Caleb Charland's photographs at Silver Eye evoke the curiosity of scientific experimentation. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Caleb Charland's photographs at Silver Eye evoke the curiosity of scientific experimentation.

Caleb Charland's photographs offer a series of playful experiments in the laws of physics, often involving constructions and manipulations of light and the tools for making it. Inspired by children's books of science experiments and using everyday tools (like matches, compasses, hairdryers and aluminum foil), Charland seeks to answer the questions "Is this possible?" and "How would that look?"

In "Solid, Liquid, Gas," for example, three similar glass-tumbler shapes are positioned on a film of water. One glass is filled with a separation of water, oil and alcohol. Another, overturned, contains an extinguished candle which, having burned up the oxygen inside the vessel, created a vacuum that sucked water inside -- an old classroom experiment demonstrating atmospheric pressure. The third vessel, also overturned, is composed of ice cast from one of the glasses.

The work is part of Proof: Photographs by Caleb Charland, an exhibit of newer photographs at the Silver Eye Center. The exhibit commemorates Charland's selection for the Silver Eye Fellowship; the artist was chosen for the honor from among hundreds of competitors by Katherine Ware, curator of photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Charland, from Brewer, Me., came to this work after college. Not yet feeling ready for graduate study, he undertook a medical radiography program, taking lessons in physics and mathematics.

Proof consists of 17 black-and-white still-life images, rich Selenium-toned silver-gelatin prints, made using a 4-by-5-inch camera. Each work measures approximately 20 by 24 inches, the objects depicted larger than life. Most of the experiments sit or balance on a simple table edge that underlines the horizontal composition, and are often set against a plain background.

The strong horizontal composition and quiet, exploratory feel of a photograph like "Solid, Liquid, Gas" can recall the work of noted early-20th-century artist Giorgio Morandi, whose subtle still-life paintings also often feature glass vessels and are arranged along the horizontal plane. As with Morandi, these photographs suggest a feeling of honesty, echoing Morandi's repeated attempts to explore reality through the familiar. This link is emphasized in the sense the photographs give of "trying to do something over a long period of time."

"Three Jars," for example, was made with an exposure time of four hours. Three glass containers of differing sizes demonstrate the buoyancy effects of salt in water by floating one within the other. The innermost container is filled with glow-in-the-dark paint, which illuminates the rich, dark image.

"Fifteen Hours," meanwhile, uses 15 exposures to depict the flame of a dinner candle as it burns down. The stages of the candle's history are shown in a ghostly arc of time: As the candle broadens at its middle, the differences in height between the exposures become shallower. The ruler employed to measure how each candle "sitting" was placed remains at the fore of the image; its presence opens the work to the viewer and expresses enjoyment at the way the image was constructed.

Silver Eye's second gallery features an interesting balance to Charland's investigations: works by 10 photographers who received honorable mention in the Fellowship contest. Adam Davies' chromogenic print "U.S. 81, Wyoming" depicts abandoned cars on a roadside hill, the broad landscape marked by lines of telegraph poles and fences. Rita Bernstein's "Joanna, Age 16" uses silver emulsion on roughly torn Japanese gampi paper, giving a sense of memory and history to the depiction of a girl, who in strong foreshortening lies on the same plane as the camera, tendrils of hair splayed. Lydia Panas' chromogenic print "Invisible" is a psychological study of four young girls against an autumn background -- each staring at the camera, her eyes full of insolence and inquiry.


Proof: Photographs by Caleb Charland continues through Feb. 2. The Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 East Carson St. 412-431-1810 or

Caleb Charland's photographs at Silver Eye evoke the curiosity of scientific experimentation.
Whatever floats: Caleb Charland's "Three Jars"