New York

Oliver Wasow

Janet Borden, Inc.

On the photographic evidence alone, it would scarcely be illogical to infer that Oliver Wasow is the last man on earth. His expertly manipulated, uninhabited color photographs have been compared to Romantic landscape paintings for their sense of sublimity, desolation, and grandeur; but the suggestively postapocalyptic scenes they depict are less landscapes than sites—landscape neutralizes any link between history and a given location (one would never refer to Treblinka as a landscape), while site suggests a place where something definite has transpired (Hiroshima, site of the first atomic bomb exploded in warfare). And with nearly every one of Wasow’s photographs, you get the sense something happened there—that a bomb has gone off, the sky has gone out, or the earth has gone up in flames.

Wasow generally creates his photographs by subjecting fragments of other photos (both found and proprietary) to various distortive processes before stitching them together into beautiful, seamless images. The work presented in his recent show dates mostly from the mid to late ’80s—the era of Star Wars, SDI, and Stealth bombers. Accordingly, the apocalypse that figures in Wasow’s photographs is distinctly technological in nature. In what could easily be an infrared spy photo of the place where the end of the world began; you look down a dark slope to a sort of military-industrial worksite carved into a secluded terrain. A vast, spherical structure, probably some kind of tank, and an ugly, functional building dominate the site beneath a sky throttled by clouds and a sun the color of piss with blood in it. The entire image takes on this reddish haze, and it is precisely such coloration that often gives Wasow’s photographs their terrific effect: the apocalypse can’t be brown or green, it can only be the colors of fire. It is this sensibility that gives another work its sense of portentousness: in the foreground of the picture stands a lone tree, glowing red as though catching the light cast by an explosion, while in the background numerous rows of what appear to be houses remain slate blue, as if the conflagration simply hadn’t yet reached them.

Another photograph in good Book of Revelations style depicts orbs of light glowing in the sky. They look suspiciously like flying saucers. On a formal level, the vertical picture plane of the photograph is divided in two by dark, wispy clouds, while yellow bands of light give way to ever more intense shades of blue toward the top and bottom of the image. Two oval UFOs inhabit the sky at the top of the image, and another the sky at the bottom, thus forming a neat triangle. Though the work could easily be an elegant experiment in abstract design, its impact derives precisely from its technical perfection. It’s no more credible than the standard UFO picture (grainy, blurry, uncomposed, as if it had been taken by a blind person in a fast-moving automobile), though with its glossy surface, incandescent colors, and clever composition, perhaps it at least makes the end days a bit more toothsome.

Keith Seward