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John Chiara
at Haines Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendaton by Cherie Louise Turner

The handmade aspects of John Chiara's approach to photography push the limits of the medium and lends it a distinctive physicality.


Continuing through May 26, 2012


Photographer John Chiara pushes the physical limits of his medium just to the edge of obscurity, rendering landscape photographs replete with evidence of the creative process. The subject of these fifteen mid-sized works (all photographs measure roughly 33-by-28 inches) is San Francisco. 


Chiara uses homemade cameras to create his images, and rather than using film, he creates positives — the image is shot directly onto Ilfochrom, a photographic paper. Each image, therefore, is unique. Chiara develops the prints “blindly” in capped PVC pipes using experience and instinct to determine when the image is complete. Vestiges of the chemicals can be seen on the images as drips, immediately referencing Abstract Expressionist action painting, with which Chiara’s photos share elements of spontaneity and chance beauty. Also evident are the marks left by the tape Chiara uses to attach the paper to the camera. 


While Chiara’s laborious process makes for an intriguing backstory, the works stand on their own. The images, of both natural landscapes with hints of the city behind and urban scapes, are meditative and moody; colors are often muted with highlights of gorgeous yellows or glowing greens and blues. Beyond the image, the works have a distinct physicality. Along with the marks left by Chiara’s process, the hand-cut edges are ragged, and the paper itself doesn’t sit entirely flat, giving them a sculptural relief quality. 


While there are no low points in the show, some images are more engaging, stronger than others. The unevenness actually contributes to the overall success of the exhibition: this is not an exact science; each piece is a risk on multiple levels. We are allowed, then, the distinct pleasure of experiencing a range of results, providing satisfying insight into the vagaries of the numerous choices at play and an appreciation for how deftly Chiara handles his chosen challenges. 

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