Comments/Context: John Pfahl has spent the better part of his photographic life exploring the edges of the landscape genre, applying intellectual and conceptual overlays to the sheer beauty of nature. In his newest body of work, he uses digital distortion to investigate the swirling patterns found naturally in rock formations, lava flows, and lake beds, turning these stratifications and geological wonders into gestural, rhythmic abstractions.
Pfahl's manipulations feel both painterly and mathematical, where the plane of the image is alternately twisted, elongated, bent, and shaken, creating pulsating angles and curves that undulate and repeat across the surface. The natural colors get squished together in layers, creating a marbling effect (reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's squeegeed colors in his overpainted photographs) as the colors are forced to morph and mix. The best of the images become chaotic, slashing, all-over refractions, nearly unrecognizable as something specific. I particularly enjoyed the sandy scratchiness of Roadcut, California, the dense heartbeat patterning of Zion Canyon, Utah, and the unbalanced, lyrical back and forth of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone, Wyoming.
The challenge with this kind of project is that there is a fine line between innovative conceptual thinking and overly-clever Photoshop trickiness. The most successful images in this show stay away from obvious visual gimmicks and transform the landscape into something both rooted in reality and altogether foreign. Using the land as the basis for energetic, expressionistic abstraction isn't perhaps a wholly new idea, but Pfahl's digital manipulations offer a contemporary twist on the concept of imposing our own sense of beauty on the already breathtaking natural world.
Through October 15th