Time, Technology, and the Hunt -- Jayme McLellan
Colby Caldwell’s spent series is new photographic work. It is based on shotgun shell casings in varying ages and states of decay found throughout the rural farm where he lives in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Through scanning these shells at high resolution and presenting them on stark white backgrounds, the artist has imported what might be called refuse into the domain of photography, presenting the material almost as billboards touting memory and the passage of time.
Hunters and photographers both rely on technology and machinations to do their work. Their aids have taken forms as simple as arrowheads, gunpowder, and crystalline lenses and forms as complex as flatbed scanners, double-barrel shotguns, and high-definition cameras.
The land of St. Mary’s is layered with the history of its past inhabitants. Archaeology students have remarked how common arrowheads were to find while sifting the soil in the county. New archaeologists are continuing to learn from the artifacts left behind by the Conoy Indians, who were native inhabitants living at the time of the first English settlement in Maryland in 1632. These arrowheads, objects lost on undiscerning eyes because they were made from earth, are physical and certain. They can be held and beheld. They carry stories of presence and absence.
Caldwell’s spent interprets this essential cycle. Through contemplation of absence, a presence builds, and it is through this building that one begins to sense the entirety of what’s gone.
The series is also a narrative about continuity and layers of the land.
Caldwell’s farm is filled with old hunting blinds where I imagine a scene of perhaps two or three men in camouflage, hunkered down with beer and shotguns. They talked quietly and drank slowly. Silence would grip them when they heard a bird. One of them would shoot, the casing falling to the floor of the blind. They would walk the land slowly, scanning the sky, unloading a round or two here or there. Unlike their ancestors they would not run and engage with their targets. They squeezed the triggers. Through fire and gunpowder they killed or missed.
On countless walks across his property over the years, Caldwell gathered the old shells left by these hunters. He brought them into his house, laid them out and considered them again and again. Originally from a yellow package, the cartridges were various colors – depending on what kind of game was targeted – and they had brass tops. With age and oxidation, they turned to red, pink, blue, green, and gray. Through the chaos of the explosion and the location of the shell (either landing on dirt or grass, face up or down) each of the once-identical shells became unique.
The presentation of these spent objects tells of the complex relationship the artist has with both hunting and photography. Much of Caldwell’s work has dealt with memories of hunting. His grandfather hunted the land in North Carolina and Montana. Caldwell has presented film stills, photographs, and videos of these hunting scenes with images of the defining objects and landscapes of the hunt: birds, sky, dogs, and cornfields.
The ritual of hunting has, at its core, a narrative culture. Its primary issue is the value of sacrifice. Caldwell’s images tell that story. The images are magnified, framed in wood, and waxed by hand. Adding more than just a scan or an edit, Caldwell lends the human hand back into work whose presentation also relies on modern machines.
With spent, Caldwell has furthered the myth of memory. He has rendered relics into something new. They are frozen in process; his work allows us to live with them now. The hunters are gone, the shells spent, but their culture, as we recognize its absence, bears down on our present, thinning the static between us and them.
Opening Reception: Friday, March 23, 7-9pm
Colby Caldwell’s spent series is new photographic work based on shotgun shell casings of varying ages and in varying states of decay found throughout the rural farm where he lives in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Through scanning these shells at high resolution and presenting them on stark white backgrounds, the artist has imported what might be called “refuse” into the domain of photography, presenting the material almost as billboards touting memory and the passage of time.