Photographic visionary Chuck Kelton opens exhibition at The SPACE Art Gallery

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Photographic visionary Chuck Kelton opens exhibition at The SPACE Art Gallery
Chuck Kelton, Thoughts on Mountains and Valleys #87.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Using only traditional black and white photographic chemicals and traditional light sensitive photographic paper, Kelton creates vivid landscapes that dance with movement. The result is a version of reality that evokes both chaos and stability and adds the additional comfort of this world having been Dipped In Gold.

Kelton’s chemigrams and photograms are the continuation of a half century of photographic explorations that started with his first camera click at the age of 13. Completing his MFA at Ohio University, in a program that focused not only on the development and creation of visual projects but an intensive study of the photographic materials themselves. Kelton was on a journey, not only to create his own works of art but to become a Master Printer in the commercial and artistic world of photographic printing. This selection of work has its foundations in his early visits to Bear Mountain, outside of New York City. It was there that Kelton first experimented by holding photographic paper against a tree and allowing the light to directly expose the paper. The result was a magical expression of negative space that blurred the reality of what was present and what is imagined.

In 1979 Kelton moved back to New York City and opened Kelton Labs. This was a “high end” black and white photographic lab that specialized in both commercial and fine exhibition printing. Kelton’s talent and unparalleled abilities gave him access to some of the most famous photographers of this era: Danny Lyon, Louis Faurer, Mary Ellen Mark, Saul Leiter, Steven Meisel, Lillian Bassman, Helen Levitt to name a few. He had become a trusted name in the business and was sought after to print posthumously the negatives of Alfred Eisenstadt, Robert Capa, and Ansel Adams. Even today he is entrusted with images the rest of us only see in books.

Kelton never stopped exploring his personal vision of cameraless photography. He works inside and outside his darkroom transforming light, chemicals, precious metals, and photographic paper into rich landscapes that sit on the very edge of abstraction. While the first permanent photograph is attributed to Nicephore Niepce, William Fox Talbot was concurrently experimenting with photograms. Over the next two and half centuries the photographic process continued to develop this is where Kelton picks up the baton. Building on the work he began in Bear Mountain he absorbed all this technique and process as though he was the silver on the paper.

A photogram is made by exposing photosensitive paper to light; a chemigram is created by exposing light sensitive paper to chemicals. In Kelton’s work you see the nods to great manipulators of the process, alchemists, artists, and scientists: Pierre Cordier, Talbot, Le Gray, Man Ray, and Moholy-Nagy. His work is alive, infused with the history of photography, creating a new visual ideology. He frequently combines techniques in a single image. Selecting tools, as a master would, tusing chance, chemistry, oxidized paper, and liquified metals, Kelton performs, allowing these works to emerge from his imagination into spectacular images of something we may have seen. The oxidized paper becomes the canvas. The works can take months to create, culminating with the appearance of richly detailed textures, linear shapes, or spheres of heavenly bodies. These works have the luminosity of traditional photography, with the physical and optical complexity of Leonardo’s legendary and mysterious landscapes.

Kelton’s work invites us into a romantic world, delicate and highly composed. A world composed of inky tones, black, reds, mottled bronze, deep blues, flares, and swirling shapes creating compositions that approach a reality and quickly slip past into a vision of a profound unique sensibility.

As art history examines the photographic process, there is no doubt that Kelton’s name will designate the next leap forward. From his seminal series View Not from A Window to the selected works in this exhibition Dipped in Gold, his work is synonymous with cameraless photography. Kelton’s works have been exhibited around the world. He is in numerous collections, including The Getty Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Nelson-Atkins, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and The Morgan Library, to name a few.

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