This Week In Photography Books – Chris McCaw

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America. Today, belts will loosen around the fifty states. Cholesterol levels will rise faster than the sea in the six years since Al Gore’s Climate Change movie was released. And we’ll see “A Christmas Story” pop up on cable any day now. (You’ll shoot your eye out.)

It’s hard to imagine a movie achieving cult and classic status as quickly as that one did. I remember going to see it with my now-dead-Jewish grandma in South Florida when it came out back in the day. (Big ups to Nana, wherever you are.)

“A Christmas Story” endures because it contains so many memorable moments. It left us with one scene, once seen, that remains in your neuron-memory, forever. I’m talking about the bit where a dumb kid name Flick gets his tongue stuck on a frozen pole after a triple dog dare. (And I double dog dare you not to laugh when he starts crying.)

Despite the film’s popularity, that type of adolescent humor seems anachronistic in a Post-Jack-Ass world. Just the other night, I was watching the 3rd installment of the Harold & Kumar series, and the Korean dude got his penis stuck on a frozen pole while trying to escape from Ukrainian hit men. Like I’ve said before, the 20th Century seems like a long time ago.

Will this prosthetic penis be burned into my brain like the Flick’s frozen tongue? Probably not. It’s just harder to shock people these days. (Unless you choose not to caption photos of dead people in an interview about War photography.)

Perhaps the key to mental resonance is rooted in simplicity? I will spatter paint, instead of apply it. I will film a Western in Spain, instead of America. I will let the sunlight burn through a paper negative inside a view camera. Had no one ever thought to do that before? I don’t know. But when San Francisco-based-artist Chris McCaw stumbled on the technique, he was probably pretty f-cking psyched.

I just got to look at “Sunburn,” Mr. McCaw’s new monograph from Candela Books. (Richmond, VA.) It’s a beautiful new hard cover, and they even took the trouble to burn through one of the intro pages. (Amazing what they can do with lasers these days.) There are a couple of essays at the beginning, including one by New Mexico’s own Katherine Ware. The other was written by Allie Haeusslein, the gallery manager at Pier 24, thereby closing the loop on our San Francisco series.

The first time I went through the plates, I found myself just a wee bit underwhelmed. My eyes naturally went to the landscape subject matter, and I didn’t catch the emerging patterns of the Sun. Kind of like it’s hard to watch the crowd in a sporting event on TV. Your eye keeps tracking the ball.

Even so, the pictures of the Sun’s path caught my attention enough to decide to come back to the book again today. Good sign. The closing text, written by the artist, gives some more context as to where he’s gone to get the images, (the Galapagos, Alaska, and around the American Far West,) and the titles share specifics about the exposure type. He’s like one of those old Mayan shaman guys, charting motion to harness the power of light.

Upon the second viewing, I began to tune out the ocean and bay vistas, and just watch the lines, dots and dashes appear up in the sky. Code. The sunrise to sunset arch is a basically the portrait of a spinning planet. Wow. By the time I saw the vertical sunpath that ends the book, I was hooked.

Mr. McCaw has had a lot of success with this work over the last few years. Deservedly so. You might want this book, you might not. But the lesson in the power of reductiveness is one I’ll leave you with, now that you’re regretting yesterday’s binge-eat-turkey-fest.

To purchase “Sunburn” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


There Are 5 Comments On This Article.

  1. There is not a harder working person than Chris McCaw and he deserves all the success he earns! He has supported the San Francisco area arts scene for many, many years– even turning his own apartment into a sometimes gallery to feature the work of his peers– and he deserves a lot of support in return. Continued success, Chris, and congratulations!

  2. I’ve been loving his work for years and this is why I love photo books so much. I can’t afford his prints but now I can by his book!