Chris McCaw
February 17 - March 27, 2010
Opening reception: Thursday, March 4, 2010, 5:30-7:30 PM
Exhibition review: Mary Louise Schumacher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Exhibition Page

Stephen Wirtz Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new work from Chris McCaw’s Sunburned, an ongoing series the artist began in 2006.  Exhibited are 13 unique silver gelatin paper negatives of the sun over the Western landscape, ranging in size from 4 x 5 inches up to to 30 x 40 inches, each created through an original, in-camera process of McCaw’s own invention.

McCaw investigates the primal side of photography by using its most basic components—a lens, time and light—producing one-of-a-kind prints in which the sun itself burns its mark on the paper.  The inspiration for this work was born of an accident of chance: While attempting to photograph the night sky, McCaw fell asleep and woke up too late to end the exposure, discovering that the rising sun had produced a violent change in his negative.  Through obsessive experimentation, McCaw has learned to control this change to create unique, first-generation images that engage the sun itself as a direct, collaborative partner in the photographic process. As part of his process, he creates hand-built view cameras of varying sizes, designed to accommodate vintage gelatin silver black-and-white enlarging paper in place of film, with special military-reconnaissance optics to enhance the intense light exposure.

While physical desecration of the photographic print might be considered an affront in traditional photography, it is key to both McCaw’s process and his vision. The sun draws its mark on the surface of the paper, and the intense light exposure naturally solarizes the paper—negative becomes positive through extreme over-exposure, and each piece is a uniquely reversed paper negative.  What remains is breathtaking evidence of the passage of time, rendered with a destructive mark as the exposure process scorches, scars, and stains the paper.  The pictures have a sculptural quality that can be seen as metaphorically suggestive of physical scars, or scars in the environment, born of the sun’s power to both sustain and destroy.

McCaw’s images are captured over varying lengths of time, some over the course of an entire day, displaying a full arc from sunrise to sunset.  The spring equinox, summer solstice, and winter solstice all afford unique opportunities to record specific angles of the sun to particularly dramatic effect.  Occasionally, McCaw stops the exposure intermittently to record brief moments of the sun in the sky, producing burned holes that suggest a surrealistic tableau of multiple suns over ocean and desert landscapes. In other works, the sunburn is almost purely abstract, appearing as purely reduced as a slit canvas by Fontana.

While clearly connected to photography’s earliest processes and practitioners, McCaw’s work exists firmly in a contemporary, if not futuristic realm.  In this ongoing exploration, he continues to discover the myriad poetic possibilities available through his deceptively simple engagement with the sun as a mark-making tool.

Chris McCaw was born 1971 Daly City, CA, and lives and works in San Francisco.  In 1995 he received his BFA in photography from the Academy of Art in San Francisco.  McCaw’s work is currently included in several exhibitions Surface Tension: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; State of Mind, A California Invitational at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA; An Autobiography of the San Francisco Bay Area Part 2: The Future Lasts Forever, SF Camerawork, San Francisco; and in a re-display of the photography collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  McCaw’s work is included in several museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Princeton University Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.