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Chris McCaw’s Sunburn series is the result of a happy accident. While taking extended nighttime exposures of the stars during a camping trip, McCaw overslept, leaving the camera’s shutter open too long. His view camera was pointed due east, and the rising sun scorched the film, exposing it to ten thousand times the amount of sunlight needed to produce total black. Instead of discarding the burnt negative, however, he developed it—and found he liked the result.


McCaw had inadvertently induced a process known as true solarization. Not to be confused with the Sabatier effect or pseudo-solarization (a technique in which exposed film is re-exposed in the process of chemical development—typified by Man Ray’s Rayograms), true solarization,, as exemplified in early daguerreotype practices, involves the extreme overexposure of light-sensitive emulsions, causing the reversal of image values and an overall decrease in the density of the image.


After a few years of processing and printing representative copies of these negatives, McCaw wanted to present indexical evidence of the torn, sun-blistered emulsion itself. He hand-built several large format view cameras and inserted expired fiber-based gelatin silver paper into the film holders. These unique paper negatives are then transformed into paper positives, leaving physical traces of the sun’s marks across their surface. It is these paper positives, ‘depicting’ the ecologically unfettered West Coast landscapes that McCaw prefers, that are exhibited here, beautifully intermingling photographic subject and object.


14 September – 21 October, 2007


Houston Center for Photography

Artist / Photographer

Chris McCaw


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