I don’t know how many times I’ve been to San Francisco and somehow missed out on SF Camerawork, a place that “encourages emerging and mid-career artists to explore new directions in photography and related media by fostering creative forms of expression that push existing boundaries.”  I went today to check it out.

I was not disappointed.  SF Camerawork is an extensive space on the second floor of a building that includes a handful of galleries and small museums a stone’s throw from SFMoMA and the rest of the South of Market artsy scene.  There were three solo shows: Sunburn by Chris McCaw, Ruins to Renewal by RonRong and inri, and Alan B. Stone and the Senses of Place.

You should see them all, and they run concurrently through August 23, so you’d better hurry.  But it was McCaw’s work that really held my interest, and I’ll share some of it with you.  Here’s some of the exhibition text:

SF Camerawork presents a solo exhibition of the work of emerging, San Francisco-based photographer Chris McCaw as part of its New Works Program. In his series Sunburn, McCaw turns the subject of his work, the sun, into an active participant in the printmaking process, creating fascinating prints that are literally burned by the path of the sun. The body of work was the result of a happy accident. Intending to create an all night exposure of the stars while camping, McCaw failed to wake up before sunrise. He discovered that while the night’s exposure had been destroyed, an interesting phenomenon had occurred on the film base, which had a hole burnt through it from the intense rays of the rising sun.

The exhibition at SF Camerawork displays McCaw’s most recent images that are made by putting paper, in place of film, in his camera’s film holder. Each paper negative, due to varying sky conditions and length of exposure, is scorched by the sun to differing degrees, sometimes burning completely through the paper base. McCaw uses both an 8 x 10” view camera and a home made 16 x 20” camera to create the paper negatives. As a result of the intense sun exposure, the sky reacts in an effect called solarization, which turns the paper negative into a positive. When developed, the paper negatives become actual one-of-a-kind prints.

We’ve all seen long-exposure photos that turn celestial spheres – stars, moons, planet, the sun – into arcs and lines.  McCaw’s work takes those lines from cool geometry to a powerful physicality.  What is hard to see from any web-based representation of this work is that the prints are actually burned, in some cases, all the way through.  You can see char marks on the print and sometimes the mat board behind it, and imagine a little wisp of smoke in the air.

Even photographers need to be reminded once in a while that light can cut and burn.