Melanie Schiff’s photos seem to dwell productively in the indeterminate space between snapshots and formally staged compositions. Without fuss, her pictures may make allusions to the traditions of landscape or portrait photography, but they don’t depend on them. In untitled (prism) (2005), a diagonal shaft of light strikes an empty plastic CD case and is refracted into a prism; other photos from around this time feature light interacting with Heineken and Jack Daniels bottles. The props in the pictures are ordinary, the stuff, presumably, of her life, but here Schiff has caught them in a state of flux, as light goes to work on them. From informal elements, from an informal moment, a formal composition is developed.
During her stay in Marfa Schiff experimented, working indoors and out. She used the Locker Plant to stage various stark tableaux, usually featuring a few simple props: pieces of pink foam set against a partially painted window; a poster of a football helmet stood on a bench against a white wall; a plastic bottle and a taut piece of string isolated in a refracted patch of sunlight. The empty amplitude of the Marfa landscape perhaps informs and is reconfigured in these photos. Schiff took pictures elsewhere as well, including the cemetery in Shafter, where the addition of a few stick-on letters to a bulletin board (“FAMOUS ARTISTS,” it read) created a sly West Texas vanitas.
Melanie Schiff received a BFA from New York University (1999) and a MFA from the University of Illinois Chicago (2002). Solo exhibitions of her work have been mounted by the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (2010); Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago (2006 and 2009); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007); and Horton & Co, New York (2009). Her work has been featured in a number of group exhibitions, including the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll since 1967, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008); Kurt, Seattle Art Museum (2010); and Photographic, a two-person exhibition featuring Schiff and Anne Collier at the Salina Art Center in Kansas (2010). A video by Schiff, Perfect Square, was included in the exhibition Between Spaces at PS1 in New York (2009–10). She currently lives in Los Angeles.