Chris McCaw’s stunning photographs start with a small act of defiance: shooting directly into the sun, a basic no-no. Other deviations follow, but the work never strays from its grounding in awe and reverence. The pictures pay homage to photography’s essential nature as a record written by light, and they chronicle, with profound beauty and elemental simplicity, what it means to occupy a specific place on earth at a specific time.
McCaw’s third show at Duncan Miller extends the “Sunburn” series he launched, by accident, nearly a decade ago when an overnight exposure burned a hole through his negative. The 21 prints on view, most dating from this year, were made by placing out-of-date photographic paper inside cameras that McCaw, based in San Francisco, has built or customized. Long exposures track the sun’s rise or fall as a streak or arc across the page. The sun’s lens-concentrated rays scorch the paper, and often slash straight through it, leaving ash-edged absences. Whatever violence is implied, or registered, is countered by the life-endowing energy that is equally, implicitly in play.
The strange moon that appears stamped out of one four-by-five inch print is actually the interrupted sun during an eclipse. A triptych of 30-by-40-inch prints, made in Alaska, charts sunset and sunrise as one continuous bowl of a line, dipping behind a mountain, skimming a lake and then lifting again, the sun’s path at first a light smudge, then a luminous streak and finally a dark comet. The ordinary extraordinary is everywhere in this work.
Duncan Miller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave. #A7, Santa Monica, (310) 453-1111, through Nov. 3. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.duncanmillergallery.com