I Wish The Mayans Had Skyview by Lap Le
A review of
Marking Time by Chris McCaw
Yossi Milo Gallery

I find incredible satisfaction to live in a time when apps like Skyview exist, or when I can pull up breathtaking images of our universe whenever I please. And I please often. It is a fixation enabled by things like Twitter and Tumblr and by people like @neiltyson and @Cmdr_Hadfield. While those images are sometimes captured in impressively high resolutions, I can’t help but wonder what is missing? What is hiding between the pixels and code? Not often, but there are times when I am reminded of these questions. Like when the images are so large that my iMac’s screen isn’t big enough to see it all, as if to illustrate how the void will never be held properly. And it is easy to forget this when sheer aesthetic pleasure, though mediated or filtered, is so readily available. To this day I think one of the most moving images I’ve ever seen was a 600-pixel-wide picture Opportunity had captured, perched on a rust-colored outcrop overlooking a false-colored crater with its shadow draped across the Martian landscape. Maybe it was something that was only made profound by being a small thumbnail I was able to view in my cubicle at work. I don’t think so, but you never know; I like to think its more than a ‘digital reproduction’ kind of conversation.

In between drunken nights Skyviewing for Mars, on a tip, I went to see Chris McCaw’s show at Yossi Milo. I’ve seen images of the work here and there so I had an inkling of what to expect and was not expecting too much from the experience. I was happily wrong. McCaw’s “solarized photographs” are a series of captured landscapes, vague and haunting, where a single bold line is held on the gray surface. When you look closer you can see that the lines are actually burns, rendered by our own star to a brilliant curve on photo paper. At times the burns merely score the surface, tracing the Sun’s tentative presence with nuanced gradients and chemical halos. At others, it burns clear though, tearing a tapering rift through the paper and reminding us of the work's flatness. The show displays a diverse selection of these investigations, embodying an almost scientific rigor from print to print -- the life’s work of some obsessive. His website places his initial interest in the process around 2003 and, judging by the more recent pieces, it was something he’s been taking seriously since.

What does it mean to stretch a dot, a single point, into a line? To take something so finite and pull the infinite from it. Or maybe by connecting two dots, achieve the same thing. Which, between the beginning and the end there now exists an immeasurable number of points. For that is what a line is -- the whole of infinite space between two points. Surely it speaks to the paradox of existence, or some existentialism therein; to the impossibility of completely understanding what’s actually, obviously, possible because it’s just right there, right? It takes a little imagination to connect the dots. Then, what does it mean if the dot in question isn’t just any dot, but our dot? Our star, the alpha and omega of biological life on Earth, the Sun. And what if that line isn’t just any line, but is our relationship with that star? In this tidy schematic McCaw’s pieces become an oblique reminder to the hidden calculus of our geography in the universe -- and the pale of our place within its limits and infinites.

It is no secret that we need the Sun, and it is easy to believe we have always known this. Many mythologies and scientific inquiries have been fixated on this idea and on It as a subject. This suggests that it is also obvious the Sun gives us more than its warmth and light, or its energy and chemistry. It gives us a sense of self. Earth without the Sun, or the Moon for that matter, is no Earth at all. Inasmuch as our subjective self is completed in the mirror stage when we see some semblance of our image, our collective subjectivity is completed by the existence of the Sun*. It binds everything on Earth together on a cosmic level, which we will be continually reminded of in the decades to come.

By stretching that dot through his photographic techniques, McCaw is not only capturing an image of our Sun, he is describing a fundamental history. The meandering sine curve burned into his prints, though finite, refer back to cycles and infinities. The dotted sequences of Suns talk as much about the passing of time as they talk about the space occupied by the Earth. That searing rift, made by shepherding the dissipating light into a single beam that intimates the intensity of its origins; the age of his photo paper with their chemicals and fibers, reacting to sunlight, 8 minutes and 33 seconds old; are all processes as ancient as the atmosphere itself. In turn, his prints take on a second dimension as object -- where trace evidence left by the cosmos signatures each piece.

This is why jpgs of his work didn’t have the same effect on me as when I saw the pieces in person. You have to see it because it is of our universe, thus its experience must be of our universe -- by that I don’t merely mean it must exist within it, even the jpg does that, but to also occupy its physical, chemical, and biological presence within it. I’m not saying this isn’t the case when we look at the digital image, but I like to think there is a difference. To point with McCaw’s process, can you remember the last time you had the opportunity to look up at the night sky? Try and think of all those stars that litter the heavens, each a glimmer, but some brighter than others, some different in color. The light from those are incredibly old by the time they reach our eyes and no two are the same age. When they hit you, I like to believe they all affect you differently; as much on a figurative level as a physical. It may be an incredibly minor level, but differently all the same. On a screen, all of those lights are equivocated, they become newborn light. The chemistry is off. The magic is transmuted to another spirituality altogether**. The digital image is its own thing, with its own criteria and logic for existing. McCaw’s show struck me because it’s been awhile since I’ve been reminded of the other side. I like to imagine of how I would have reacted to seeing one of McCaw’s prints in his studio, if I happened to drop in casually. I think it would have floored me.

Space is lonely. Earth sometimes is too. Humans definitely are, inside ourselves at least. But I, for one, find comfort in the infinite between two dots. As for McCaw’s show? Well, sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded to meditate on that.


* Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” reminds me that perhaps the Sun is just a part of it. Imagine the effect when we saw our own planet for the first time.

** It sounds like I just read American Gods or something...

Sunburned GSP #396 (Pacific Ocean), 2009. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative

Sunburned GSP #492 (North Slope Alaska/ 24 hours), 2011. Thirteen Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negatives

Sunburned GSP #336, 2009. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative

Sunburned GSP #491(Sunset/sunrise, every 10 minutes, North Slope, Alaska ), 2011. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative

"New stars shed light on the past."

"The Eagle has risen: Stellar spire in the Eagle Nebula"