When photographer Melanie Willhide’s home was burglarized in the spring of 2010, the artist assumed that many years’ worth of her work, stored on her computer, was lost for good. Police did eventually apprehend the burglar, but not before he had wiped the computer’s hard drive clean. Recovery attempts yielded only corrupt files: images with digital interference in the form of odd colorations, stuttered imagery and pixel-thin lines banding the surface. But rather than scrap the files, Willhide decided to build on them, using the degradation as a visual vocabulary. The resulting body of work, whose formal strength hinges on its violation of pictorial cohesion, is dedicated to the intruder: Willhide titled it, both sincerely and facetiously, “to Adrian Rodriguez, with love.”
Although some of the inkjet prints (all 2011) in this striking show-the artist’s first at Von Lintel-do not incorporate the corrupted files, all evince the same type of visual manipulation. In the black-and-white Name Our Children (30 by 28 inches), for example, two unclothed women are pictured upside down and cut off at the waist, with repeated sections of their breasts, now upright, extending vertically to the top of the frame. A translucent gray rectangle covers the majority of the image, but the women’s feet, right-side up and misaligned with their calves, poke out from the bottom of the rectangle. The stoplight-red T and V, Mesa Elks, 2008, similarly distorts two ’50s-era women. Below their heads and shoulders, bare clavicles are stretched into long stacks that make the figures look like human Pez dispensers. In Untitled (the Jack Benny House #2), eye-popping hues of fuchsia, red and blue streak across a swimming pool in which a man’s torso emerges from the water at the top of the composition; two disembodied legs dangle weightlessly at the center.
Willhide’s imagery comes from found vintage snapshots and from her own photo shoots. All of it seems to focus on the frozen or suspended moment, with the digital manipulation often adding a fleeting quality, like the ominous flickering of a television screen before a storm knocks the power out. Other times, the manipulation recalls painting techniques, as in the brushy discoloration that pulses across the little boy in Nate, or the Malevich-like off-white squares that frame the repeated image of a mouth in Larry’s Lips.
Willhide is one of many Photoshop-savvy photographers who currently treat the medium as quintessentially malleable. But she also nods to a wide range of precedents-the appropriation strategies of the Pictures Generation, Fluxus’s indeterminacy, the disrupted realism of Dada photomontage, even the Pictorialists’ painterliness. This gives her work a familiar feel yet doesn’t eclipse its strangeness. Indeed, viewing the images is something like coming home to a burglarized house, with the weirdly slow recognition that things aren’t as you left them. That Willhide responds to such an invasion by embracing its consequences makes her work all the more odd and lovely.
Photo: Melanie Willhide: T and V, Mesa Elks, 2008, 2011, inkjet print, 30 by 28 inches; at Von Lintel.