Walker and McCaw at Candela Gallery
Review- Harrison Walker: Portals and Chris McCaw: New Works
Candela Gallery, Richmond, Virginia
May 3-June 16, 2018
Photography is something we take for granted, the ease with which we can now make and share digital photographs belies the history of analog photography, a history of many failed processes and botched experiments as much as successful ones. The recent shows at Candela by Harrison Walker and Chris McCaw draw on this history of analog to emphasize photography’s materiality, as much as the immaterial image. Instead of the photograph always referring back to the subject of the picture, Walker and McCaw show that the photograph and it’s making is a worthy subject in and of itself.
Harrison Walker, "Portal No. 208," 1/1, Cyanotype, Knox Gelatin, Ammonium Chloride, Sodium Citrate, on Rives BFK with 20" Steel Disc, 20 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of Candela Gallery.
Harrison Walker’s Portals, explores the chemical components of photography as they interact with different materials, resulting in serialized abstract forms. The exhibition is made up of three parts: a series of circular cutouts hung directly on the wall, a larger series of circles on a rectangular ground that are mostly displayed unframed and as a grid papering Candela’s front gallery, and finally an instruction “manual” with directions on how to create each of the works.
Walker’s serial works are, on the one hand, technical experiments. The specific material and chemical combinations are thoroughly documented in the manual and each work is given a numeric title. By providing the instructions on how to create the works, Walker presumably gives the user the ability to make her own copy. Even as I sat in the gallery taking notes, a group of young people, probably art students, purchased one of these manuals after viewing the work on the walls. Each of the “copies” produced from the instructions, however, would be unique works of art, altered by the chance effects of the chemical processes and any alterations by a new artist[r1] . It’s not the mechanical reproducibility normally associated with photography but rather the replication of a chemical process.
Harrison Walker, "Portal No. 091, 069, 073,” 1/1, Mixed Media Prints, 30 x 22 inches (each). Image courtesy of Candela Gallery.
Despite the detailed technical description of their making, the works themselves are ethereal and highly aesthetic. The title “Portals[r2] [r3] ” conjures otherworldly openings and passageways. Within the circular form recognizable shapes appear, Portal No. 091, for instance, displays the impression of a hand across the lower portion of the print. Others have less direct representational qualities and draw upon the consciousness of the viewer to make her own associations. Harrison D. Walker (b. 1988) received his MFA in Photography at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia, PA. He is currently based in Athens, Georgia.
Chris McCaw (b. 1971) is a graduate of the Academy of Art, San Francisco. McCaw explores modes of photography more at home in the nineteenth century than the twenty-first, including heliography and large-format, often hand-made cameras. With New Works, McCaw revives the long history of photography. Instead of a brief exposure of the delicate photo-sensitive surface to light, the paper negative is exposed for a lengthy duration that burns into the emulsion and the paper, producing a unique paper negative. This overexposure often results in solarization, when the black and white tones of the image reverse, an eerie world where black sun(s) dot the grey sky.
Chris McCaw, “Sunburned GSP #954 (Mojave/expanding)” 2017. 1/1, Unique, Gelatin Silver Paper Negatives, 8 x 10 inches. Image courtesy of Candela Gallery.
Chris McCaw, “Sunburned GSP #964 (Puget Sound),” 2017. 1/1, Unique, Gelatin Silver Paper Negatives, 4 x 20 inches (4 - 4 x 5 inch panels). Image courtesy of Candela Gallery.
In Sunburned GSP #964 (Puget sound), 2017, the violent path of the sun arcs across four panels. Over the course of the (up to) 24 hours long exposure, McCaw opens and closes the shutter, resulting in the stuttered line seared across the horizon leaving a metallic shimmer from the reaction of the silver paper surface. These works seem to ask what is more “real,” the scorched mark of the sun or what is “pictured” as the faint white outline of the Pugent sound? McCaw’s photographs deny the normal association of photography as illustrative of a specific place in a specific time. Rather, time is foregrounded as spatial, as duration imprinted across the panorama.
Walker and McCaw embrace chance and intuitive processes of making that reveal what Jane Bennett has called vibrant matter, the ability of the material to push back against the supposed controlling hand of the artist. This material agency is evident in the indeterminate chemical reactions of Harrison Walker’s prints and the burned trace of the sun in Chris McCaw’s photographs. In the case of McCaw especially, the environment and materials themselves play a decisive role – often thwarting the work completely as when extreme weather prevents adequate light or when the vintage papers fail to produce an image at all. Such emphasis on materiality and process refuses[r4] the speed of digital production and consumption so ubiquitous in the use of photography today, these works encourage slow and intimate looking. It is also a way of thinking about art by acknowledging the extended, often non-anthropogenic forces that also participate in art making.
The exhibitions take an even greater sense of urgency as Canon announced on May 30th that the company had discontinued its last film camera. In the face of the slow demise of analog photography underway since the digital turn in the 1990s, the two solo exhibitions at Candela Gallery by Harrison Walker and Chris McCaw show that analog’s history and possibility as an artistic medium are still far from obsolete.
 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).
Rachel Hutcheson is an art historian with a focus on photography and new media art. She is currently a PhD student at Columbia University.