Chris McCaw Statement

Artist Statement
In 2003 an all night exposure of the stars made during a camping trip was lost due to the effects of whiskey. Unable to wake up to close the shutter before sunrise, all the information of the night’s exposure was destroyed. The intense light of the rising sun was so focused and powerful that it physically changed the film, creating a new way for me to think about photography.

In this process the sun burns its path onto the light sensitive negative. After hours of exposure, the sky, as a result of the extremely intense light exposure, reacts in an effect called solarization- a reversal of tonality. The resulting negative literally has a burnt hole in it with the landscape in complete reversal. The subject of the photograph (the sun) has transcended the idea that a photograph is simple a representation of reality, and has physically come through the lens and put it’s hand onto the final product. The process involvers creating and destroying at the same time.

In the beginning, after that first experience in 2003, I began experimenting with burning film and printing the resulting burnt negative in the platinum palladium process. The results were very interesting yet very confusing. The film negative has solarized into a positive and I then printed that into a final print with a negative image, and a generation loss of the burn.

After struggling for a few years and thinking about this new way of working with time and exposure, I wanted to see what else could be done with different media. Through trial and error, in late 2006 I chose to use vintage fiber based gelatin silver black & white photographic paper. By putting the paper in my film holder, in place of film, I create a one of a kind paper negative. Being the first generation, the evidence of the scorching is right there front and center and the solarized image becomes a positive. The gelatin in the paper gets cooked and leaves wonderful colors of orange and red, with ash that ranges from a glossy black to an iridescent metallic surface. Not only is the resulting image a representation of the subject photographed, but part of the subject (the sun) has become an active participant in the printmaking.

With every year I have further advanced this method. Learning about military aerial reconnaissance camera optics and pretty much the entire history of gelatin silver enlarging papers since the late 1960’s, I now have bettered the means to execute the ideas in my head. Currently I am working out ideas ranging from large 30”x40” images, mosaics of paper, solar locomotion(ala Muybridge), and all the way to visual representation of morse code-seriously writing with light. This project has got my mind working overtime and has rejuvenated my faith in analog photography. My favorite part is watching smoke come out of the camera during the exposure! Thank you for looking.

Chris McCaw
San Francisco, CA

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