Fine art photographer Calli P. McCaw, who currently divides her time between Manhattan and the Big Island of Hawaii, started out as a street photographer, though with time her work has evolved into something which better reflects her lifelong passion for art history. In her latest series Imagine That we see young girls standing inside well-known paintings dressed in costumes inspired by period clothing — they are neither here nor there, seemingly engaging with the paintings and yet largely devoid of painterly qualities. These great paintings are reenvisioned through the eyes of youth in the modern day. The artist elaborates: “their innocence is as metaphor for beauty, aesthetics, and humanism”.
Calli objects to the modern day rhetoric which encourages contemporary artists to favour concepts over aesthetics, and this is reflected in the pivotal role of beauty in Imagine That. Though that is not to say that the photographer completely abandons the conceptual idea in pursuit of beauty, she elaborates: “Although a relevant concept is essential to create art which resonates in its time, it is beauty’s ability to stimulate the senses that gives art the power to touch the soul, uplift the spirit, connect with our humanity and, when the conceptual message is a disturbing one, forge a bridge to engage the intellect”.
Another key theme in the series is the way in which the learnings of the past, as presented through the canon of art, have the capacity to shape our individual identity and contemporary culture. The images in this series are part of an investigation, spurred by questions the artist does not yet have answers to: “Are we destined to be mere observers standing isolated from the lessons of history, or will we enrich our future by imagining to cross the picture plane into the artist’s world to engage in an age old conversation with history?” The images in Imagine That provide a window onto a child’s impressions as they immerse themselves in the beauty of canonical paintings.
If we cast a glance to Calli’s earlier portfolios it is evident that her roots were in street photography Early on in her career and armed with a camera she recorded candid moments of growing up in New York in her series Coney Island, Coming of Age and the revelry of New Orleans in Mardi Gras, As I Saw It. Having studied Modernism and multicultural art histories, with time she found that this work on the street distanced her from her lifelong interest in art history, and she sought a means of retrieval. Calli found inspiration in the studio where she was able to manipulate images in Photoshop, and this brought her closer to her passion. This personal, creative journey culminated in Imagine That, a project which the artist perceives as being a conflation of the conceptual and the aesthetic and thus truer to her inner self.
All images © Calli P. McCaw