Chris McCaw’s photographs from his ongoing project, ‘Sunburn’ takes picture taking to its extreme conclusion by photographing directly into the sun and overexposing images to such an extent that the paper literally burns.
His project began by accident, like so many do, way back in 2003 when he was out taking long exposure photographs of stars. After drinking too much whiskey he fell asleep and never got up to close the shutter before sunrise. Disaster struck. The sun rose, the light burnt his film, it’s heat so strong, so focussed that it solarized his film, the negative literally burnt through, the landscape in complete reversal. Here’s how he puts it:
The subject of the photograph (the sun) has transcended the idea that a photograph is simple a representation of reality, and has physically come through the lens and put it’s hand onto the final piece. This is a process of creation and destruction, all happening within the the camera.
Since that time McCaw has been taking solarized pictures on his custom – built camera all over the world. He no longer uses film rather he prefers exposing vintage photographic paper to the light for hours on end – ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours – the shutter open allowing the sun to do its work. The resulting pictures are incredible for two reasons; firstly the path of the sun is scorched into the paper over the length of the exposure recording its movement and secondly the rest of the picture is solarized but because its onto paper the result is a double negative and he ends up with a positive image.
Long gone are the days of playing with shutter speeds and film. These days McCaw builds his own large-format cameras and outfits them with powerful lenses typically used for military surveillance and aerial reconnaissance. And while the technology is new his love of the analog process goes back to the beginning of photographic history, recalls the work of photography pioneer, Henry Fox Talbot. It is a practice that is inherently physical, brings awareness to the materiality of his photographs and the world around us. As McCaw has said on many occasions:
This project has transformed the way I think about photography and the world, during all this I have become attuned to the reality that we’re all running around on a spinning marble orbiting a fiery ball.