Daily Picture Show

'Sunburn' Photography, No SPF Necessary

We all know the backyard trick: If you take a magnifying glass out on a bright summer day and focus the bright spot over a dry leaf, pretty soon you'll get some smoke and maybe a little scorching.

Photographer Chris McCaw uses that exact same principle in his latest project, Sunburn. Using his home-built large-format cameras, McCaw's images track the movement of the sun across the sky with exposures ranging from about 2 to 8 hours in length.

  • Sunburned GSP#389 (Puget Sound, WA/full day), 2009. 12"x20" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#389 (Puget Sound, WA/full day), 2009. 12"x20" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#366 (Nevada/ Summer Solstice), 2009. 4"x5" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#366 (Nevada/ Summer Solstice), 2009. 4"x5" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#317 (Pacific Ocean), 2009. 8"x10" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#317 (Pacific Ocean), 2009. 8"x10" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#210 (Mojave), 2008. 16"x20" unique gelatin silver paper negative
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    Sunburned GSP#210 (Mojave), 2008. 16"x20" unique gelatin silver paper negative
  • Sunburned GSP#430 (Washington), 2010. 4"x5" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#430 (Washington), 2010. 4"x5" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#323 (Santa Cruz Mtns/expand & contract), 2009. 20"x24" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#323 (Santa Cruz Mtns/expand & contract), 2009. 20"x24" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#322 (Pacific Ocean/30 minutes), 2009. 20"x24" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburned GSP#322 (Pacific Ocean/30 minutes), 2009. 20"x24" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburn GSP#228 (Pacific Ocean/descending into fog), 2008. 11"x14" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
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    Sunburn GSP#228 (Pacific Ocean/descending into fog), 2008. 11"x14" unique gelatin silver paper negative.
  • Sunburned GSP#400 (Pacific Ocean), 2009. 4-8"x10" unique gelatin silver paper negatives.
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    Sunburned GSP#400 (Pacific Ocean), 2009. 4-8"x10" unique gelatin silver paper negatives.
  • Sunburned GSP # 429 (Sunset/Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska) 2010.4-8"x10"  unique gelatin silver paper negatives.
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    Sunburned GSP # 429 (Sunset/Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska) 2010.4-8"x10" unique gelatin silver paper negatives.

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He uses black-and-white print paper instead of traditional negative film in his cameras — which include a 20x24" and a 30x40" — and the long, direct-sunlight exposures create positives, or truly solarized images. And because the sun is so highly focused, the paper actually burns, leaving gashes and streaks across the images.

What results, McCaw says, is a "unique piece where the sun has physically touched the surface and affected it. It's creation and destruction at the same time. Smoke comes out the camera — it's really cool."

You might think that photographing the sun traversing the sky would result in a series of repetitive-looking images, but that's far from the case: McCaw carefully crafts each shot, framing mountains, waterways and trees, always cognizant of the sun's path.

"I'm really getting more in tune with where I am on the planet and what season it is. I might see an interesting photograph but realize I can't photograph that until the winter solstice or summer solstice," McCaw says. "I have a little list of places I need to go near the equinox."

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