Chris McCaw

United States 1971


Chris McCaw
Chris McCaw
United States
April 12, 2015

Chris McCaw is an American photographer known for his stark, incandescent, and otherworldly large-format photographs that seem to exist out of time. By using the most basic elements of photography – light and time, he creates remarkable and unique images of landscapes and seascapes across the world. Chris McCaw was born in 1971 in Daly City, California. He graduated in photographic arts and film production from the De Anza College, California in 1990, and got his BFA in 1995 from the Academy of Art, San Francisco.

Photography – Chris McCaw’s First Love

Amazed by the art of photography, Chris McCaw was from the age of 13 been into photo chemicals and film spools, learning every in-and-out of photography. His teenage years involved self-taught explorations in skateboarding/zine/punk scenes with a fisheye lens and Tri-X, while working lens for a number of skateboard and punk magazines. Throughout high school and into secondary education, McCaw became more intimate with the art of photography and learned everything he could about photography, eventually finding his niche in the world of large format photography.
Loving the simplicity of large format cameras, in 1992 McCaw got his first 4”x5”, and soon after that he has been charmed with the platinum/palladium printing process, which would become his livelihood for many years to come. With recycled optics and large home-brew camera bodies made from wheelchairs and wagons, McCaw began using expired film paper for an intriguing process that would soon fill up most of his portfolio. Ever since his first explorations within large-format cameras, till this day McCaw builds his own cameras and outfits them with powerful lenses typically used for military surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

Sunburn series

McCaw’s most famous and most recent series, Sunburn, represents an iconic approach to the art of photography. In this process of creation and destruction, all happening within the camera, the sun is both the subject of the image and an active participant in the printing process. It goes back to the basics of what photography is – writing with light. As a main subject, the sun has transcended the idea that a photograph is simply a representation of reality, and has physically come through the lens and put its hand onto the final piece.
In some of the images, the sun appears as a singed black dot, and in other, longer exposures, the arc of the sun’s rising or setting has slashed all the way through the paper, leaving a scarred absence outlined in scorched black. What emerges underneath all that is an impressionistic rendering of the subject being photographed – a blur of cactus, a calm sea – oftentimes with the path of the sun crossing through it.

Chris McCaw – Sunburned GSP#410 – 2010

Scars by the Light

McCaw sets up his cameras in the desert or near the sea, aimed with the sun fully within the frame. Instead of film, McCaw inserts expired vintage, fiber-based gelatin silver photo paper directly into the camera. As the sun moves in the sky it literally burns a hole in the fibre of the paper, leaving a physical scar of where the sun has been across a desert sky or abstracted mountain range, and making tangible the trajectory of the earth’s orbit around the sun in scored markings. The sun’s lens-concentrated rays scorch the paper, and often slash straight through it, leaving ash-edged absences. Pointing the lens at the sun, McCaw exposes the paper for periods of time ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours. The sky, as a result of the extremely intense light exposure, reacts in an effect called solarization – a natural reversal of tonality through over exposure, creating a positive image on a negative. The gelatin in the paper reacts to the sun’s rays and leaves traces of color around the burned marks, subtly toning the paper with hues of orange, red, metal and ash.

Capturing the Phenomena

McCaw travels to distant corners of the globe such as the Galapagos, the Sierras and the Arctic Circle, to capture variations in placement and movement of the sun’s markings that occur during unique solar events, such as solar eclipses, vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and midnight suns.
In his large-scale multi-panel work, Sunburned GSP#492 (North Slope Alaska, 24 hours), McCaw captured the natural phenomena of the midnight sun, an event occurring only during the summer solstice in locations north of the Arctic Circle. This series of thirteen 20” x 8” sheets depict the full arch of the sun in a continuous, serpentine mark singed into the paper, in which the first panels depict the sun at its apex, high noon. Creating the form of sinusoid by grazing the horizon line, only to rise again, the sun marks the beginning of a new day.

Chris McCaw – Sunburned GSP#492 (North Slope Alaska, 24 hours) – 2011

Marking the Time

McCaw’s artistic practice is firmly rooted in the history of photography while simultaneously pushing the medium in new directions. His experimental process recalls the work of photography pioneer, Henry Fox Talbot, combined with the slash and buchi paintings of Lucio Fontana. The pictures pay homage to photography’s essential nature as a record written by light, and they chronicle, with profound beauty and elemental simplicity, what it means to occupy a specific place on earth at a specific time, bringing awareness to humanity’s place in the universe.
“During all this I have become attuned to the reality that we’re all running around on a spinning marble orbiting a fiery ball”, states McCaw.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Chris McCawYossi Milo Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2015The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Acquired with the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad FundThe National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2015Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing PhotographyJ. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2014Modern Alchemy: Experiments in PhotographyThe Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NYGroup
2014After Ansel AdamsMuseum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA Group
2013Reality Check, Bakalar & Paine GalleriesMassachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MAGroup
2013With a Trace: Photographs of AbsenceAkron Art Museum, Akron, OHGroup
2013Currents: Photographs from the collection of Allen Thomas Jr.Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), Raleigh, OHGroup
2013Landmark: The Fields of PhotographySomerset House Trust, London, UKGroup
2013Light Sensitive: Photographic Works from North Carolina CollectionsNasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NCGroup
2012Marking TimeYossi Milo Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2012Ride Into The SunStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2012Heliomancy Duncan Miller Gallery, Santa Monica ,CASolo
2012Chris McCaw: Sunburn Candela Books and Gallery, Richmond, VASolo
2012Tracing LightDatz Museum of Art, Seoul, KoreaSolo
2012 Solar Photo Eye Gallery, Santa Fe, NMSolo
2012Brought To LightCrocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CASolo
2012EmergingPortland Art Museum, Portland, ORSolo
2012Sun WorksBerkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CASolo
2011Ride Into the SunStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2011Sun Works with Sarah CharlesworthBerkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CAGroup
2011Bending the LightOakland International Airport Exhibition, Oakland, CAGroup
2011Heavens: Photographs of the Sky and CosmosNelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MOGroup
2011Seeing is Knowing: The UniversePerlman Teaching Museum, Carleton College, Northfield, MNGroup
2011Out of the Dark RoomIrish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, IrelandGroup
2011Pure Photography, Post Production and Mixed MediaPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZGroup
2011California Continued: New Approaches in West Coast PhotographySmith Anderson North, San Anselmo, CAGroup
2011EcoArchive: Meditations on Time and NatureIntersection for the Arts, San Francisco, CAGroup
2011Open SeasonFlanders Gallery, Raleigh, NCGroup
2010SunburnedStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2010The Edge of VisionCenter for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZGroup
2010Redisplay of the Photography CollectionVictoria & Albert Museum, LondonGroup
2010Past Forward: Marking Time in Recent PhotographyHonor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2010Exposed: Today’s Photography, Yesterday’s TechnologyInstitute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CAGroup
2010ElementalPhoto-Eye Gallery, Santa Fe, NMGroup
2010Edges of Light: Explorations of the Photographic ProcessArtsBenicia, Benicia, CAGroup
2010State of Mind: A California InvitationalThe Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CAGroup
2010An Autobiography of the San Francisco Bay Area Part 2: The Future Lasts ForeverSF Camerawork, San Francisco, CAGroup
2010Burning DesireMichael Mazzeo Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2009Surface Tension: Contemporary Photographs from the CollectionThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NYGroup
2009Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary PhotographyAperture Gallery, NY Group
2009Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary PhotographyCenter for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZGroup
200910 x 10 x 10: An Invitational ExhibitionSan Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2009TransmutationsMichael Mazzeo Gallery, NYGroup
2009LandmarkHaines Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2009Keeping TimePhotographic Resource Center, Boston, MAGroup
2008New work from the Sunburn ProjectMichael Mazzeo Gallery, NYSolo
2008SunburnSF Camerawork, San Francisco, CASolo
2008SunburnsDuncan Miller Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
2008Landscape – OtherRayko Photo Center, San Francisco, CAGroup
2008People & PlacesSoutheastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NCGroup
2008Each SunTogonon Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2008GracePEER Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2008MineralHous Projects, New York, NYGroup
2008SunburnThe Center for Contemporary Arts, Abilene, TXGroup
2007Time TracersCenter of Photography, Woodstock, NYGroup
2007SunburnHouston Center of Photography, Houston, TXGroup
2007Strange WeatherDavid Cunningham Projects, San Francisco, CAGroup
2007SunburnBurien Art Gallery, Burien , WA Group
2007Sunburns and Platinum WorkMoab Art Works, Moab, UTGroup
2007Lucky DaySan Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CAGroup
2006Sunburned & WaterloggedGallery of Urban Art, Oakland, CAGroup
2006Eyewitness IIUC Berkeley School of Journalism, Berkeley, CAGroup
2006Platinum PlacesWatermark Fine Art, Houston, TXGroup
2006OutmodedThe Art Gallery, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CAGroup
2006Lost Out West19th & Union Gallery, Oakland, CAGroup
2006Contemporary LandscapeBaxter – Chang – Patri Fine Art, San Francisco, CAGroup
2006The Family FarmSan Francisco International Airport Museum, CAGroup
2005Romancing the ShadowsPalo Alto Art Center, Palo Alto, CAGroup
2005Contemporary American PhotographyInternational Fototage, Mannheim, GermanyGroup
2005Vital SignsGeorge Eastman House, Rochester, NYGroup
2005The Family FarmWatermark Fine Art, Houston, TXGroup
2005TravelogueFusion Artspace, San Francisco, CAGroup
2004Live Free or DieFreewheel, San Francisco, CAGroup
2003Chris McCaw-American PhotographsImage - Imatge Gallery, Orthez, FranceGroup
2002IdentitySan Francisco Main Library, San Francisco, CAGroup
2001SF CameraworkFine Print Collection, San Francisco, CAGroup
2001VividSF Camerawork, San Francisco, CAGroup
2000Timeless LightContemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, ORGroup
1999PortraitsBloom Studio, Oakland, CAGroup
1998Road Trip DocumentsSpindler, San Francisco, CAGroup
1995Graduate showAcademy of Art, San Francisco, CAGroup
1993Friends of the South Bay Punk Scenethe Other Gallery, De Anza College, Cupertino, CAGroup
1991Infrared ViewsThe Other Gallery, De Anza College, Cupertino, CAGroup
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