Prints of­fer fas­ci­nat­ing sur­face

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS - BY KRISTON CAPPS kriston.capps@gmail.com Capps is an edi­tor at Ar­chi­tect mag­a­zine.

Float­ing just be­low the sur­face of the wa­ter, pho­tog­ra­pher Cha­jana denHarder ap­pears lit­tle more than a blob of pink in many of her self pho­to­graphs. In oth­ers, she cap­tures her­self as one or both of her legs kicks through the sur­face, send­ing up vi­o­lent plumes of wa­ter. She is never pic­tured tread­ing wa­ter or do­ing a back­stroke — it’s the sur­face of the wa­ter that fas­ci­nates her.

And in a cur­rent show of her work at Ana­cos­tia’s Gallery at Vivid So­lu­tions, it’s the sur­faces of her prints that are so fas­ci­nat­ing, whether she knows it or not. Pho­tos from two se­ries form a study of how noise works in dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy — both the haz­ard it rep­re­sents and the tool it can be in a smart pho­tog­ra­pher’s hands.

In “Ex­plo­sion,” an 18-by-27inch dig­i­tal print, denHarder’s fig­ure has dis­ap­peared un­der­neath the wa­ter. She ap­par­ently has just dived in. Splashes are caught as they erupt into the air, like paint thrown by Jack­son Pol­lock. The still de­pic­tion re­veals chance geome­tries, as though the splashes were as­sem­bled in Pho­to­shop.

It’s im­por­tant to note the print’s size: Given the pho­to­graph’s res­o­lu­tion, it is large, so parts ap­pear noisy. Re­ally noisy. Close up, the bet­ter lit ar­eas are a static fuzz of tiny col­or­ful dots. Noise this prom­i­nent in a dig­i­tal print is the sign of an er­ror— or a savvy de­ci­sion.

To achieve clar­ity at a large scale, denHarder is pay­ing a cost in the form of a noisy print. She’s ar­guably push­ing the print scale be­yond its tech­ni­cal limit. This would be an egre­gious er­ror if the work were not all about sur­face tex­tures. For the wa­ter se­ries, it works.

In a sec­ond se­ries, denHarder por­trays a forested set­ting into which she has spliced parts of her body. For “Hands,” she has Pho­to­shopped mul­ti­ple hands onto a tree trunk. The light­ing on the hands is not uni­form, mak­ing for a patch­work ef­fect, as if she had used scis­sors and tape to col­lage the pic­tures to­gether, in­stead of so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware.

In re­al­ity, she used photo-edit­ing soft­ware to achieve a folksy, do-it-your­self look. But the im­ages of the hands are too noisy to tol­er­ate, and the same holds true for other prints in the se­ries jux­ta­pos­ing her er­rat­i­cally placed body parts with tree trunks and limbs.

Her theme of join­ing body with na­ture has a clear fore­bear in the work of AnaMendi­eta, the multimedia artist who used na­ture to evoke her body in pho­to­graphs, land works and per­for­mances. In derHarder’s tree se­ries, the scale and noise dis­tract from this holis­tic theme.

But denHarder’s gam­bit nearly pays off in the wa­ter se­ries. For these, the de­ci­sions about sur­face — am­ple noise, a lack of fill light­ing, large scale— all re­in­force the ten­sion of a body hov­er­ing at the wa­ter’s sur­face. In “Face,” for in­stance, a streak of red un­der­neath the wa­ter is the only hint of hu­man fig­ure. How she me­di­ates that red and ex­plains it to the viewer is through a se­ries of de­ci­sions about light, noise and scale.

In fact, with these prints she could prob­a­bly af­ford to go even larger — to make the noise even more pro­nounced and the sur­face all the more ten­u­ous. The trees se­ries sug­gests that denHarder hasn’t quite thought through all these is­sues. In the wa­ter se­ries, in par­tic­u­lar, ques­tions over the print­ing de­ci­sions aren’t sec­ondary to the work — they’re the ques­tions that make or break the show.

COUR­TESY OF CHA­JANA DENHARDER

‘FACE’: Cha­jana denHarder me­di­ates red and ex­plains it to the viewer through a se­ries of de­ci­sions.

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