Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP #428 (Sunset, Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska), 2010
Unique gelatin silver paper negatives
On view at Portland Art Museum (Dusk through Dawn), Dec. 21 – Mar. 16, 2014
Sunburned GSP #428 (Sunset, Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska) is a beautiful and shocking triptych of photographs, at once meditative and violent. Part of McCaw’s Sunburn series these photos are actually unique images made by directly exposing photographic paper. McCaw explains that by placing “the paper in my film holder, in place of film, I create a one of a kind paper negative.” With a long exposure time, the sun has burned an arc across the three photos. For me most unsettling and interesting is the contrast between the peaceful seeming, atmospheric landscape and the burn that cuts through it. McCaw is keenly interested in the history of photography and I suspect he’s aiming to call our attention to the relationship between beauty and what might be seen as the violence of photography which fixes time and turns moving light into static images. But it also strikes me that there’s a real playfulness (both intellectual and physical) to these photos. After all, McCaw admits: “My favorite part is watching smoke come out of the camera during the exposure and the faint smell of roasted marshmallows as the gelatin cooks!