final product is the same: a two-dimensional rendering of a 3D world.