Getting Burned

What do you get when you combine expired photographic paper, a large format camera, and the blazing sun?

Well, this Friday night, MOPA will be hosting a lecture by the San Francisco based-photographer, Chris McCaw and he’ll be able to answer the above question and any others about his photographic project, Sunburn, that you throw his way. Ten years ago (time flies!), McCaw inadvertently created a whole new technique and approach to photography that has since garnered him worldwide exhibitions, an Andy Warhol Foundation grant, and acquisition into numerous museum collections. With a medium over a century old, that’s not an easy thing to do! He called this new technique "sunburn" - McCaw creates images by allowing the sun to burn its path onto a paper negative during a long exposure, using the camera as a tool for both creation and destruction.

What sets McCaw apart from his peers is his ability to be inventive and unique, while mastering the craft. What began as a love for photography and being known for his exquisite platinum/palladium prints, led to an uncharted path. He took a medium in throes of technological change with the advancements of digital cameras and went back to the basics. Photography as a word means ‘to write with light’, which is exactly what McCaw has done. It took years to figure out which papers ‘burn’ best, which lenses help speed up or slow down the process, and how many different ways he could reinterpret one idea. Most often, the sun burns so hot, it leaves a hole in the paper where it has traced. The results are one-of-a-kind images that have been made with view cameras ranging from 4x5 inch to 30x40 inch in places throughout the Western Hemisphere from the Artic Circle to the Galapagos.

McCaw is truly one of the most innovative photographers of our time. And although I’ve heard it all before, I wouldn’t miss the chance to see him lecture again this weekend, which will be followed by a book signing for his monograph Chris McCaw Sunburn. To learn more about Chris McCaw, visit his website and to get a preview of what’s to come, check out this interview, produced by the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.