A pioneer of merging analog and digital photographic practices, Melanie Willhide has challenged conventional notions of photography for over fifteen years and broadened the very definition of the medium. Willhide’s new series, Elegy of the Garden, continues her life-project of photographic innovation while taking on her current subject—the environmental crisis—with an immediacy and emotional intensity that evokes witnessing a powerful storm and what it leaves. In Willhide’s work, what is left behind is always beautiful, even if only a memory.
Willhide’s evolving and expansive process eschews “the decisive moment” to represent a broader feeling of time. She employs any tool her work demands. The flowers in this work—some real, some artificial—are captured with either a camera or scanner in such a way they exist as phenomena, dynamic as a hurricane or wildfire. Time does not stand still, and Willhide privileges texture and depth over realism. Plastic stems with nylon petals can be indistinguishable from flowers picked from the artist’s own garden, and the recognizable form morphs into pixelated abstraction. Willhide intertwines the natural world with the artificial, and we are moved to find where beauty survives in an era overcome by wind, water, and fire.
Willhide’s concern with eco-grief reaches beyond her own art practice and recent landscape designs; she recognizes the environmental crisis as perhaps the gravest calamity in human history. Many of her flowers seem to be floating away or drowning in water that possesses a supernatural force, as seas continue to rise, drought and subsequent famine persist, and mega storms destroy communities and contaminate drinking water. Left behind is loss and the fear of further loss: a dream of untouchable color moving in unfathomable darkness.
Willhide received her MFA from Yale University and has participated in solo and group exhibitions nationwide and internationally. Her work is included in permanent collections such as the Getty Museum, the George Eastman Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, LACMA, the Yale Davenport Collection, and the Milwaukee Museum of Art.