Mariah Robertson’s Fantastical Abstractions Flip Photography on Its Head

Mariah Robertson’s Fantastical Abstractions Flip Photography on Its Head


When the contemporary artist Mariah Robertson first started playing around in her darkroom with light-sensitive paper, hand-applying chemicals and trying out different exposure techniques, a whole new world opened up. Colors bled and burst. Streaks and specks were features, not bugs. All the carefully laid out rules of traditional photography now felt mutable. “I thought, This is totally insane,” she says. “I had no idea this was possible.”

In the 15 or so years since those first happy accidents, Robertson has honed her practice of camera-less photography, creating ferocious photograms with explosions of pigment that slingshot you to another dimension. Thirteen such transportive works go on view today at Van Doren Waxter in New York. The featured photograms in “Everything counts & local reality,” all made this year using a type of photographic paper called RA4, conjure distant galaxies.

Mariah Robertson. 2016, 191, 2023. Photochemical treatment on RA4 paper.Photo: Charles Benton

To make her large-scale experimental pieces, Robertson has to cede much to chance. “A lot of photography is holding on to things,” she says. Her process is the opposite: she has to let go of control. It’s a concept she thought about a lot while making the new pieces for this show.

Many of the works are spliced together from cut rolls of paper, with their jagged, curling edges exposed. These are part of Robertson’s ongoing Lost Puzzle series. In 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371—Robertson’s titles nod to her image-sequencing process—the glossy blues and greens erupt like algae bloom. The luxurious 481, 482, 483, 484, 485, 486 reminds me of melted, molten candy.