Surface Features
David Tinapple and Adri Wichert @ Front Room Gallery

Life as experienced through digital technology can seem subtly estranged from what used
to be real reality, leaving our analog sensory equipment dazed, clicking like an old eight
track. In a remarkably short period of time contemporary photography, whether of the
breaking news, fine arts, or family fun variety, has become almost entirely a matter of
binary code and software. Already film is just about obsolete, but that’s the least of it; in
terms of the total information it provides, human eyesight is also out of date.

David Tinapple and Adri Wichert are photographers who explore the potential of this new
reality, proposing visions of a world understood as a complex equation of information and
interpretation. Using software he designed himself Tinapple builds full length digital
portraits of ordinary-looking people, who nevertheless look ever so slightly fake, like
effigies of themselves. They give an impression of extraordinary stillness, perhaps
because the short focal length of Tinapple’s SLR flattens his images; but also seem
texturally wrong, like a figure at Madame Tussaud’s: something between literally waxen
and just plain dead.

To produce these works Tinapple, who completed his postgraduate studies at Carnegie
Mellon University and currently teaches courses in Digital Media Art at the University of
North Carolina in Chapel Hill, built a device that raised his camera one small step at a time
to produce 100 separate images of Pittsburg engineers who posed for him. In each case
the process took sixty seconds so we can assume there’s some very slight residual motion
made by the subjects themselves; here and there the edge of a pants leg, for instance,
frays a little, breaking down into short triangular shards. But the real disconnect is visible
in the background, where objects are seen at more widely varying angles, producing a
stacked, Italian Futurist effect. That the subjects themselves are also stacked, as if sliced
in 100 pieces, is not quite visible to the naked eye but becomes an important, vaguely
morbid consideration as one views these strange images.

In another project Tinapple photographed every face that appeared on ten major
networks, from MTV to PBS, during a twenty-four hour period, then used software to
produce a composite of each. The results are unsettling. They’re blurry, since they
combine many different angles and hairstyles as well as both genders and all races, but
remarkably coherent considering that each is composed of hundreds of faces. Perhaps it
also makes sense that the finished products look much alike. Harder to explain is the fact
that, as Front Room Gallery owner Paul Sobota observed, “They all look something like
George Bush.”

The game of using multiple photographic studies to create composite portraits of certain
ethnic or alleged “class” phenotypes dates back to the late decades of the nineteenth
century when British scientist Francis Galton made a number of such studies, supporting
prejudices of the period. Around the same time his fellow countryman Edweard
Muybridge, famously one of the principal initiators of what was to become cinema, had
also experimented with multiple images, using them however to analyze motion. The long-
term effects of such early efforts are incalculable, impacting everything from Nazi fictional
medical morphology to Warhol’s various portrait series -- and even everyday life at
Youtube. Recently New York photographer Noah Kalina posted a composite, serial self-
portrait on that overwhelmingly popular site assembled from the daily pics he made of
himself from 2000-2006. It’s fascinating partly because of the occasionally quite extreme
changes in style or demeanor we see Kalina go through, and Tinapple’s movie version of
his network faces is visually exciting in a similar way. The blurry composites give way to a
galloping montage of hundreds of faces, reflecting states of mind and circumstances that
almost register as social or psychological information but are quickly swept away in the
onrush of facial features.

Recent Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Adri Wichert’s sculpture/photography focuses
on everyday life and events, and the surfaces that surround and preoccupy both the
human eye and the digitized lens of her digital camera. At last year’s BFA exhibits at the
Cleveland Institute of Art Ms. Wichert installed the group of three dimensional, close to life-
size figures now on view at Front Room. At first glance these appear to have stepped out
of a cubist painting, but in fact they were patched together from hundreds of glossy digital
prints. Her basically light-hearted subjects remembering family events have a slight edge
of drama, as in the work When My Mom Rolled My Dog’s Head Up in the Window. Here the
family car is table-top size, with Mom visible through the windshield and Adri herself yelling
from a side window. On the other side of the car the dog is seen howling in protest.

nfluenced by Korean artist Osang Gwon who has been building 3D photo sculptures since
1998, and by well-known New York performance-oriented artist Jeremy Wolff who also
owes a debt to Osang in some of his work, Ms Wichert strikes out on her own stylistically,
changing focus rapidly to create portraits of family members as if seen from several
different distances simultaneously. Her technique concentrates on textures and surfaces
that might seem incidental to her overall stories, like the greatly enlarged nap of a piece
of berber carpeting spreading out from the edges of a strangely foreshortened, distorted
couch and table, or warped game controllers. Ms. Wichert’s subjects include the nature of
memory, of our awareness of intimate details surrounding minor peaks and valleys of
everyday life and emotion. Her work also provides an account of how current technology
tends to flatten and alter the perception of every surface in our lives, potentially changing
our sensual capability, if not the nature of things themselves.

[Free Times 11/7/07]