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From the Flat Files: Flowers from Jo Whaley and James Pitts

photo-eye Gallery From the Flat-Files: Flowers from Jo Whaley and James Pitts Delaney Hoffman
photo-eye Gallery Assistant Delaney Hoffman compares and contrasts works of Jo Whaley and James Pitts

Details from James Ware Pitts' Flower portfolio (2021) and Jo Whaley's Eucalyptus (2012)

Hello one and all! My name is Delaney Hoffman, I’m the Gallery Assistant here at photo-eye and had the pleasure of choosing some work from our flat files to talk about this week. I have always loved photography because it is a medium that lends itself to construction of allegorical meaning in the most slippery way. One can make millions of images over a lifetime that relate not only to the individual photographer’s experience, but also to all of the other images that they have seen and digested. A single symbol can mean one thing for a long time or various things over a varied period of time, but the task of symbolic interpretation ultimately falls upon the viewer.

When thinking about symbolic interpretation and representation, I found myself stricken by the very, very small portfolio in the flat file of James Pitts that is simply entitled Flowers. Only 2 x 1.5” large, the portfolio is full to the brim with 55 tiny, beautifully made pigment prints of Pitts’ floral still lifes. Some of these can be seen below:

A selection of images from Flowers, 55 archival pigment prints in handmade box, 2" x 1.5," edition of 18, $250

Unboxing the flower portfolio feels like nothing short of a miracle; there is beauty in endless supply. Independent of how beautiful the images themselves are, their size demands intimate interaction. These pictures command attention through closeness. It is impossible not to be hyperconscious of your own body while going through this work; feeling the roughness of your fingers rock nimbly around the tiny archival pigment prints that maintain the tonal quality of their large format platinum palladium predecessors. 

James Pitts, Bottle with Sharon's Seeds, 1998, platinum palladium print, 8"x10," edition of 25, $2000

The attention this work draws to the viewer’s body strikes me, a young woman author, as coming from a masculine position, regardless of the gender of the artist. If the flower has been so often substituted or used interchangeably with the female form throughout art history, then Pitts’ portfolio is effectively a preservation box. The flower is a collectible beauty that is rendered permanent and static by the photograph — an idea that seems in opposition to the floral representations in Jo Whaley’s Botanical Studies.

The image from Botanical Studies that I feel intensely drawn to is Eucalyptus (2012):

Jo Whaley, Eucalyptus, 2021, archival pigment print, 24" x 19," edition of 25, $2000

Jo Whaley renders her single eucalyptus branch with a similar precision to James Pitts’ flowers, though she seems to be driven by an ulterior motive. The presence of a pooling pink liquid tells us that some sort of extraction has taken place or is in progress; this flowering body is not static but is transitioning into something else. Whaley’s attachment to lighting manifests here with an almost sterile quality being imparted onto the subject by its cool tones and overall sharpness, but the balance that she communicates through the single wire knot at the top of the frame, and through the tangible fragility of her mysterious glass instrument, makes this image curious, uncanny and even humorous.

Whaley’s botanicals are in transition; a state that stands in opposition to the stasis that Pitts situates his own florals. A man watches a woman’s body, the woman lives in the body, and there is a fundamental difference between these two positions. The co-existence of these two works as images (or collections of images) in the same gallery, despite the way that they’re culturally opposed from an analytic perspective, is my favorite part about working in the arts. There are so many objects that give us fodder to think about — whether we agree with them, don’t, or aren’t sure — and in that ambiguity there is always some sort of beauty to marvel at.

A selection of images from Flowers with the author's hand for scale.
Flowers is 55 archival pigment prints in handmade box, 2" x 1.5," edition of 18, $250

Contact us to purchase prints by Jo Whaley or James Pitts.

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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Delaney Hoffman, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202