Review: Christopher Colville works in flashes of inspiration

Christopher Colville redefines "flash" photography in his stirring series of "Meditations" at Duncan Miller.

Working at night in the desert outside Phoenix, Colville places small objects he has brought or gathered on-site onto sheets of silver gelatin photo paper. He then sprinkles a bit of gunpowder onto the arrangements and ignites them. With a small bang, light, heat and force birth an image.

The prints are modest in size (as little as 2 1/4 inches per side) and dense with suggestion. Shadowed specks freckle and sometimes pit the page. Swirls of soft gray and glowing light turn liquid or atmospheric. Colville's chance-driven process produces tonalities evoking charcoal, graphite, rust, smoke, ash. The pictures feel profoundly elemental. They are serendipitous. And gorgeous.

Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder drawings come naturally to mind, as do early modernist experiments in photographic abstraction -- solarized prints and photograms -- and any number of postwar painters set on violating the sanctity of the picture plane.

Colville stages a kind of fleeting violence, a performance that leaves an intriguing trace. For all the noise and clamor of their creation, the works feel deeply reverential and intimate. They point to the underlying unity of the micro- and macrocosmic, as well as the botanical, biological and especially the celestial.

Several of the most beautiful images resemble grains of sand blown across the paper -- grains of sand in which, as per Blake, we can see the world.

Duncan Miller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-1111, through Nov. 2. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

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