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The Basic Elements of Photography

Caleb Charland, a Hampden native, is a world-renowned photographer — but not of people, or places, or real-life scenes in the world. Rather, he uses the basic elements of science and everyday visual phenomena to create vivid photographs of simple things like plants, lightbulbs, toys, glass, and metal. In one series of photographs, he used potatoes, citrus and apples to create “fruit batteries,” to power little lights. In another, he used a long-exposure camera to take a photo of the stars moving in the sky. He flicked a lighter over 1,500 times to create a flaming ball of light. The result? Richly colored, deeply meditative, oddly compelling images of the natural world.

Charland, 36, lives and work in Brewer. His next show, “Shadows of Earth,” opens Jan. 12 at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

What are your earliest memories of being creative? As a kid, what inspired you?

I grew up in a DIY household, and that had a huge influence on me — seeing my dad construct things, learning how to use tools. That more pragmatic construction process was a big thing for me. My older brother draws and paints and teaches middle school art, now, and my uncle is a graphic designer, and my grandma painted. It was always around. I could never really draw well, though I always liked art class. I got a camera as a kid and I loved it. And then, when the Maine College of Art hosted classes at Hampden Academy, I took a photo class and really fell in love. I was always in the dark room.

How did you end up utilizing things like fruits and vegetables, chemicals, basic elements of the scientific process to create photographs? When did that become your preferred medium?

Photography is scientific, in a way. But you’re capturing and recording things, not actually constructing something by hand, like you would if you were painting. I wanted to do that with photography. When I moved home to Maine, in between undergraduate and graduate [studies], I actually thought I might pursue medical radiology. I took a year of classes at EMCC and was learning all this science, and I was also working on the house with my dad, and I just think all of that really inspired me. And that’s really where it started, just experimenting with those ideas and with photography.

When you’re working, what do you do to stay in the right place, creatively? How do you keep your ideas and inspirations in order?

The past couple years, I’ve tried to do an hour-long walk in the morning, at like 6 a.m. It’s like walking meditation. I think about procedures I’m going to do that day. I tinker a lot, too. I keep a sketchbook with project ideas in it. Actually, there’s something I just worked on that’s actually an idea from several years ago, and I’m just getting to it now.

What’s up next for you?

Right now, I’m photographing leaves and plants. So I’ll go to the library and start reading about plants … I’ve also got a show coming up at the University of Maine Museum of Art, and that’s really exciting. It’s been in the works for a long time. But really, I’m focused on making work. I’m taking it slow. I’m letting it breathe, taking my time.

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