Chuck Kelton uses darkroom chemicals to manipulate photosensitive paper, resulting in haunting yet lush photograms and chemograms. Although abstract, Kelton’s artworks pull inspiration from nature; his chemograms and photograms are reminiscent of canyons, mountains, deserts, and forests. The artworks are composed of muted colors—sepia tones, blues, and oranges—which result from adding chemicals such as gold chloride, selenium, and iron to image developer. This exhibition is titled Folds after Kelton’s choice to fold his artworks below their centers creating a horizon line.
Kelton’s works on paper command an unusual presence; they are worlds appearing on the edge of calamity where the environment appears caught on fire and clouds settle after disaster. However, there is also a gentleness to his works as they resemble mist on top of mountains, evening fog, a 2am sky after snowfall, or the calm before a storm. Kelton’s imagery is delicate and composed, but simultaneously the product of improvisation and accident, and what remains are deliriously serene atmospheric images.
Kelton has been a master printer for over 35 years and has handled the work of artists such as Danny Lyon, Helen Levitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Larry Clark, and Lillian Bassman. His command of the darkroom is overwhelmingly present in Folds. Despite how closely the chemograms and photograms resemble landscapes, they are each unique and constructed purely in the darkroom.
“I’m looking for spectacular images, something I haven’t seen before, something that references photography and a hundred other things both historical and visual. A moment where chaos seems to undermine harmony. A moment where you feel threatened and peaceful, a visual dialogue between oppositions; irrational and rational, belief to disbelief, something at once known and unknown.”
—Chuck Kelton interview with Lens Culture
Also on display in Folds are materials and tools significant to Kelton’s practice, such as 19th- and 20th-century photographic manuals, from which the artist draws formulas to make his work. Kelton has also lent his notebooks and photographs used in the process of creating his works.