Saturday, June 30, 2007

More art & accident and black suns

Speaking of "black suns" and "art and accident" in the last post, I wanted to share the work of Chris McCaw of San Francisco. I saw his work at Photolucida and have been coveting it ever since (don't be surprised if it shows up in a PRC show in the future). As Chris explains on his website, his Sunburn photographs are his "new experiments in starting fires in my camera." Not only are these aesthetically and conceptually gorgeous, but Chris is a very nice person to boot (always a good thing for a curator!). Before packing a picnic to go hear a live taping of Prairie Home Companion on the lawn at Tanglewood, I share with you a few images and part of his artist statement:

This new project initially began completely by accident. 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 intense 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 film base. The sky as a result of the intense light exposure reacts in an effect called solarization. The resulting negative literally has a burnt hole in it with the subject in complete reversal. ... After experimenting with burning film and working with this minimalist aesthetic, I wanted to see what else could be done with different media. I chose to use fiberbased 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. Each negative due to varying sky conditions and length of exposure is scorched by the sun to differing degrees, sometimes burning completely through the paper base. I used both an 8”x10” view camera and a home made 16”x20” camera to create the paper negatives.

Not only is the resulting image a representation of the subject photographed, but part of the subject (the sun) is an active participant in the printmaking. This is just the beginning of this new body of work. I plan to continue to investigate the possibilities of this method of printmaking. My favorite part is watching smoke come out of the camera during the exposure. Thank you for looking.

All images from

1 comment:

LKB said...

When I was at RIT we studied the black sun effect as a good demonstration of solarization. Generally, a D Log E curve is “S” shaped and reaches a limit as it shoulders off at D-Max.

Extreme overexposure can lead to reversal of the tones and therefore the curve densities (shown below), so that you can have regularly-exposed negative images on the film at the same time that you have reversal images, hence the normally-appearing landscape together with the black sun. The extra exposure of the sun resulted in reduced density in the negative and hence a black sun. In effect, the gross additional exposure destroys latent image sites that are already there and reduces the negative density. This effect is correctly known as Solarization; the Sabatier effect causes tone reversal when the emulsion is exposed to light during development – another fun thing to experiment with! The solarized curve appears below.

Kodak made a reversal film – I forgot which one – that was made by exposing the film to light during manufacture so that any additional exposure would, in effect, reduce exposure and yield a positive image. It’s a really neat occurrence when a thorough knowledge of a scientific principle can result in a practical application! In this case, the first half of the curve was already made in manufacture so that the customer used only the second (downward slope) of the curve.

The Black Sun…, also appears in Ansel Adams, Examples, the making of 40 photographs, on page 124. Here, he has a very complete explanation of how he made the photograph and processed it accordingly to reveal the effect, and how he did it intentionally and previsualized it!

I too, have encouraged my students in their print reviews (I hate the term “critique” because that presupposes that you somehow have intentionally made a grievous error and that I, with my greater knowledge and sensibilities, am about to point out to you!) to create a “body” of work to channel their thinking and be able to have some coherent images to use for a gallery showing. This idea, perforce seems to exclude the single individual or experimental image as one that is out of place, unfortunately – unless the body of work is all about individual images. Read, Edgerton. Although, even with Edgerton’s work there is a common scientific thread of making technical images explain various phenomena and making them “look good” in the process.

You wonder if people would consider the inclusion of deviant or aberrant images as evidence of sloppy curatorial work. This could happen unless, of course, the showing was a retrospective one that included a sampling of an artist’s entire body of work. Which leads us to the question of whether or not a gallery showing should include a great variety (sampling) of a person’s work even if it is not a retrospective, i.e.: “Here is what I am interested in and what I can do.” I am sure that some reviewers would say that the show lacked clarity of purpose and appeared to be a mishmash of photographs seemingly thrown together. I agree with your thoughts that it is possible that we will miss some really good photographs that simply don’t “fit” and that we may have to wait a long time to discover images that would have been important to see shortly after they were taken. And, why do images have to “fit?” Is this merely a construct that we have imposed on them as you suggest? Hmmmm.

On another note, Chris McCaw’s work reminds me of a small movement some thirty years ago in which photographers would intentionally burn their transparencies with a Zippo lighter so that the emulsion “boiled” and created otherworldly images that they then would print. (I think that it had to be a Zippo lighter!) It is also reminiscent of some of the images printed from very poorly-stored negatives that were stored in very damp conditions. The emulsion actually slid down the film and produced Daliesque images. Of course, this is now easily done with Photoshop!

Just a few thoughts that you got me to thinking,