ART Review

Prints offer fascinating surface

'FACE': Chajana denHarder mediates red and explains it to the viewer through a series of decisions.
'FACE': Chajana denHarder mediates red and explains it to the viewer through a series of decisions. (Courtesy Of Chajana Denharder)
By Kriston Capps
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Floating just below the surface of the water, photographer Chajana denHarder appears little more than a blob of pink in many of her self photographs. In others, she captures herself as one or both of her legs kicks through the surface, sending up violent plumes of water. She is never pictured treading water or doing a backstroke - it's the surface of the water that fascinates her.

And in a current show of her work at Anacostia's Gallery at Vivid Solutions, it's the surfaces of her prints that are so fascinating, whether she knows it or not. Photos from two series form a study of how noise works in digital photography - both the hazard it represents and the tool it can be in a smart photographer's hands.

In "Explosion," an 18-by-27-inch digital print, denHarder's figure has disappeared underneath the water. She apparently has just dived in. Splashes are caught as they erupt into the air, like paint thrown by Jackson Pollock. The still depiction reveals chance geometries, as though the splashes were assembled in Photoshop.

It's important to note the print's size: Given the photograph's resolution, it is large, so parts appear noisy. Really noisy. Close up, the better lit areas are a static fuzz of tiny colorful dots. Noise this prominent in a digital print is the sign of an error - or a savvy decision.

To achieve clarity at a large scale, denHarder is paying a cost in the form of a noisy print. She's arguably pushing the print scale beyond its technical limit. This would be an egregious error if the work were not all about surface textures. For the water series, it works.

In a second series, denHarder portrays a forested setting into which she has spliced parts of her body. For "Hands," she has Photoshopped multiple hands onto a tree trunk. The lighting on the hands is not uniform, making for a patchwork effect, as if she had used scissors and tape to collage the pictures together, instead of sophisticated software.

In reality, she used photo-editing software to achieve a folksy, do-it-yourself look. But the images of the hands are too noisy to tolerate, and the same holds true for other prints in the series juxtaposing her erratically placed body parts with tree trunks and limbs.

Her theme of joining body with nature has a clear forebear in the work of Ana Mendieta, the multimedia artist who used nature to evoke her body in photographs, land works and performances. In derHarder's tree series, the scale and noise distract from this holistic theme.

But denHarder's gambit nearly pays off in the water series. For these, the decisions about surface - ample noise, a lack of fill lighting, large scale - all reinforce the tension of a body hovering at the water's surface. In "Face," for instance, a streak of red underneath the water is the only hint of human figure. How she mediates that red and explains it to the viewer is through a series of decisions about light, noise and scale.

In fact, with these prints she could probably afford to go even larger - to make the noise even more pronounced and the surface all the more tenuous. The trees series suggests that denHarder hasn't quite thought through all these issues. In the water series, in particular, questions over the printing decisions aren't secondary to the work - they're the questions that make or break the show.

Capps is an editor at Architect magazine.

A Space for the Transitory by Chajana denHarder at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, 2208 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, through Feb. 18, noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. 202-758-0339 or

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