Sometimes life, as with art, takes an unforeseen turn down a path we would have never intentionally traveled, forcing us to see things differently. LA-based photographer Melanie Willhide seems to have experienced the phenomenon more often than one may like, but rather than be derailed, Willhide has been inspired. When a fire destroyed many of her belongings some years ago, she created the intensely fragile “Sleeping Beauties” series. Now, her latest body of work is named for the perpetrator that robbed her home. “To Adrian Rodriguez, with Love” is now showing at NYC’s Von Lintel Gallery and, after viewing the exhibition we felt compelled to learn more about the artist’s serendipitous inspiration.
As it happened, Willhide’s laptop was stolen by a burglar, but then recovered by the police. She struggled to retrieve the wiped contents—two bodies of work, family pictures and her own wedding album—but what files she could save were corrupted. Rather than lament the loss, the artist was intrigued by the fragmented photographs and learned how to replicate the “language” used to distort them. As a result, she was able to generate more using vintage photographs and other sourced material she’d collected for visual reference. She created complementary images, bringing about what Willhide calls a “mish-mashed body of work” that she feels represents what had been stolen from the machine, and even more so, the life affected by the incident.
The bizarre duplicities and mind-bending effects achieved in “To Adrian Rodriguez, with Love” mark a stylistic departure from Willhide’s earlier work, introducing a theme that is likely to continue. “Utilizing the language of the corrupted files has a lot of potential,” says Willhide. “There’s something really powerful about seeing the delicacy of the digital file.”
By revealing how she creates the optical illusion in her photographs, Willhide champions the art form of digital photography as it embraces programs like Photoshop in a non-traditional sense. “It requires me to think of Photoshop in terms of how it shouldn’t be used,” says Willhide. Shifting concern from the authenticity of an image’s subject to the image as a whole, she feels, gives photographers an “opportunity to come out against the real”—a sentiment suggesting parallels to surrealist movements across other mediums.