Ride Into the Sun

October 20 - December 22, 2011

Stephen Wirtz Gallery is pleased to present Ride Into the Sun, an exhibition of one-of-a-kind landscape photographs by Chris McCaw.  McCaw’s singular photographic methodology engages the sun as an active participant and collaborator, harnessing intense solar reflection to ethereal, dramatic, and even violent effects.

In these works, the sun enters the camera and literally burns the surface of the photo paper during hours-long exposures. McCaw wields the burn like a brush to draw a range of visual effects. The controlled destruction of the paper in some works reveals bold and vigorous immolations, and in others, fragile, crescent-shaped scars. Landscapes are made spectacular and unworldly by these singed remnants that chart the sun’s apparent path as the earth rotates in space.

The resulting prints are refined but potent first-generation images that document acts of simultaneous creation and destruction. They provide microcosmic evidence of the passage of time, as changes in weather, tidal patterns, and other subtle interventions are captured by the camera over lengthy exposures.  At the same time, they also act as untrustworthy compasses, orienting our perception of geography and astronomy from a singular physical placement in the immense spatial complexity of the universe.

For this exhibition, McCaw made two ambitious journeys to the North Slope of Alaska, within the Arctic Circle, working during the summer months when the low angle of the sun remains above the horizon in that northernmost location.  Equipped with view cameras of varying sizes, and the patience and perseverance necessary to withstand both the remote location and the extreme weather changes, McCaw created his most ambitious work to date.  This exhibition presents several large-scale, multiple-panel works, among them a tour-de-force 24-hour exposure articulated on 14 sheets of 10- by 4-inch paper, mapping the serpentine pattern of the sun during a complete day and night, sunrise to sunrise.

With simply a lens, time and light, McCaw’s work employs the most primal elements of photography to a fully modern effect.  His ingenious approach, born of both relentless experimentation and the vagaries of chance, utilizes hand-built view cameras of varying sizes up to 30 by 40 inches, outfitted with vintage military optics, some individually weighing up to 125 pounds.  Select expired photo papers from the 70s and 80s provide a specific chemistry necessary for the process, and are used in place of film negatives.  The extreme light exposure solarizes the image, resulting in a unique gelatin silver paper negative that reads as a positive image when processed.

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.  Sun Works, a two-person exhibition with McCaw and Sarah Charlesworth, will be presented at the Berkeley Art Museum, November 9, 2011 – May 6, 2012.  McCaw’s work is included in several museum collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum, 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, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.