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Magical Pictures That Capture Tiny Gems Of Scientific Discovery

Caleb Charland turns lab studies into visions that seem from another world.

  • <p>"Fruit Battery Still Life (Citrus)"</p>
  • <p>"A Variety of Circular Objects in a Box of Glow Paint"</p>
  • <p>"Apple Trees and LEDs"</p>
  • <p>"Attempting to Paddle Straight at the Moon"</p>
  • <p>"Blizzard with Point and Shoot Cameras"</p>
  • <p>"Breakbeat with Sparkler Metronome"</p>
  • <p>"Coin Battery After Volta"</p>
  • <p>"Demonstration with WD-40"</p>
  • <p>"Fifteen Hours"</p>
  • <p>"Globe Dissection"</p>
  • <p>"Helix with Matchsticks"</p>
  • <p>"Penumbra in Paint Can"</p>
  • <p>"Shooting a Panorama in a Snow Storm"</p>
  • <p>"Solid Liquid Gas"</p>
  • <p>"Study for Sun with Face Mirror"</p>
  • <p>"Ten Seconds in Oil and Water"</p>
  • <p>"Three Hundred Matches"</p>
  • <p>"Vinegar Battery"</p>
  • 01 /18

    "Fruit Battery Still Life (Citrus)"

  • 02 /18

    "A Variety of Circular Objects in a Box of Glow Paint"

  • 03 /18

    "Apple Trees and LEDs"

  • 04 /18

    "Attempting to Paddle Straight at the Moon"

  • 05 /18

    "Blizzard with Point and Shoot Cameras"

  • 06 /18

    "Breakbeat with Sparkler Metronome"

  • 07 /18

    "Coin Battery After Volta"

  • 08 /18

    "Demonstration with WD-40"

  • 09 /18

    "Fifteen Hours"

  • 10 /18

    "Globe Dissection"

  • 11 /18

    "Helix with Matchsticks"

  • 12 /18

    "Penumbra in Paint Can"

  • 13 /18

    "Shooting a Panorama in a Snow Storm"

  • 14 /18

    "Solid Liquid Gas"

  • 15 /18

    "Study for Sun with Face Mirror"

  • 16 /18

    "Ten Seconds in Oil and Water"

  • 17 /18

    "Three Hundred Matches"

  • 18 /18

    "Vinegar Battery"

If Caleb Charland were my kid, I’d live in constant fear of a house fire. The artist-inventor gets his kicks creating wondrous photographic images from ordinary household phenomena, usually some sort of flame or flammable material. A question that might cross his mind: What would happen if I sprayed WD-40 into a lit candle? Fortunately, I’m not his parent, so I can applaud his unbridled curiosity and his talent for turning the mundane into magic.

[A coin battery.]

Growing up in rural Maine, Charland spent much his childhood helping his father remodel their family homes, instilling in him "an awareness of the potential for the creative use of materials," he says. Each photo begins with a hypothetical—How would this look? What would happen if . . .?—and then develops into an experimental process of discovery and documentation. For his "Study with Sun and Face Mirror," for instance, the artist stood in front of the camera holding a circular bathroom mirror and bouncing rays of light into the lens. Through a series of exposures, he suspended the sun around his body, condensing multiple events into a single image.

Bucking the trend of digital manipulation, Charland prefers to construct his visions in-camera. "I guess you could do it in Photoshop a lot quicker and easier, but I enjoy the analog process," he told The Wall Street Journal. "There is something to working within limits."

All images © Caleb Charland