Galerie Christophe Gaillard is pleased to present Verbs, Hannah Whitaker’s second solo exhibition with the gallery.
Verbs marks Whitaker’s most visually complex and ambitious photographs to date. For several years she has worked by layering exposures onto 4x5 film, shot through hand-cut paper screens. Made in 2016, the work presented here takes this procedure to new extremes. Requiring thorough previsualization, a given photograph may involve up to 30 screens (or 30 exposures), multiple locations, and several weeks of labor.
In this newest body of work, Whitaker turns her focus toward the body. Making frequent use of silhouettes, she combines the human form with blocks of color or the textures of materials such as a metal grate, a paper fan, or a newspaper. The resulting mark on the film is delineated less by the object itself than by cuts and holes in the screen.
The title of the show, Verbs, picks up on Whitaker’s continued interest in ways that photographs can participate in external systems, whether numerical, musical, or digital. In referring to a part of speech, the title situates the work within a structured linguistic system. Additionally, it emphasizes the actions that the bodies shown are engaged in, positioning these figures as active beings and refuting the conventional passivity of the photographic subject.
With a longstanding interest in forms of automation, Whitaker draws from the use of punch cards in the Jacquard loom, Charles Babbage’s 19th century calculators, and IBM’s early computers. Whitaker’s process, similarly involving paper cards with sets of holes, can be thought of as inputting information onto film. In this way, a set of screens is akin to a program that can be run repeatedly with different data sets. Accordingly, the show features several pairs of photographs, such as Stride 1 and Stride 2, shot with the same screen sets, compelling different content to adhere to one overarching visual schematic.
Mechanical and digital automation not only figure largely in her procedures, but also in the formal decisions evident in the resulting works. Her use of black and white patterns, bright colors (exposures of out-of-focus colored paper), and gradients (unevenly lit sheets of paper), recall the simplicity of late 80s/early 90s computer graphic software. The repetition and emotional detachment of her subjects bring to mind the deadpan clarity of information graphics. The use of overlapping, distinct visual elements, particularly in the four Picture Window works, mimic the visual cacophony of a crowded computer screen.
Whitaker’s use of analog processes to reflect on a highly digitized contemporary visual culture presents a central tension in the work. While the photographs are carefully managed and labored over, accidental misalignments where two exposures overlap are nonetheless visible, along with the fibers of the paper screens themselves. Hard lines and an artificial palette stand in contrast to the precisely rendered glimpses of humanity that only a large format photograph can offer. These moments, like the imperfections in alignment, inevitably slip through—a barely legible newspaper, a veiny foot, or strands of unkempt hair.