Text by Matthew S. Witkovsky
For more than thirty-five years, James Welling has explored the material and conceptual possibilities of photography. Diary/Landscape—the first mature body of work by this important contemporary artist—set the framework for his subsequent investigations of abstraction and his fascination with nineteenth- and twentieth-century New England.
In July 1977, Welling began photographing a two-volume travel diary kept by his great-grandmother Elizabeth C. Dixon, as well as landscapes in southern Connecticut. In one closely cropped image, lines of tight cursive share the page with a single ivy leaf preserved in the diary. In another snowy image, a stand of leafless trees occludes the gleaming Long Island sound. In subject and form, Welling emulated the great American modernists Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Walker Evans—a bold move for an artist associated with radical postmodernism. At the same time, Welling’s close-ups of handwriting push to the fore the postmodernist themes of copying and reproduction.
A beautiful and moving meditation on family, history, memory, and place, Diary/Landscape reintroduced history and private emotion as subjects in high art, while also helping to usher in the centrality of photography and theoretical questions about originality that mark the epochal Pictures Generation. The book is published to accompany the first-ever complete exhibition of this series of pivotal photographs, now owned by the Art Institute of Chicago.