JAMES WELLINGIn his catalog text for the 1998 exhibition in Lucerne, Ulrich Look rightly pointed out that in the work of James Welling, the medium itself is focused, as it were. This self-reflexivity, which is reflected above all in the selection of “motifs”, seems to be virtually immanent in the process of imaging. Since 1981, for example, it has been the draperies - interpretable as iconographic props in the old masters, but also as finely woven visual references to the grain and graininess of traditional photography. “According to its deeper structure, the photographic universe is granular, changing appearance and color as a mosaic would change, its individual pebbles constantly being replaced by new ones”, according to Vilém Flusser; the point is ultimately “dass die atomistische, punktartige Struktur allem Apparatischen überhaupt eignet.” In other words, it is the technique that is arguably questioned as such in Welling's work.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER AS MEDIUM
(EIKON 45 2004)
Subsequently, the historical circumstances could also be addressed. According to Look's remarks, a series of photographs taken in the early 1990s, which was dedicated to railroad trains and railroad architecture, could establish a connection between the conquest of the New Continent (railroads) and the conquest of pictorial space (photography) around the middle of the 19th century. However, the rails, shot in perspective and gliding into the distance, also made one think of conventional railroad photography.
In general, the Los Angeles-based photographer and painter allows a certain freedom of interpretation. One might think that this freedom is already presupposed by the act of photographing. Although the exposure process in Welling's photograms is not left to arbitrariness, the intention to make the respective image appear as the work of an invisible person is nevertheless clear. Whereas the pioneers and protagonists of abstract painting had very definite intentions with regard to the recipient, the series created since 1998 with the symptomatic title New Abstractions announces a new approach to the non-representational: Namely, it is the viewer who determines the semantic levels of the image. On the one hand, these silver gelatin prints, in which the exposed paper strips function as instruments of image construction, bring to mind the leitmotif of Welling's Light sources - an extremely versatile series in the formal sense, with which the artist had been preoccupied since 1992; on the other hand, however, an associative back and forth between the tectonic of a steel construction and the deconstruction of any visual code is allowed to take place. “I was looking for something that I could not immediately decipher”, the photographer said, probably also with regard to the apparent “new seeing” in the sense of a Moholy-Nagy, since in these works the illusion of steel benches photographed against the light very soon becomes mere light writing or vice versa, depending on the shifting of the stripes. It would be appropriate to ask whether it is precisely this preoccupation with light writing (which is, after all, the actual meaning of the word photography) that constitutes the artist's self-reflexive strategy.
Also in the Degradés one finds the transcription of the light. This series of color and black-and-white photographs, which the artist has repeatedly expanded since 1986, was created without the camera. The partial influence of the exposure of photographic paper in the darkroom, that is, a sympathetic, conscious tuning of horizontal contrasting surfaces, suggests that the Degradés are reminiscent of the sublime in the painting of the fifties. On the other hand, such “windows”, in which the choice of framing by no means plays a secondary role, once again call attention to the fundamental demand on the viewer to take further steps in his heuristic reception.
Only partly following Welling's architectural photographs from the 1980s, the geographical ambience in which the artist works has recently become the subject of a special kind of investigation. Under the prosaic titles Los Angeles Photographs and Californian Landscapes, photo series have been in the making since 2003 whose function can also be described as an ethical one. If one considers the daily flood of images that seems to serve its consumers prefabricated opinions about various facts, that is, the inflation of pictorial material that prevents a true examination of visual content, one might think that with these unspectacular views Flusser's call to “counter this flood of redundancy with informative images” is being perceived. Admittedly, Welling's pictures are more than merely informative: here a certain uneasiness is evoked in the habitual handling of pictorial things, an uneasiness that has not least to do with the fact that the “trivialities” depicted, such as gas meters or walls in the backyards, seem not to have been created under any “artistic” interventions. It should not be ignored, however, that the partly ironic titles evoke a certain “solidarity of things” in a big city viewed with clichés; after all, some of the works have titles that apply to the half-hidden details - think, for example, of the Green Umbrella peeking out from behind a wall, or even of the house, Culver City, also located behind a wall thrown together from cheap material. It remains to be seen whether such questioning of the role of the photographer in society will also take on other facets.
 Vgl. Ulrich Look, Photographie und Undarstellbarkeit - James Welling. in: James Welling. Kunstmuseum Luzern 7.2. - 22.3.1998 [Ausstellungskatalog], Luzern 1998, S. 4-13
 Vilém Flusser, Für eine Philosophie der Photographie, Göttingen 1999, S. 60
 Ebenda, S. 60f.
 Tit. In Look (vgl. Anm. 1) S. 4
 Flusser (vgl. Anm. 2) S. 59