New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 3 January 16 to 22, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Sunburnt
Chris McCaw
Marking Time
Don Burmeister
Sunburned GSP #396 (Pacific Ocean) by Chris McCaw. Source: yossimilo.com
Chris McCaw, "Sunburned GSP #396 (Pacific Ocean)" 2009

Surely no one can accuse the Yossi Milo Gallery of playing it safe photographically.

Several recent shows at the gallery have presented work in a style I have started to think of as photographie concrète. Although the term photographie concrète arose spontaneously with this writer, it is not a new term, as a quick google will confirm. Yet the writer will be forgiven for believing that it has never been used in quite this context. The artists involved are not primarily concerned with the photographic print as an image conveyor, but rather as a physical object. Photographic imagery is almost secondary to the paper and emulsion from which it is formed, and they in turn are only equal to the processes that are used to generate the prints in the first place. (One of the characteristics of photographie concrete is that you always start talking about how the pictures were made.)

This past spring Yossi Milo exhibited the work of Matthew Brandt, whose work is exemplified by images of trees printed on paper made from branches of the same tree, using charcoal pigments made from branches of that tree. The image of the tree was, in physical fact, the stuff of the tree itself.

In the current show of work by Chris McCaw, the imagery is the transit of the sun across the sky as seen from different places and under different conditions around the world. But the true subject is the direct physical interaction of sun and paper. McCaw mostly uses very large format cameras and relatively insensitive silver gelatin paper rather than film to make his images. McCaw points his lens directly into the sun and exposes the paper from 15 to 90 minutes or so, often times following the movement of the sun with several sheets, in one case for 24 hours. The bright sun through the lens of the camera does just what your childhood magnifying glass did to pieces of paper in the playground (or those poor passing ants), it starts to burn a hole. McCaw then develops the exposed and burnt prints. The sheets now depict the arc of the sun’s movement across the sky, partly as a black line of silver, but where the sun was at it’s brightest, as a physical burn – a charred slash through the paper sky, therefore the print is directly altered by the power of the sun’s rays.

Sunburned GSP #322 (Pacific Ocean/30 minutes) by Chris McCaw. Source: yossimilo.com
Chris McCaw, "Sunburned GSP #322 (Pacific Ocean/30 minutes)" 2009

McCaw takes his camera to some exotic locations for his shots. We see the 24 hour circuit of the summer sun in Alaska, an annular eclipse in the States and the rise and fall of the sun almost directly overhead from a romantic Pacific island. But alas, the burning technique is a one-trick pony. The transit of the sun across the sky has been a recurring motif in astro-photography since the earliest years, and McCaw’s prints sit firmly within this genre. The physical burn of the print is attention getting, and we can occasionally see different colors along the burnt edges, but the overall impression is a display of dull and muddy prints. (Curiously, the direct encounter with the prints at the gallery was less engaging than the brightly lit, more contrasty images seen on the gallery web page and included with this review.) As is all too frequently the case, a brilliant concept has been grounded by the mundane requirements of producing an engaging physical object.

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**Editor’s Note

The notion of merging the image of the thing with the thing itself is at the heart of this approach. It is, in fact, an intellectually intriguing idea. Yet, as with much intellectually driven art, the product is often far less intriguing than the idea. This particular strand of idea-fueled art turns on the incorporation of concrete, physically real elements into the mix. By using the tree bark in the paper, etc. the artist is doubtless seeking to make a profound statement on the nature of being and on the relationship between image (simulacra) and thing. But rather than profound it comes off as coy and often forced. Better to read Baudrillard and get the concept straight from the master. B.C.

Chris McCaw
Marking Time


Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Ave Ground Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 414 0370
yossimilo.com

Thursday, November 29 to
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 to 6
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