Fifty Plus Years of Thinking, Teaching, Writing About, and Making Pictures

Lecture Excerpt

© Bruno Chalifour
© Bruno Chalifour

Representation, as I use the word, does not mean a documentary trace of the natural, social world; does not refer to specific times and places.  Representation in my usage refers to how photographic syntax allows and restricts -- how it delimits and frames the visual transformation of whatever is silenced and stilled, and seen, from the frozen single vantage point of the camera's lens. I'm interested in how, when what is in front of my lens comes together into a new object -- (a photographic print containing tones, shapes and edges) -- how that photograph, as a new object, causes a genuinely real but fresh experience, one which did not exist before the photograph's appearance. The word "representation", for me, is, then, about the reality of photography’s way of transforming things -- as opposed to the idea of photography’s way of reproducing, or tracing, the supposed reality of things. A  photograph may be used to represent the unknown, the mysterious, or invisible as usefully as it may be used to represent the known and visible.  It can be used for both prose and poetry where metaphors may dominate the viewer’s response, where second thoughts may override the immediate response.   


A photograph presents the artist and the viewer with a challenge, because we always want to know what it is  -- as if the photograph were not there.  For over 165 years, an extraordinary number of forces have made us instinctively believe that photographs are windows on reality -- even when reason tells us otherwise.  We share photos of our children and we say, “this is my daughter,” as if the photograph were not there. Consequently, we tend to fail to consciously recognize that while a photograph is substantially different from other kinds of pictures, it is still a picture, and, therefore is characteristically, and importantly, different from whatever was in front of the lens. Instead of trying to hide photography's own special characteristics of transformation in an illusion of some material reality, I try to expose them, to exploit them, to underline the fact that the viewer is seeing an abstraction, a picture, not actual events, -- as in the pictures in this exhibition.  Of course, individual picturemakers and picture users have their own special ways of transformation as well; and today's digital tools just compound the possibilities.


Even without considering the digital revolution, however, the difference between photography and reality is, and always was, central to my thinking and working.  In the case of the media photograph, as in the widely published image issued by the Bolivian government as evidence of the capture and death of Che Guevera, the 1960s revolutionary, the Bolivians wanted us to believe that the photo showed us the truth! (You know the photo where a presumably dead man who looks like Che is laid out on a table with Bolivian solders standing around it, poking the body, etc.). The difference between photographs and reality can have serious consequences for our understanding of political and social events. How can we know the true relationship between this photograph and the actual facts about Che? Directly connected to this question, of course, is the ongoing debate over the facts and images of events in the Middle East. The issue of difference in the case of my work, while similar, has an additional wrinkle: how to hold the viewer's attention beyond the initial frustration of being unable to decipher "what it is"; -- the problem is how to get the viewer to abandon the commonly held belief in the photograph as window; how to get the viewer to go through the window to a new and unique visual event, not to an illusion of one that already occurred.


My photographs are made from collages which I construct specifically to be photographed in black and white.  My process creates form and subject simultaneously.  The collages are means to an end and are discarded after the photographs are completed. The photographs do not look like the collages from which they were made. The photographs are transformations which refer to, and represent, but they refer to and represent visual sensations which I know only from a mix of past encounters with other pictures, music, the world, dreams, and fantasies.  


The studio and darkroom are like scientists' laboratories.  Artist and scientist both tinker with the known in search of the unknown. Both have a desire to see realities never before seen.  That desire is what motivates my work. I set myself free to explore the  photographic picture potential of the process itself, continuing to actively encourage chance, accident, and discovery.


My intention, then, my use of photography, as well as I can know it, is rooted in my belief in it as an artificially constructed medium of pictorial transformation; as a controllable process of making imagery that refers to or represents ideas, events, or feelings that are as real as anything we can point to or name;  imagery that is, in both collage and print, endlessly mysterious.


As Albert Einstein once said, "One of the most beautiful things we can experience is the mysterious... It is the source of all true science and art. He who can no longer pause to wonder is as good as dead."     


My commitment, finally, is to the exploration of how little we know as compared to how much we think we know; and to how little we know as compared to how much we feel.  To be able to make photographs which could convey such enigmas is my continuing obsession.


— Carl Chiarenza, 2013

Reviews and Publications

Excerpts and Quotations

“The newer works [actual collages], which each bear the name of a musician, such as ‘Rossini,’ ‘Ludwig,’ and ‘Brubeck,’ are layered, visual soundscape-compositions, with complex dimensions and textures that often include an occasional uncharacteristic shot of color amid the silvers and grays. 

“Personal associations and reverie tend to surface when I look into Chiarenza’s emotionally evocative dreamscapes. Menotomy 340 and Noumenon 148, created in 1982 and 1987 respectively, each feature gracefully balanced, layered shapes. The first contains shimmering forms that bring Giacometti’s figures to mind, and the latter pairs soft contours with hard edges and a drop off into darkness. Everywhere, patterns abound, light catches the buckled edges of metallic, softly crinkled surfaces, and downy fibers wisp, mist-like, between realms of light and shadow.” 

Rebecca Rafferty, CITY Newspaper, Rochester, NY, September 17-23, 2014 

On The Peace Warriors of 2003: 

    "One of the few times Chiarenza did make representational collages happened while he was listening to the radio about the war in Iraq. Frustrated with the actions of the US government, he found his collages began to take the shape of a warrior. He continued with this theme to create images to represent samurai, the Grim Reaper, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza. Peace Warrior 188 [2003], for example, is composed of torn, twisted, crumbled, and folded bits of metal and fiber, with the figure holding a makeshift weapon without giving us a sense of violence. Samurai 329 [2003] looks to have a halo and is surrounded by wings. 'These pictures helped me as a thinking, feeling person in regard to what was going on abroad.' 

    "Chiarenza plays around with his scraps of materials 'endlessly, until something speaks to me.' The collages themselves are only 4x5 to 5x7", and, using a Polaroid MP4 copy stand and a 4x5 camera, he'll make test prints, change the lighting and configuration, alter the temperature and time of the developers, and throw out as few as one, or as many as 20 compositions for each finished photo. 'The pictures tell me what to do and I follow that lead.' Like painters or composers who regularly change or modify parts or wholes of compositions, he 'just knows' when all the parts come together and it 'looks and feels right.'" 

    ...  "No matter what the origin, Chiarenza is mainly interested in 'how, when it all comes together into a new object, a picture, the creation causes a response that excites a genuinely real, fresh experience that did not exist before the photograph. I want the viewer to experience it in any way he or she connects.'"

Suzanne Driscoll, “The Work of Carl Chiarenza," in Shutterbug Vol 43, No 07, May 20, 2014, pp. 98-100, 124.  

“Through the years of making his art, Chiarenza has always discarded his collages since they were only a means to an end. But in an interesting twist, he has recently begun to make collages out of his discarded prints.

“Partly in response to his dwindling supply of the discontinued film and paper he has always used, and partly because of his ever-open attitude to see where life takes him, Chiarenza is once again transforming himself and his work.” 

Lisa Tiffin, “Master of Photography,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 2, 2014, p. 3C.

“Chiarenza’s images are rife with stark chiaroscuro and a rich scale of silvers set against a void, hinting at moonscapes or landscapes painted by moonlight. What the artist accomplishes by catching light in the crinkles and folds of layered cast-off materials is astounding. 

“The photographs suggest tangible elements of this world... a crisp envelope lip in one work becomes the clear sky above dark mountains, and in another, patterned paper resembles a tree-dotted, snowy hill rising over a lake that gleams with a gently swaying band of moonlight. But the images are also territories of the luminous. Staring into these worlds, I feel the peace of looking on from far away, unencumbered by the silent dramas of any unknowable inhabitants found there. There is beauty, and the pull of mystery, and the passage of time. But this is only one interpretation.” 

Rebecca Rafferty, “Wrinkles in time,” CITY, September 25-October 1, 2013, p. 24.

“Chiarenza’s luminous, meticulously crafted black and white photographs remove his subject from the everyday world of color. This allows his images to transcend their specific subject matter and evoke an inner state of consciousness that grapples with his subject matter beyond its external structure. Chiarenza’s spirit of experimentation disrupts customary expectations through his use of everyday materials to visualize their metamorphosis into hauntingly beautiful abstractions that hint at horizons, geological strata, and quixotic figures. His constructed meditative symbols forge a connection between the mind and nature that elicits emotional responses. 

“This work, often relating to the landscape, dismantles formal media boundaries and permits photography to merge with graphic design, painting, and sculpture. Conceptually, Chiarenza’s transformational image-making pulls back the photographic cloak to reveal its illusional qualities. In turn, this draws attention to the difference between a photograph and the reality it depicts, reminding us that all photographs are constructed images and not concrete realities. 

“Ultimately, Chiarenza’s work invites psychological speculation by encouraging us to examine unconscious and/or subliminal workings of the mind, thus demonstrating how knowledge about our world and ourselves can be gleaned through a fabricated methodology.” 

Robert Hirsch, “Carl Chiarenza ... Turning Detritus into Splendor,” Photo technique, Vol. 33, No. 6, Nov/Dec 2012, pp. 4-7 

“Much like a painter who commences with a blank canvas, Chiarenza begins his landscapes on a photographic copy stand. He says of his approach, ‘It’s really serendipitous.... Usually I start by moving materials around and adjusting the lights until I see something emerge. This allows me to alter that relationship in a manner similar to how I burn and dodge in the darkroom, and this gives me direction.  It is my way of giving back to nature something that I got indirectly from nature. 

“Chiarenza photographs the resulting collages... The collages are a means to  an end and are discarded after their purpose is served, the scraps of paper simply representing what Chiarenza would like to find in nature but feels does not exist. This route allows him to symbolically restructure the natural world to express his relationship to it, and in turn, to ask viewers to look deeply and generate their own interpretations.  The resulting images create an expressionist constructing evoking unconscious emotions and feelings based on the artist’s mind-set without regard for established standards of photographic reality. 

“... A key characteristic of Chiarenza’s dark, monochromatic prints is nyctophilia. a preference for and comfort in darkness. This can be seen in the amount and the variation of photographic black he includes and controls in realizing his prints. He reflects, ‘I start with black and something grows out of it that slows you down and encourages you to stop and stay in the picture.... However, it’s not only the blacks, but also what happens with the light.  It’s really about light and absence of light without the interference of those distracting colors. It’s a riddle that simultaneously baffles and challenges us and reminds us that every photograph is an abstraction.’ 

“...Studying Chiarenza’s images can be akin to listening to music with your eyes closed; it gives the brain a reprieve from the seeing-is-believing model traditionally coupled with photography. 

“Viewing Chiarenza’s work requires attention and concentration, which will be rewarded with a sensation one might refer to as the fantastic--an experience in contradiction to our normal expectations....”

Robert Hirsch, Transmutation: Photographic Works by Carl Chiarenza, University at Buffalo Galleries, 2012, pp. 5-22

“[...In this book there is] the successful pairing of ‘Untitled 113, 2002’ (p. 30) and ‘The Glowing Knot’ c. 1961’ (p.31). These two images were created forty-one years apart yet they echo one another with their lush tonality and defining lines and forms. The entire first grouping of pictures in the book holds together thematically and visually despite spanning the years 1955 to 2002, bridging the period in Carl’s career when he moved from outside to inside the studio, from nature to min-made to artist-made. 

“This publication demonstrates that over the past five decades Carl has been engaged in an aesthetic trajectory that had tangents and twists yet always remained faithful to an unnameable truth. This is hardly uncommon among artists, but possessing the luxury to examine and reflect upon threads running throughout a lifetime of artwork reveals a personal and artistic commitment that may not be obvious or tangible otherwise. Hence the importance of the connectedness not only in ascertaining the strengths and differences in Carl’s work over time, but in observing where his imagery comes from and how it always relates to another picture, even if the source material for the pictures varies radically.”  

Elizabeth Schlatter, Carl Chiarenza: Pictures Come from Pictures...1955-2007, David R. Godine 2008, pp. 9-17. 

"Well, the bottom line is that you've made a lifetime worth of wonderful photographs, fifty years of which are represented in Pictures Come from Pictures. There may have never been another Carl Chiarenza in the history of photography; there may never be another one. Speaking for myself and many, many LensWork readers, I'm sure glad there is one and that you make such wonderful pictures. 

Brooks Jensen, "Interview with Carl Chiarenza," LensWork, No. 79 Nov-Dec 2008, pp. 66-93.  

"The body of photographs on exhibition is single-minded and self-authenticating. In the artist's attempt to ferret out the aesthetic parameters of his medium, one feels a critical intelligence working through a succession of models based in historical and contemporary photography. Unlike the work of many of his contemporaries, these works are not narrative or spiritual or surreal in nature. Instead, the photographs are frequently commentaries and re-phrasings that ultimately yield a formally secure sense of the expressive range of photography. 

"The earliest works in this exhibition establish a pattern of conversing with other artists, without self-consciousness regarding influence.... but the range of looking closely ... significantly filling the small photographic frame with exceptionally dark tones, enacts a kind of abstract drawing with light that inflects and unifies these strikingly original images.

".... Chiarenza's own meditation on the issue of representation and abstraction in photography is revisited in his own picture making  ...

"Cherishing 'the reality of photography's way of transforming things' is compounded by the artist's conviction in, even obsession with, the mystery of his medium that informs his extraordinary printing enterprise. The dense blacks and expertly derived tonal shifts from black to white are technically stunning, even unprecedented. They become a freestanding matrix for 'processing' the unknown, perhaps the invisible, into the sensually photographic."

Judith Tolnick, "The Present Exhibition," in Carl Chiarenza: a special exhibition (exhibition brochure), Photography Gallery, University of Rhode Island (Kingston), 2003, np.

"Carl Chiarenza, for over 45  years, has created photographic images of a mysteriously haunting nature made visible by a most unique and personal approach. Initially through the traditional use of a large format camera, and since 1979, working in a studio-controlled environment with collaging materials. Chiarenza's images challenge our notion of what a photograph looks like and what it tells us....

"... In [his] new book, Evocations, published by Nazraeli Press, the poetry of Robert Koch is interspersed  with his photographs. Like a map drawn to illuminate a journey to the places we rarely see clearly, Koch's poetry establishes a discourse on linking the visual to the verbal....

"Distilling his fascination with probing space and surface through the medium of light, Chiarenza composes his miniature 'landscapes' for the camera by collaging torn strips of paper and foil with a multitude of carefully placed materials.... This way of working allows Chiarenza 'to see how space and surface fluctuate as I change my angle of viewing. It fascinates me to be swept up by the movement of source materials into field or space, to see the tangible transformed into a wholly unique visual event.'

"With his strong and uncompromising urge for experimentation Carl Chiarenza today remains the spirited explorer and vital seeker he has always been. His photographic images are at the same time vigorous and lyrical, evocative and provocative, and daringly beautiful..."

Leland Rice,  "Carl Chiarenza," Black & White, Issue 21 (October, 2002) ,  pp. 68-75.

"...Almost from the beginning his has been a landscape photography, but nearly always of interior landscapes ...

"... his true spiritual predecessors may be those great explorers of uncharted  landscapes ... who accompanied the geological survey expeditions through the unknown vastness of the American West ... Chiarenza's landscapes are his own fabrications, to be sure, images of collages made from scraps of paper, bits of tin cans, and other detritus, but I suspect that his photography is nevertheless every bit as much an exploration of unknown territory as was Jackson's wilderness search ..."

Rodger Kingston, "A Mind with a View," Bostonia, Summer,  2002,   pp. 82-83.

"Chiarenza is one of the medium's Renaissance men: artist, critic, historian, theorist, educator.  In all of those roles, he has since the late 1950s participated actively in the ... contest over the meaning, function, and status of photographs as communicative and creative artifacts....

"Chiarenza ... asks us ... to keep in mind exactly what we're looking at, that tangible yet negligible ' stuff '-- while at the same time following the impulse to project ourselves into the imaginary spaces the work implies, all without losing sight of the fact that the symbol system enabling that perceptual and philosophical challenge is photographic representation.  His respect for our intelligence is such that he believes us capable of holding these ideas simultaneously and relishing the exciting, unsettling tensions, contradictions, and resonances between them.

"... Encountering these images, therefore, becomes ... an important lesson in seeing: not just in how this photographer sees, but how we all see.

"... And it is a lesson embedded in works that are fundamentally and necessarily visual, that absolutely require the specific medium in which they're cast and the craft strategies by which they've been made -- and that call insistently to the eye and mind and ravish the sensorium.

".... I know of no body of work that better exemplifies that combination of the educational and creative impulses.... As does every fine teacher, Chiarenza has distilled for us the core understandings from his discipline's past.  And, as every serious artist must, he has carried that set of ideas a long step forward."

(c) 2001   A. D. Coleman, "Carl Chiarenza: tears and pressures," Ag, Vol. 25,  pp.34-43. See also, the variations: A. D. Coleman, "Carl Chiarenza: 'Pushing the Envelope,'" in  

Carl Chiarenza: Photographs 1984-1997  (exh. brochure),  High Museum of Art, 1997; reprinted in The Photo Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, 1998,  pp.15-19, and, A.D. Coleman, 

"Photography as Metaphor - The Illusory Terrain of Carl Chiarenza,"  View Camera, Vol. XIV, No. III (May/June, 2001 ), pp. 3, 28-35

"... Chiarenza's pensive symbols formulate a connection between the mind and nature that elicit inner emotional states. This work, that often references the landscape, deconstructs the formal media boundary lines and allows photography to merge with sculpture, graphic design, and painting. For Chiarenza photography is a process of transformation and as such Chiarenza utilizes photography's illusional qualities to remind viewers about the difference between a photograph and reality and that they are looking at a picture and not a concrete reality."

Robert Hirsch, Seizing the Light: A History of Photography, McGraw-Hill, 2000, p. 450.

"You've used the camera and the medium in a unique way that is atypical of photographers. Most photographers attempt to use the camera as the 'window on the world' paradigm. Your images are non-representational. You construct things and photograph them. That seems to be more what an artist does than what a photographer does....

In some regards, you are more true to the medium than those classic grand landscapes that are so layered-over with the idea of the pristine land. Your approach to photography deals with pure tonalities and harmonies and the way they resonate in a photograph and in a viewer's mind. In one sense by stripping out all of the intellectual components, you are more true to the medium."

Brooks Jensen, "Interview with Carl Chiarenza," Lenswork, No. 29 (May-June, 2000), pp. 55-56.

" Since 1979 Chiarenza has worked almost exclusively in the studio, using scraps of paper and foil to create miniature ' landscapes ' for his camera.  Although recorded with a classically purist technique, these subjects result in photographs that appear almost completely nonobjective. In the Stieglitz-White tradition of equivalence, Chiarenza's mysterious images suggest a range of subjective states and emotions.  Often ... Chiarenza combines two or more images to create a complex sense of pictorial space and movement. Works such as these suggest vast scale, deep time, and a primordial sense of form coalescing from chaos."

Keith Davis, An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, 2nd ed., NY,

Abrams, 1999, pp. 435-36. (see also, 1st ed., 1995, p. 308).

"....Chiarenza's methods could fall into gimmickry were it not for the breadth of philosophical questions that he raises about representation and abstraction as it applies to the specialized case of photography.

"For one thing, he effectively subverts the camera's ability to  render visual reality faithfully. A handmade artifact -- the collage -- steals away the opportunity for the photographic recording of natural effects.  The collage becomes a substitute reality.

"From this fictional beginning Chiarenza leaps to another fiction entirely -- that of the hybrid landscape.  These two fictions -- the tiny collage and the inflated landscape --clash, and we wind up viewing the works as representing two contradictory things simultaneously.

"By these means Chiarenza strips photography of its spontaneity. Photography's  fabled ability to precisely record the fleeting moment is made moot: In Chiarenza there are no fleeting moments. Time is compressed into an arrangement of scraps spread on a tabletop and illuminated by artificial light. Everything is still, as though time itself could be stilled

"This is a very cerebral process.  Everything is beholden to Chiarenza's relentless conditioning of reality that begins with the collage design and ends with the calculated re-imaging of abstract lumps and hollows as a weird, otherworldly topography...."

Richard Huntington, "A Matter of Scale ..."  

The Buffalo News, March 21, 1997

"Chiarenza describes his journey into making photographs as a mysterious voyage into the alchemical unknown where the transformation of spatial and formal relationships within the picture plane acts as a metaphor of cognition ...

"The literal and symbolic conceptions of landscape inherited from and created within our culture represent the framework of Chiarenza's investigation.... Chiarenza's interior terrains mediate between the empirical and the psychological, addressing the subtle boundaries we each cross between information and understanding, between reason and faith. These are the borders that occupy our minds and influence our perceptions much as do national and natural boundaries in our exterior world.  Chiarenza's mental vistas raise fundamental questions about how we come to recognize and assign a value or meaning to an image and how that assigned value then creates new parameters of knowledge and belief."

Deborah Martin Kao, "Photography at the Crossroads," in James Cuno, et. al., Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting. NY, Abrams, 1996, pp. 312-313.

"....I remember that my first response to these photographs was visceral and sensual rather than intellectual or verbal.  This is, at least in part, because Chiarenza's work is less vulnerable to the confusion of image and object which often obscures photographic meaning in pictures with a more iconic or identifiable subject.  In this work, scale, tone, and composition are its primary elements. The picture cannot be reduced to a simulacrum of its actual counterpart because it has become something quite different, something, to quote the artist, 'invisible in the world.'  This sea-change is much of what the work is finally about; it reveals and demonstrates its own transmogrification....

"In installation, these stunningly large photographs overtake the space which contains them. The experience of each image is direct and immediate, enhanced by the intensity of those that surround it and the coherence of the wide ranging and subtle palette of  black, white and infinite shades of gray.  The transformational power of photography creates greater depth and texture than that possessed by the small arrangements of detritus originally photographed.  Succeeding frames evoke the elegant fractals of the natural world: mountainous landscapes, breaking waves, windblown dunes, or microscopically viewed crystals or layers of tissue.... We suspend the rationality some pictures call for and surrender to the unmediated and the non-intellective, and to seeing for its own sake.  For the first effect of Chiarenza's work is physical. The eye picks over the surface, sorting for sense when no instantly recognizable representation is apparent. The body feels weight and mass almost as though two dimensions were three.  This is an exhibition that invites the viewer to slow down....

  "These photographs encourage unmediated looking, as many photographs do not. Their meaning is not, like that of many other pictures, directed by the context in which we find them but, rather, exists almost entirely within the frame.  The pure language of the simplest elements --  a black shape next to a white shape --  grants us the too-rare pleasure of momentary mindlessness, as well as a different way to know."

Alison Devine Nordstrom, in "Photographs After Collage," in After Collage , Southeast Museum of  Photography, 1995-96

"The titles of Chiarenza's works do refer to actual feelings he draws from some of the finished prints, and, if desired, one can free-associate among the shapes and forms in quest of specific images he may have seen.  But his 'untitled' works are equally inviting to a new world not hindered by references to a known reality.  The discovery of his photographic reality is the key to appreciation of his ability as a virtuoso of light and shadow.  If Chiarenza's photographs appeal to one thing over all other possibilities, it would be the exclusivity of photography as an aesthetic medium, which can simultaneously affirm and deny the co-existence of reality and abstraction.  It is the nature of optical images to seem believable and true to our existence, in the way that our eyes are trusted.  But to lose one's sight is not to lose touch with the world.  So it is true of Chiarenza's photographs where one's eyes are to be trusted less than other means of perception."

James L. Enyeart, in "Carl Chiarenza: Passages and Transformations," 

George Eastman House, 1995

"Carl Chiarenza's black and white photographs transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.  He creates collages for the camera from materials that are small and familiar; he then photographs these unassuming still lifes and makes large-scale prints that are, in turn, monumental and magical.  Scraps of paper turn into landscapes; the recognizable debris of everyday life evolves into complex abstract form; the obvious becomes elusive...."

"More often than not Chiarenza's photographs are pure abstraction and their interpretation is left to the imagination of the viewer.  In this regard, his photographs raise issues that are evident in other forms of contemporary art, especially in painting, sculpture, and music.  Chiarenza's move toward the larger format print approaches painting in its scale.  His use of the term maquette ... and the resultant three-dimensional quality of his images link his photographic work to the world of sculpture.  In addition, his work is tied directly to one of the most vital concerns in the art world today: the deconstruction of distinctions between media.  In Chiarenza's rich and varied world of the black and white print, formal issues relating to painting, sculpture, and graphic design merge to create a new and more complex kind of photographic experience.  Like the classical music and American jazz which he so admires, Chiarenza's photographs retain a sense of improvisation and open-endedness that belie their careful construction.  When his photographs are grouped together, the resultant ambiance of abstraction creates a visual language of crescendos and tensions that suggest the feel of musical rhythms and a sense of swelling sound."

Susan Danly, in, "Triptychs, Diptychs, &  Single Prints ...," 

Mead Art Museum, 1994.

"To the audience, the abstract subject matter, that collage of papers with their shredded edges and crinkles and folds, materializes into undecipherable surfaces that engage the light, shimmering and glowing, then darkening into deep shadows and dark recesses.... Now the observer, concentrating on each photograph, realizes that the silvery tonalities of the photograph and the shadowy picture spaces attain a metaphysical dimension.  At this stage the contrast between darkness and daylight suggests something beyond, some kind of spiritual mystery that we respond to with curious imaginings."

Gloria Russell, "Speaking of Art," Sunday Republican 

(Springfield,  MA), July 24, 1994, p.F-2.

"Tearing up the Polaroid packing materials suggests a refusal to accept reality as given.  Rather, Chiarenza reconstructs a new picture by photographing the remains of the package.  Moreover, by pushing the Polaroid materials and printing process to their limits, he points to the breakdown of visually recognizable form and material in an attempt to evoke an emotional response.  The breakdown of process reinforces the idea of evolution in which forms grow and collapse, attract and repel.

"...  [T]he resulting compositions are an evocative reference to Chiarenza's fundamental ideologies and fabricated, imaginary vision.  Interestingly enough, they evoke a subtle sense of transgression from the social and natural to the reflective and inspirational."

Bruce Checefsky, review of one-person exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, New Art Examiner, Nov., 1993.

"... Chiarenza, for me, belongs to the great wave of Romanticism that lives on so powerfully in 20th-century art.

"Walking into the Hartnett Gallery, I'm stunned by the majesty.  This is gorgeous, heroic, serious stuff, and it speaks in serious tones.

"An eerie sense of mystery infuses Chiarenza's torn and twisted papers, floating as they do in a sea of darkness. Invention is rampant, he's clearly playing with a number of themes and variations.

"Like a musical motif appearing at the beginning of a symphony, then reappearing in transcendent form in the closing coda, motifs are recapitulated in Chiarenza's work.  Related images surface when you least expect them.  A pattern or an edge suddenly seems familiar.  The mind's eye remembers.  I found myself turning around, looking back, sure I had seen a shadow, searching other photographs for a variation on a particular theme.

"...[T]he five massive works in the show ... make you stand back and gasp for air...."

Judith Reynolds, "The Alchemist," City,  December 9, 1992, p 12.

"The photographs ... have a charm that is almost impossible to resist.  They are just such a delight to look at that we are not merely able but happy to imagine that there is nothing to them except charismatic shadows worked in photographic emulsion. Yet once we know how to decode them, they function as an indispensable evocation of life.  Far more than beautiful or rugged landscape is at stake here.  The negative density underscores the seriousness of the entire territory.  Black provokes us.  Simultaneously confounding and stimulating, there is the dark there is no accommodating the eye to."  

Merry Foresta, "Seven Settings," 1990, reprinted in "Landscapes of the Mind," Tampa Museum of Art, 1992.

"If one were to construct a litany of transformations evident in Chiarenza's work ... that litany might be:

Transforming the accidental and chance into composition and formal structure

Transforming the biomorphic and geomorphic into passionate visual music

Transforming the horizontal reality into vertical pattern

Transforming the jagged, brutalizing detritus of a technological civilization into negative/positive spaces of a beauty reminiscent of Oriental painting

Transforming texture, reflection, shape, modulations of three-dimensions, into mystery and enigma

....His most recent works ... have become more and more different from anyone's else's, richer, more symphonic, with a confidence in his own personal visual language." 

"Manipulating both light in the studio and the printing in the darkroom, Chiarenza manages to offer a rocky, somewhat inimical landscape [Arlington 2, 1979] such as one might find on a desolate plateau, whether of this world or another it is hard to say.  The mood is that of deep night, a night in which no stars appear, yet in which mysterious light plays on its surfaces." 

Estelle Jussim, "Mysteries and Transformations: The Art of Carl Chiarenza," reprinted in Jussim, The Eternal Moment . NY, Aperture, 1989, pp. 247, 256.

"There seems to be no relationship between the ordinariness of the ... collage and Chiarenza's finished work.  The intervening ingredients, of course, are creative imagination and technical know-how.  Plainspoken as he is, and adamant about the phoniness of jargon, Chiarenza appears to have an abundance of creative reserves -- treasures in the attic.

"He also has the knowledge of optics and the photographic expertise to create haunting images seemingly out of nothing.

"What idle thoughts are to a philosopher or beads of lead are to an alchemist, light and torn pieces of paper are to Chiarenza.  Nothing is what it seems -- everything is transformed." 

Judith Reynolds, "Light From The Attic,"  Rochester Review, Spring, 1989, p. 16.

"Carl Chiarenza's photography, considered as a whole, has been characterized by the consistency and unity of vision that often typifies the work of profoundly serious artists.  There are no sudden and dramatic shifts of emphasis or changes of style. Rather, there is slow and steady maturation, a refining and perfecting of means, that constitutes the flowering of a remarkable art..... 

"Chiarenza discovered his mature voice in the mid-1960s, and has strengthened and deepened that voice ever since.  By then, he was creating large-scaled totally abstract pictures that neither looked nor felt like the photographs of any other artist....  In the work of the last 20 years, he has created an indeterminate space that is at once flat -- although not identified with the picture plane -- and infinitely yielding.  It is structured by inflections of black, ranges of gray, and occasional accents of muted white into unified entities of tremendous suavity." 

Charles W. Millard, "Afterword," in Carl Chiarenza,  Chiarenza: Landscapes Of The Mind . Boston, David R. Godine, 1988,  pp. 139, 140. 

"Whether or not the viewer can discover or embrace all of the resonances that Chiarenza hopes to instill in his art, the viewer can certainly appreciate the sense of something different, an emotional content that sometimes lurks within the black depths of his photographs and sometimes leaps like an exotic sea creature into unique form."

"Light sometimes splatters across these photographs like thrown white paint.  At other times it flickers there, creates a throbbing afterglow, or threatens to expire like the last breath of day.

"The textures are often unique.  A swath of creased cloth, strips of tinfoil, the twisted wrapping from Polaroid packing materials register as dark shapes whose edges are peppered, sometimes scalded with light.  At times we feel as if Chiarenza has laid in, as if with a palette knife, a smooth gray over a brooding black.  The lighter grays sometimes become spongy like the undersides of a mushroom or porous like cheese mold."

Kelly Wise, "Mystery Lurking in the Depths," The Boston Globe, June 28, 1988, p.33.