Nov 1, 2011

PROFILE | Caleb Charland

Caleb Charland, Commission for Discover Magazine, 2009

Caleb Charland makes images with a view camera, simple physics, and everyday objects found around the house, that are visually, as well as mentally stimulating. It's not often that I come across a piece of art and feel baffled, but when I found Charland's photographs in Discover Magazine that was exactly how I felt. 

Science is my other love, the other man in my life, if you will, so I peruse the pages of science magazines and journals rather frequently, and usually the authors opt for graphs or computer rendered images so seeing photographs, and beautiful ones no less, was a wonderful surprise. After staring at the photographs for God knows how long I decided I needed to know more about the person who made them, and this is what I found.
Caleb Charland, Solid Liquid Gas, silver gelatin print, 2006

Caleb Charland, Commission for Discover Magazine, 2009
Charland is a man who likes the process of making the photographs as much as the photographs themselves, so nothing is done for the sake of convenience. While growing up in rural Maine helping his father remodel houses he gained a knowledge of fabrication, which he now utilizes to construct the props needed for the photographs, as well as to visualize the final results. Along with the ability to fabricate his visions he also utilizes multiple exposures on 4x5 film to create his images rather than just using Photoshop, of which he says, “I guess you could do it in Photoshop a lot quicker and easier but I enjoy the analog process… there is something to working within limits”. Take the photograph above for example.  It’s a composite of 13 exposures with 12 taken in total darkness using a pen light and a ruler to create the cube, and one with the lights on to capture the table and utensils. It is true that this could have been done in Photoshop, but it just wouldn’t have the same impact. The whole thrill of this photograph for me is trying to decipher how the cube got there. Did he actually draw it as a box filling space or is it merely an illusion that he drew flat on the table? The hands give us hints to the process, but he always leaves something to wonder about.

Caleb Charland, Study with Hook Nails and String, silver gelatin print, 2006

For Caleb Charland this sense of awe is a really important part of the photograph. He's said of the process that "It's like 5th grade science mixed with sculpture. It's about being curious and playful. There is still a lot to wonder about." For me this is the ingredient that makes his work so interesting; this youthful curiosity and his ability to utilize things he finds in cupboards and garages. He approaches these household objects and rather than just seeing a match or a glass of water he can see things that are deeper and more primordial; the fundamental forces that lie within, and this is where the photographs begin.

Caleb Charland, Silhouette with Matches, archival pigment print, 2009

Charland describes his approach to making photographs as a “sculptural process of experimentation”, which reads in the photographs as a sort of path that leads us to the end of the process where we are able to contemplate and play, as Charland does, with the very building blocks of the universe. He’s a modern day alchemist armed with a camera and a world of ordinary objects, who turns glass jars and matchsticks into visual gold, and who beckons us to join him.

Caleb Charland, Three Jars, silver gelatin print, 2005

-Sara Marie Miller


  1. The imagery is very interesting, I like how the use of scientific symbolism is seen through a lot of unique combinations.

    -Joshua Miller