Photography in focus at the Art Fair

By Sam L. Marcelo
Associate Editor

White Squash Duo #1
White Squash Duo #1

AS THE golden hour approaches, sunlight enters through the large glass windows of Denise Weldon’s airy living room in Urdaneta Village. Abstract shapes made by light and shadow caper on the ceiling and slink onto walls occupied by sprays of flowers and atmospheric canvases by Betsy Westendorp, translucent photograms from Neal Oshima’s Saya Series, textured black-and-white paintings by Gus Albor, and frenetic pops of green and yellow by Keith Haring. Silhouettes made by the surrounding foliage gambol down to the white couch, and flit to the floor. Ms. Weldon, a photographer who does both commercial and fine art photography, is enamored of this afternoon dance.
“I like to pay attention to just the mundane things. I’ve always said that there is beauty in that which is alive,” said Ms. Weldon, who, along with Tom Epperson, is showing a collection of still life photographs titled Works at this year’s edition of Art Fair Philippines.
With an amateur botanist’s curiosity, Ms. Weldon captures banana blossoms (puso ng saging), Mexican turnips, luffa gourds (patola), lemons, and white squash in the manner of bodegónes and 16th-century kitchen art. Foraged throughout her travels, these horticultural specimens were photographed at different stages of growth and decay in little makeshift studios at home and abroad: a tea cabinet in her dining room bathed in the glow of a setting sun; a corner in her sister’s garage in Massachusetts lit by the headlights of a car on a cold fall night; or a kitchen table in Iceland illuminated by window light. “Every space can become a studio,” she said.
Among the finished photographs, ranging in size from a sheet of typing paper to a large poster, one also finds Ms. Weldon retreading familiar ground. There are tight shots of wrinkled, slept-in sheets similar to the work she shared in a group show at Finale Art File in 2018, only this time rendered in color — a haze of blue resembling sea and sky.
Repetition is not a symptom of a lack of imagination or inspiration for Ms. Weldon. Rather, it is granting oneself the luxury of pausing and recognizing that which draws you. “If you’ve seen something that’s caught your eye, stay with it,” she said. “Stay there for a bit more, dig a little bit more. Go around and be invited inside to see where else it might take you.”

Lemon Iceland
Lemon Iceland

This meditative pause informs Ms. Weldon’s fine art photography, which moves several stops slower than her client-driven projects. “It’s an aspect of honoring nature and paying attention to its existence. It may seem so trite but I think it’s even more important now that we’re all moving so fast,” she said. “We’re given gifts and tools to pay attention. The sun rises every day, the sun sets every day. The moon comes up, the moon sets. Those are natural rhythms — and we’re not in sync anymore with that.”
Her unhurried approach to looking runs almost counter to the Instagram-happy world of the fair, where visitors armed with mobile phones scramble for selfies and move on with nary a thought to the artwork they have demoted to mise-en-scène, mere background (it is fair to say that a few people are there because they want to be seen rather than to see).
Still, the hope is that someone will stop long enough to realize one of several things, among them that photography can be art; that it can be collected; and that it can share space with paintings, sculptures, and other media.
Works, after all, is part of Art Fair Philippines’ endeavor to expand public appreciation for photography. Ms. Weldon and Mr. Epperson are featured in ArtFairPh/Photo, a section unveiled in 2018 designed to “shine the spotlight on photography as contemporary art.”
A first-time exhibitor at the fair who is familiar with the event’s sprint-like pace, Ms. Weldon said: “I am a meditator and life-long learner, curious about many things, but most curious about our humanity and our spirituality. This aspect of learning requires study that is not necessarily in the confines of a classroom but rather in life itself… This experience in itself is like being in a studio, moving within it and steeping in that space that comes from that awareness, that mindfulness, that state of being the witness.”
(Works by Denise Weldon and Tom Epperson is located at Booth 4, Level 5, of Art Fair Philippines, which runs at The Link, Ayala Center, from Feb. 22–24.)