Artifacts of Fire and Wax
In this body of work, Artifacts of Fire and Wax, Charland transforms blank, unexposed sheets of silver gelatin paper into handworked, tactile abstractions. Using a red candle, Charland drips wax onto sheets of paper. As the flame burns and exposes the paper, drops of wax fall onto the emulsion. Like the red light in a darkroom, the red wax becomes a small filter, preventing further exposure by the flame. Once Charland achieves his desired pattern of drips he begins the development process. The wax, which first acted to resist exposure by the candle, then acts to resist the chemical development of the photograph. After the first cycle of processing is complete, only areas of the emulsion not covered in wax develop and turn to metallic silver. Charland then begins to break up the wax bits with his hands, creating cracks and revealing unprocessed areas of the emulsion. The paper is run through the chemicals again and again to add multiple levels of tone to the newly revealed, unprocessed regions of the paper.
For Charland, who is known for his wondrous, science-experiment-like ‘straight’ photographs, making these works felt elemental and truly stripped down. “The time spent making each of these images feels transcendent; a similar sensation to where the mind goes while staring into the flames of a wood fire. Hours hovered over a white sheet of paper with fire in hand, watching the liquid drop to the surface. First a shadow as the wax falls, then a snap as it connects and splatters across the emulsion. I wonder how each of these actions will render visually. These artifacts of fire and wax remind me that photography is inherently a medium of the inverse. Shadows become light. Light turns to shadow.”