James Welling: Diary/Landscape

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.


Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Artists: James Welling

Contributors: Matthew S. Witkovsky

Printer: Meridian Printing

Publication Date: 2014

Binding: Hardcover

Dimensions: 9 x 11 in (22.9 x 27.9 cm)

Pages: 160

Reproductions: 126 halftones

ISBN: 9780226204123

Retail: $45 US & Canada | £30 | €42

Status: Available

James Welling

James Welling has been questioning the norms of representation since the 1970s. His work centers on an exploration of photography, shuffling the elemental components of the medium to produce a distinctly uncompromising body of work. Welling is also intensely interested in cultural and personal ideas of memory in his work. In opening up the medium of photography for experimentation, James Welling’s practice has influenced an entire generation of artists and photographers.

All James Welling books

Matthew S. Witkovsky

Matthew S. Witkovsky is Sandor Chair and Curator of the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied art history at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his PhD in 2002. He is the author of Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph andLewis Baltz Prototypes, with further essays in Etudes Photographiques, Art Bulletin, October, and other journals, as well as numerous exhibition catalogs. He is the recipient of the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award, the Vienna Art Book Award, and the Jan Masaryk Medal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.