Photographer Caleb Charland

Caleb Charland creates all his images in-camera, on a flatbed scanner, or in the darkroom. No content is created or added digitally.

From the Artist:

Artist’s Statement

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
— Albert Einstein

The way we understand the world relies so much on our ability to measure it. Given that many measurements are based on the proportions of the human body it’s clear we measure stuff to find our place amongst it all and to connect with it in some way. By exploring the world at hand, from the basement to the backyard, I have found a resonance in things. An energy vibrates in that space between our perceptions of the world and the potential the mind senses for our interventions within the world. This energy is the source of all true art and science, it breeds those beloved “Ah Ha!” moments and it allows us to sense the extraordinary in the common.

For me, wonder is a state of mind somewhere between knowledge and uncertainty. It is the basis of my practice and results in images that are simultaneously familiar yet strange. Each piece begins as a question of visual possibilities and develops in tandem with the natural laws of the world. Serendipitously, this process often yields unexpected results measurable only through photographic processes. The human presence and artifacts of the process provide a clue to the creation of the photograph while adding to the mysterious nature of the image. My hope is that this work affirms that even within the well tested laws of science there are, and must always be, pathways to reinterpretation and discovery.


These pictures began by accident.  I was curious to see what would happen if I allowed bacteria to grow on the surface of film. I was interested in relinquishing the control of image making to a natural process. My original thought was to remove the silver from film to make images of bacterial growth. By chance and by luck, I was not entirely successful; some slight traces of silver particles remained on a few pieces of film. As I proceeded with the experiment I was amazed to see what the bacteria were doing. The bacterial growth patterns were re-depositing the image particles, revealing a life cycle traced in silver.  I could not ignore such unexpected and fascinating results. What began as a photograph had become a biograph, a trace of life, an index of an existence. I had witnessed something strange and unknown to me; I needed to look further into this phenomenon.

To refine the accident I exerted a slight degree of control over the process. I created solid fields of tone or color on pieces of film, which were then treated like Petri dishes. I coated the film with a substance called Agar, a nutrient source and a base on which the bacteria could grow. In time the bacteria would eat through the Agar and proceed to consume the gelatin emulsion of the film. Once the emulsion was compromised the image particles were set adrift and repositioned by the growth cycle of the bacteria.

The system I had established provided the bacteria with a limited amount of nutrients, the Agar and the gelatin. Once the bacteria had grown and spread across the film it would inevitably consume all available resources and cease to grow. The system would shut down as indicated by no further changes in the patterning. At this point I scanned the film as evidence of the life cycle.

The resulting growth patterns are nebulous, not dissimilar to patterns on a beach at low tide or aerial images of tundra, both of which are traces of natural processes. These landscapes evolved on a dark shelf in my apartment, but they take us to worlds we thought we might have seen through Hubble’s lens, on a trip to the coast, or after the floods recede. They are little worlds, life-scapes on sheets of photographic film.

Back to Light

The English scientist Michael Faraday, whose experiments with electricity and magnetism allowed for the practical use of theses forces in the modern world, once said “All this is a dream. Still examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these experiment is the best test of such consistency.” To understand the world and to profit from it one must interact with it, one must experiment. My practice as an artist combines a scientific curiosity with a constructive approach to making pictures. I utilize everyday objects and fundamental forces to illustrate experiences of wonder. For me, wonder is a state of mind somewhere between knowledge and uncertainty. An energy vibrates in that space between our perceptions of the world and the potential the mind senses for our interventions within the world.

My current body of work, Back to Light, expands upon a classic grade school science project, the potato battery. By inserting a galvanized nail into one side of a potato and a copper wire in the other side a small electrical current is generated. The utter simplicity of this electrical phenomenon is endlessly fascinating for me. Many people have had the experience of drawing power from fruit in the classroom, and it never ceases to bring a smile to the face or a thought to the mind. This work speaks to a common curiosity we all have for how the world works as well as a global concern for the future of earth’s energy sources.

Since all this is a dream my hope is that these photographs function as micro utopias by suggesting and illustrating the endless possibilities of alternative and sustainable energy production. The cycle that begins with the light of our closest star implanting organic materials with nutrients and energy, is re-routed in these images, Back to Light, illuminating earth once again.

Source: Īgnant