Caleb Charland – Demonstrations

Picturing phenomena – refreshing.

Circles with matches from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Circles with matches from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

I was able to visit Bluesky Gallery, here in Portland  (the new website is great by the way) this last weekend to catch a look at the Caleb Charland show hanging from his series “Demonstrations”.     The large silver gelatin prints were quite beautiful. I say this because a number of the images I would imagine would have been quite difficult to get such a wonderfully large range of tones. To my eye, the prints excelled at achieving this wide range without the frustrating intrusion of having been pushed too far (you know the effect, where you notice “too much contrast” or “too much sharpness” which gets in the way of the absorbing the illusion of the photo… in other words,  the photographs seemed to have a “natural” appearance…  not over worked…  much richer than the images that can be had on the web as usual…

Sparkler through crystal ball from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Sparkler through crystal ball from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

However, the more lasting impression for me is what I think the pictures seem to record: the pictures bear witness to a performance of various phenomenon – you might say “law’s of nature”.  We can describe these phenomena perhaps precisely in abstract scientific terms, but it is difficult to grasp until you have some personal experience in some way with the phenomenon.  As I saw the work, I kept having that feeling of “hey look at this!” That’s what was refreshing. To simply witness what happens as various contraptions yield and act in cause and effect.

Skeleton key with copper wires from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Skeleton key with copper wires from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

“Demonstrations”, as noted in the show’s introduction, appear as quasi-scientific investigations. They record a happening over the duration of an experiment.  Charland’s contraptions themselves are wonderful sculptural elements, well composed within the picture borders. Often, there are references to famous scientific discovery’s of the past – some of which we might learn about in school as kids. The effect of the series is unpretentious – it tells us nothing in the end, but instead offers hints of how it might be rewarding to simply embrace seeing again with a child-like sense of wonder.

Additional information written up about Charland and an upcoming group show at Micheal Mazzeo.

Olaf Otto Becker at Blue Sky Gallery

Ilulissat Icefjord 09 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

Ilulissat Icefjord 09, 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

I’ve enjoyed viewing the work of Olaf Otto Becker albeit previously through online web work and so I jumped at the opportunity to visit the current (January 2010) hanging at Blue Sky Gallery here in Portland, Oregon.  As always, it is good to see the work in person and it was time well spent.  The work from his series “Broken Line,” is shot in Greenland with 8″ x 10″ camera and the results are as expected loaded with fine crisp detail and a rich pallet of colors.  The prints hanging are “modest” in size at 25″ x 30″ and with the fine detail I found myself practically nose up to the prints in an attempt to take it all in.

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003 69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003
69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

What I found most interesting in terms of viewing the pictures is with a personal question about the problem of describing “a place” through photographs. In this case what sort of impression does Becker’s characterization through pictures of “place” in Greenland leave behind?

Becker’s photographs as assembled in the show reveal a balance between what I would call “natural beauty” as pictured in the more decorative photographs of icebergs and sculpted bays with the images of resident cabins, outbuildings and associated detritus of human inhabitation.  I recall about a 2/3 to 1/3 distribution with natural beauty leading the way…

The pictures of human habitation at first seem to me to keep to a neutral presentation – meaning my assumptions are that the images are simply “what can be found”.  The pictures seperately do not seem to convey an explicit indictment but when coupled together with overtly beautiful images of a potentially devastating environmental situation to me alludes to a larger question of how we choose to live in our surroundings. The human places pictured indicate to me a pretty ugly disregard and disordered inhabitation.  Of course this is completely my own conjecture, but the pictures of local inhabitation chosen to be pictured are what I would call beautiful pictures of ugly things and by transference, I begin to recognize how the “Broken Line” may be much more revealing in general about how we inhabit places and is therefor much more than simply pretty pictures of icebergs. Of course it’s a pretty big jump and a lot of transference to allow the inhabited pictures to speak about “human disregard” of the landscape… but I think it’s there none-the-less.

Thinking about the problem of keeping a body of work together in order to convey (potentially) an intent held within a group of pictures is a problem probably best solved by the photo book – the book containing these pictures The Broken Line by Becker presumably may hold some more answers.  I have not yet had a chance to see the book – but am curious to see if my intuition and assumptions might play out in the book…

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

This relates to a couple of posts as well on the potential value of a photobook as a reference item for collectors and is blog and post worth visiting as it is quite nicely elaborated upon by DLK collectors offering another point of view.  The photobook posts might explain a bit more regarding Becker’s work from the same DLK collectors on the new series “Above Zero”….  All of this make me wonder more about the question of “decorative” work as a hook to bring a larger audience towards work that ultimately wants to be more than just beautiful…