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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Caleb Charland: Inquisitive & Blasphemous

Caleb Charland’s physical manifestation of scientific curiosity is made of light and time


This Article Features Photo Zoom
Adds Charland, "There's also something to be said for acknowledging one's limitations and working within them. I've chosen photography, so my creative mind thinks within its boundaries. Much of the work involves creating forms or sculpture with light. Photography allows for multiple moments in time and space to hover together in the final print. This compression and addition of light-based visual elements is endlessly intriguing to me. That it works is just magical. I've always been a sucker for the fact that light can be indexically traced in a precious metal."

In 2010, Charland found his work suddenly earning him Internet fame. He was getting mentions on blogs and websites (like Gizmodo and StumbleUpon), and his work was exposed to a massive audience. In that group were people who otherwise never would have seen his images on a gallery wall—including some unlikely viewers who got in touch to tell him about the impact of his work.

"It was this wonderful few months," he says, "where I was getting these random emails from people all over the world who had some science background or an artist background, and they were just almost like thanking me for using science in a way that was illustrative and beautiful. I had a few high school science teachers who were like, 'I love what you're doing. Where were you 30 years ago when I was trying to teach high school physics?' I kind of like that it's not just for an art crowd."

"Light Sphere with My Right Arm and Cigarette Lighter" took some four hours to execute. Charland describes the process and an unexpected element: "That's where that semi-performative element comes in. Usually when you use a lighter, you strike it two or three times at most. There are about 32 angles in the image, and on each angle I struck the lighter 50 times. So what is that, about 1,500? And then there's that silhouette in the middle, which was completely
unexpected. The fact that the silhouette was there was something I hadn't foreseen."
Science teachers may love him, but Charland was no science geek. As a kid, he helped his father remodel the family home and was impressed by the materials and processes involved, and the sort of alchemy that occurred in simple acts such as hammering a nail and sawing wood. It wasn't until high school—when he was turned loose in the darkroom—that he fully developed the nose for experimentation that still drives his work today.

"Right from the beginning," Charland says, "being unattended in the darkroom kind of gave me this experimental, playful, inquisitive nature. Even my intro to color class in undergrad, where we're supposed to be learning about color temperature, I'm making negatives out of plants and rubber cement, and putting those in the enlarger, which was kind of a direct line from what I was doing in high school—melting negatives together and exploring the more tactile nature of the medium. I did learn how to print actual photographs, but I think around that same time I was getting into long exposures and night photography just to learn about color balance and stuff."

After college and graduate school, Charland was ready to get a real job. He returned home to Maine, where he always felt he created his best work, with plans to become an X-ray tech. The science classes required for that training, though, soon stirred his creative needs.

"I did a year of prerequisites," he says. "I took algebra and anatomy and physiology and things like that. It just kind of got the gears turning. All these things were falling into place—I was back where I had access to all these tools and that creative side. I was also getting fascinated by all these fun facts in science class, and I just started experimenting in front of the camera with everyday phenomena—basically finding things around the house and just trying to find the magic in them with photography."

Charland's Gear

Cameras, Lenses & Film
Cambo monorail 4x5 camera
Schneider 90mm and 135mm lenses
Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 160S film

Adds Charland, "We're all curious about things around us, more so when we're kids. Time allowed our minds to wander and wonder, back before bills and jobs and deadlines took over our lives. For me, my work isn't so much an escape; it's more about being consumed by an idea and spending the time and money to get the idea to manifest on film."

You can see more of Caleb Charland's work at www.calebcharland.com.

 

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