Nathan: Let’s begin where these kinds of interviews inevitably begin: with the roots of what first drew you to photography.
Stephen: My parents. Everything starts with them. My dad worked in the publishing industry doing darkroom prepress, and my mother was and still is very creative. She is a very accomplished rug hooker and makes her own designs, and cuts and dyes her own wool. I was always interested in art and they encouraged that inclination. It was one of my best subjects in high school, and I was particularly interested in pencil sketching and pen and ink works. From there, you can see that it is not a big leap to B&W photography. In fact, I received my first camera, a Russian Zenit that my father had tired of using, when I was in high school. That’s when I began shooting film. I started developing my own film in my twenties.
Nathan: Would you say that the flexibility and comparatively more approachable workings of the digital darkroom have contributed to your interest in photography? And now that you are comfortable working in the digital darkroom, do you ever think about returning, with what you have learned, to the traditional wet darkroom?
Stephen: I sometimes find myself romanticizing the manual labour required to make a wet print but the truth is I am much better in a digital darkroom than I ever was in a wet one.
Having said that, the analog process requires the hand of the photographer in every step. That direct, physical involvement creates a strong sense of having made something. I do not get that from the digital workflow. When the end of the digital creative process is a picture on the screen, I feel a little dissatisfied. For me, art needs to be tangible. Maybe that comes from watching my mother or from my own adolescent interests in drawing but that feeling is real. I need to be able to touch the finished thing. Tangibility has always been important to my conception of creativity.
That is why I have started printing my own work. Now I am faced with a different problem – what to do with a stack of prints. I think solving that problem can open other creative avenues– like handmade books, folios, chapbooks, etc.
I know you have been printing for a while, Nathan. It is likely a question that you are facing as well. What do you do with that stack of prints?
Nathan: I give away a lot of prints. I try to sell some when I can but that has more to do with looking for ways to finance the tools that I need (want) to move my photography forward. I am glad that my job teaching English composition at a community college in San Francisco affords me the
opportunity to work on my photography in any way that I choose. In the end, I really like the idea of my work hanging on the walls of peoples’ homes. There are also those images that do not print right no matter what you try. It breaks my heart to tear fine art paper into pieces and toss them in the recyclables bin.
I also print my own images because, with the exception of Jeff Gaydash, I have never found a service that knows how to print my images. Jeff did a fantastic job, and I cannot recommend him enough, but it strikes me as essential that I need to print my own work to complete my goal to create my own images. I make no judgments on those who choose to have others print their work, but I am unwilling to surrender my creative control over my image-making. A print, for me, must be the final culmination of my work.
What are your thoughts about this?
Stephen: The print is important for me too but not the culmination of the creative process as I am trying to move toward a project-based presentation of my images. In 2016 I put together my first folio of images, “Eight.” It is a collection of eight images arranged around the idea of good fortune and its role in photography. The format is borrowed heavily from Brooks Jensen’s wonderful folio “Wakarimasen.” That was my first attempt to combine finished prints with text to make a more comprehensive project.
In the spring of 2016, with the generous assistance of the Luminous Endowment for Photographers, LensWork Publishing Grant, I began studying bookbinding at Marumizu Bindery in Tokyo with the intention of learning a skill that would enable a more sophisticated presentation of project-based groups of images. In late 2017 I self-published “Chita: a day on the Chitahanto coast.” This project more closely meets the ideal of how I would like to present my images going forward. It is a boxed set of images that is book-like in content in that it has a title page, introduction, images and a colophon, but it is unbound. By virtue of being unbound, it allows me to use the same high quality papers I typically use when making individual wall-hung prints but has all the immediacy and tangibility that makes books enjoyable. The viewer can enjoy them handheld, appreciating the texture of the paper and the smell of the inks, while also removing a print from the set to be wall-hung if they so choose.
While the presentation style is book-like, it differs from commercial monographs because each one is handcrafted. In the case of “Chita,” the book cloth on the outside of the box was made by me. I have hand-selected the Japanese cotton and then fused it to “kozo” paper to give it the body needed for the cutting, gluing, and folding required of box-making. The title strip is hand-written calligraphy by my friend and artist, Takahiro Ono. Those kinds of finishing touches are only possible in hand-made arts. For those who value the individual and unique, I think the project will have a lot of appeal.
I think you can see the importance of the print to me. Without that (or, more accurately, a group of prints) there is no project-based art.
Nathan: At the risk of over-generalizing things, the Western ideal of art over the past hundred years or more has often been focused on abstracting subjects, but much of the traditional Japanese aesthetic is far more focused on simplifying, isolating, and reducing the subject. In general, minimalist long exposures, especially the ones bound to a square composition, are an excellent way to reduce the elements of a landscape—and you most certainly focus much of your work on creating such minimalist expressions. How have your studies of traditional Japanese aesthetics shaped your approach to your work? Similarly, how does your Western upbringing influence how you capture these landscapes?
Stephen: I’m in no position to talk with any authority about Western aesthetics, so I’ll happily leave that alone. In talking about Japanese aesthetics, I draw heavily from Donald Keene‘s very good essay entitled, of course, “Japanese Aesthetics.” If anyone is interested you can find it in his book The Pleasures of Japanese Literature. Your comment regarding Japanese aesthetics reminds me of Keene’s four principles of Japanese aesthetics: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and perishability. Keene observes that there is a Japanese preference for suggestion over description. To describe in full, either in words or pictures, is to show the thing as it is. Doing so leaves little room for the imagination. If the aesthetic principle of suggestion is executed effectively, the thing depicted is recognizable for what it is but in a way that activates the imagination. The question is how does one suggest using a tool (the camera) that excels at description. As you mentioned, I think simplifying a subject and reducing it are both steps towards suggestion. Simply working in B&W is a step away from description towards suggestion. To use long exposures is a further step away from the descriptive.
So, yes, I do have a tendency to prefer the suggestive over the descriptive and in that respect my images could be said to reflect some ideas of Japanese aesthetics.
Of particular interest to me is the second tenet Keene mentions – irregularity. Essentially, the perfect and ordered is to be eschewed in favour of something irregular or asymmetrical. That idea is a fascinating one for me. My natural inclination is toward symmetry but over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate this Japanese aesthetic principle to the point that I try to use it in my compositions, fuss less about naturally asymmetrical scenes, and seldom aspire to a “perfect” look in my post-processing.
In the afterword of Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, Thomas Harper writes:
“One of the oldest and most deeply ingrained of Japanese attitudes to literary style
holds that too obvious a structure is contrivance, that too orderly an
exposition falsifies the ruminations of the heart, that the truest representation
of the searching mind is just to ‘follow the brush.’”
While he was writing about literature, I think this holds true for photography and other arts as well. In fact, Japanese are taught in school not to bisect vertical lines with perfectly horizontal lines when writing Japanese characters with a brush. The reason being that perfectly symmetrical characters are ‘dead.’ Now I know you are an advocate of the ‘follow the brush’ approach, Nathan, so do you have any comment regarding the Harper passage? What of perfection? Is the perfectly arranged and ordered composition a contrivance? Is it ‘dead’ as it is in Japanese calligraphy? Can we even apply what is true of one art to another?
Nathan: First, I am certain you would agree with me that each of us express what we express in the ways we express it– and we really cannot count on anyone knowing what thoughts or intentions– or what principles or aesthetics– have influenced our choices. Can I adapt “mind of no-mind” (mushin no shin) to photography? I do not know. But I do try to free my mind. Mu shin has roots in the art form of swordplay, many skilled samurai embodying it. That swordplay, no matter what one thinks of it, is unavoidably tied to violence, but mushin is also employed by zen calligraphers and other artists in different forms. I guess what I am trying to say is: we all express those influences that become part of our practice; therefore, whether one can truly apply what is true of one art to another, what we have engaged becomes part of what we do.
Second, perfection is such an interesting concept. Can anything truly be faultless or error-less or without flaw? And why would that be something worthy of admiration or interest or a goal that one would need to attain? Perhaps, the truth lies somewhere in the possibility that perfection– a more-than-likely unattainable goal– exists within the realities of the inevitable cracks, slips, and overall flaws of existence, of our lives, and the ways we express and interpret that existence; maybe when we say something is perfect, we are including its flaws, that appreciation of perfection bound to our included appreciation of the elegance of a blemish. In other words, perhaps imperfection is an inextricable part of perfection. Maybe not. I will say that the kinds of images that seem to have creators who sought some unattainable goal of perfection (such as perfect tones, perfect composition, etc) often end up being too clinical for my aesthetic tastes. For example, I really admire Michael Levin‘s work, but much of it strikes me, personally, as very clinical and very exacting– as opposed to Michael Kenna who embraces and even loves the imperfections found in some of his images. For me, Kenna‘s work feels natural. I am drawn into a world of mood, a world of silence. I often forget I am looking at a photograph (and this is exactly how I feel when I look at your work). When I look at Levin‘s work, I admire its craft. I admire why it is a exceptionally well-crafted image. I am in no way saying that is a bad thing. But it is a difference that matters to me, personally, very much. A lot of long exposure, black and white architectural photography falls into this category as well. Many of these images are admirably and skillfully crafted, but they do not evoke an emotional response for me– just appreciation for the skill.
Moving on, I would like to segue from my comment about Kenna and Levin and hear about how you have nurtured and grown your approach to photographing Japan. Both Levin and Kenna have famous images they took during their visits to Japan. I also know that you are very familiar with these images. How do you deal with the fact that you are creating, with your own voice, images of places and structures that are famously associated with these well-known, established and often minimalist photographers?
Stephen: While it’s true that both Levin and Kenna have photographed in Japan extensively, there isn’t anything in their work that would make me put away my gear and not even bother going out. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I come from the camp that believes we are moved to make art by art. In my case it was the revelation that many of the images I loved from Kenna ’s book Japan were made within ninety minutes of my home that inspired me to visit Lake Biwa. I’ve visited many of the places that Kenna has in his Honshu portfolio of Japan. If anything, standing in the spots where he made images has been very instructive. What I’ve come to learn over years of shooting around Lake Biwa is that many of the locations are rather ordinary. The genius of his photography is not about splendour and drama. When you stand in a Kenna spot, you realize it is his unique vision and his interaction with that subject that makes his images unique. Once you realize that, it’s rather liberating.
I do not respond to the same things that Kenna or Levin do so when I go to a spot that they’ve used before or a subject they’ve approached before, I try to ask myself what in that scene has compelled me to make a picture. Take seaweed nets as an example. Net based aquaculture is a huge part of Japanese fisheries, particularly on the Pacific coastline in central Japan where I live. As I shoot mostly in the winter, it’s inevitable that I’d shoot what some would consider a Levin subject. Levin’s image “Reveal” is a favourite of mine but when I’m there making pictures, I’m not thinking about Levin or any of his images. I’m always responding to the scene in front of me. What is interesting about the scene? How can I approach it in a way to accentuate that element? What can I leave out to bring more coherence to the composition? What nuanced details of the scene need to be brought to the viewer’s attention (something mostly done in post-processing). When approaching seaweed nets, I’m trying to do two things: first, combine elements of near and far in a way that creates a kind of visual alliteration; second, draw viewer attention to the patterns created by the nets. I’m particularly interested in how their patterns remind me of the complexity of music – sometimes overlapping and chaotic, others rhythmic and sparse. I’m particularly thinking of music by Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass.
So, while that subject may have been done by Levin first, I bring my own interests, ideas, and sensitivities to it. It is these things that shape the images – hopefully enough to distinguish them from those of my influences, especially for those willing to take the time to look closely. I also suspect that in time those differences become more pronounced. I think when people speak of a photographer’s style, this is what they are speaking of. About a year ago you recommended Gary Synder to me and I wrote down some notes as I always do when reading. Two passages from “On the path, off the Trail” stand out as pertinent to this question:
For a forager, the beaten path shows nothing new, and one may come home empty-handed . . .
Off the trail” is another name for the Way, and sauntering off the trail is the practice of the wild.
That is also where – paradoxically – we do our best work. But we need paths and trails
and will always be maintaining them. You first must be on the path
before you can turn and walk into the wild.
[From The Practice of The Wild by Gary Snyder]
While I doubt that Synder intended them photographically, for me those two quotes contain both a warning about being derivative and a framework for approaching creativity in a field where nothing is truly “new” in so far as the visual vocabulary of landscape photography is a shared one.
Nathan: What, if anything, do you think it might mean to be a photographer of place (a particular place)?
As a landscape photographer, unless you have a lot of time and money, you’ll end up photographing the near and familiar. After doing that for a while, you’re likely to feel you have exhausted suitable photographic subjects. At which point, you either travel further afield to get new images or you begin to look again at the things you’ve photographed before. In the later case, this effort to look again leads to new images that were overlooked before, or to a more nuanced “seeing” of what was already there. Photographers that fall into the later group are likely to be associated with particular places. Go through your own list of favourite photographers and you’ll likely find that they too are associated with a particular place. In the case of two of my favourites– Josef Sudek and Sally Mann –one can’t think of them without thinking of both Prague and the Southern US.
And yet, I wouldn’t say that either of them are photographers of location. For me, Sudek’s principle concern was with light and finding a way to photographically catch some of its wonder on paper. It’s also why my two favourite bodies of work from Sudek have nothing to do with Prague (Mionsi Forest, The Window of My Studio). While the subjects are so different, the focus on light is the same. Similarly with Mann, her images of the South would seem to connect her with place but I find her images to be as much about memory and collective experience as location.
Good photography always goes beyond the obvious description of place. It has to be that way or we’d soon become bored with the imagery. When I look at a Sudek image, I’m not thinking about where the image was made. His photography continues to reward repeated viewings because his utter preoccupation with light is manifest in the pictures. When a photographer begins to use location as a means of exploring an idea that interests them, then the potential for really good images is possible.
I’m curious about why you’ve asked me this, Nathan. Do you consider me a photographer of place? How about yourself? Although you’ve traveled to Bandon and have made some wonderful images there, you work almost exclusively near your home. But like both Mann and Sudek I wouldn’t say that those places define your photography.
Nathan: The impetus for the question comes from studying many poets who, unintentionally, became known as poets of place, for example Seamus Heaney and Ireland, George Mackay Brown and Orkney (in Scotland), Robert Frost and New England. Naturally, they lived there most of their lives so the landscape—geographically, culturally and historically— became part of their work for that simple reason alone—and one could stop there. I suppose I also asked you this question because your work is very expressive of the Japanese landscape. I am reminded of John Hanson Mitchell’s book, Ceremonial Time, in which he writes about the history of one square mile of land in Massachusetts— his research reaching far back into the geological record to the last Ice Age and then gliding over centuries of native people, animals, colonialists, farmers, the ever-growing presence of industry, and the eventual return of another Ice Age that will cover over the land once again. I am especially drawn to the idea of a ceremonial time ritual– that one can, via ritual, experience the past, present and future simultaneously. I don’t believe that such things are possible (though In my reckless youth I experimented with some chemicals that certainly made it feel like such things were possible), but the perspective, or at least the metaphor, of ceremonial time opens one up to the awareness that where someone stands has undergone thousands upon thousands of years of change. The photographer who “catalogs” a place, whether she or he knows it or not, records small slices of micro changes even as he or she creatively interprets it (and, if the photograph lasts long enough, future generations may even see things that once had been part of the landscape but eroded away). In other words, place is in constant flux.
I don’t think that I am necessarily a photographer of place, but I cannot deny the fact that I have wholeheartedly adopted the landscapes and seascapes of Marin and Sonoma Counties as my stomping grounds for finding things to photograph (I live on the border of the two counties). The oak trees that I photograph are quintessential arboreal landmarks of the hills of Northern California. When I am at Drakes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, I am very cognizant of the geological and cultural history of the place (and have researched much about it). I think my work is also very reflective of the northern California shoreline. I have not gone back to photograph there for over a year now but that has more to do with the lack of shitty weather to work with. Once California gets a good rain season, I will be back to catalog the many rocks resting below the sands that make an even face of the shoreline from late spring through early fall.
I don’t necessarily think you are a specific photographer of place, but your attention to the Japanese landscape certainly reflects some of the aesthetics of Japanese culture. But this very well could be me bringing my sense of things to your work. Do any of these thoughts resonate with you at all?
Stephen: Yes. The ideas you have addressed do resonate with me– particularly that “place is in constant flux.” In fact, that very idea is the framework for my project “Chita.” When we photograph a place, is that slice of time truly representative of that place? I do not think it is or can be. The living room picture of my wife and I is not the same. I wish that were the case as my hairline would be lower and my waistline a few sizes smaller. We tend not to see landscapes and shared spaces that way as the change is harder to notice for a variety of reasons but I think Mitchell is right. An understanding of place that addresses its varied and multitudinous qualities is likely to be a more comprehensive one. If we can only understand a place by seeing it and thinking of it as containing multitudes, I think that has very interesting implications for landscape photographers. What is it that we photograph, when we take a picture of a place? It is a question I still have not satisfactorily answered, but one I enjoy considering.
Nathan: Let me shift into a different direction and talk about using long exposure. When interviewed by others in the past, I have often said that I think long exposures are, in part, a trick, an illusion, a sleight of hand. Even if a long exposure does “make it possible” for one to “compress the passage of time” into a single photographic slice of those moments, they can be, especially when handled casually, little more than a gimmick. In other words, many work with long exposures just because they have the potential to look cool or they simply make ordinary things look different— the reason for using a long exposure often being far more focused on the trick, the illusion, and the simple fact that it is somewhat unusual to do so (though, to be truthful, they have become quite ubiquitous). What is it about long exposures that draws you to the style and what are your thoughts about what I have just said?
Stephen: This is a topic I’ve struggled with over the last two years. Am I using the long exposure (LE) technique because it’s a ‘cool parlour trick’ or because it’s a tool that helps to express my creative vision? Why am I using it? I think it’s important at some point to work through your ideas of what a photograph should be. What makes a successful image to you? Or, to put it more directly, why do you bother to pick up the camera?
For me, I think a good photograph shows things we know in ways we haven not seen, or cannot see owing to the camera’s unique strengths; it encourages us to reconsider the known and familiar and, at its best, does so with beauty and grace. Now that beauty and grace can take a lot of different forms.
One of those forms is certainly the minimal offered by the LE technique. Initially, I was attracted to the simplicity of long exposure’s minimal tendencies. Now that I have been doing it for a while, I have found that I am drawn to exposures that are relatively short for the genre – not quite a straight document of location but also not the other-worldly ethereal imagery of extremely long exposures. I prefer to keep something of that day – the time the shutter was pressed – in the image.
What I am most interested in is making an image that has a bit of poetry and grace to it; something that has a bit of the moment but also alludes to the mysterious; something subtle, simple, and, at times, melancholy. It is a difficult thing to find for me. I’m not sure how often I have managed it.
When I look at images that I would regard as good from my own portfolio, the long exposure technique accentuated something that was already present in the scene. Snow falling on water in winter is fantastically quiet. Snow has a dampening effect that seems to muffle all sounds beyond those immediately around you. Using a slightly long exposure (30 seconds) in that situation communicates that quite effectively.
Images of mine that have failed invariably come from me putting on the ND filter without having allowed the scene to work on me. I find that stepping back to appreciate a scene then deliberately asking myself what it is that I want to impart to the viewer helps me to focus my mind on both the composition and what technique will be required to best communicate that visually. I think that when you start doing that, you move beyond long exposure for its own sake and begin to regard it as tool to make your images. To put it another way, I do not really want to define myself as a long exposure photographer. The technique is not as important to me as the success of the image.
I mentioned above that a good photograph encourages us to reconsider the known and familiar. In truth, it is this belief that has been causing me some cognitive dissonance of late. I was brought up to believe that beauty is always around us and it requires only that we take a moment to ‘see’ it. This is something I still believe today but believing that seems, at times, at odds with the practice of long exposure photography. In its popular form, long exposure photography makes the real and known unreal. With its ability to “compress the passage of time,” it is a pure camera vision unavailable to the naked eye. It is so far removed from the known that it seems fantastic. To embrace that would be to embrace the unreal, the fantastic, the imagined. For me, that’s an approach to art that doesn’t fit with my core beliefs about beauty being near at hand and available to those who look.
So … to answer succinctly, while LE photography is the primary tool that I use, it is not one that I would use to define my photography.
Nathan: Let’s shift the direction of the interview to some more general questions that I always ask the photographers I interview. First, I’d love to hear about some of the photographers, whether they be established or upcoming, alive or passed on, that you particularly admire. Second, are there any writers, painters, filmmakers or other artists who have influenced your work?
Stephen:I have already mentioned Josef Sudek and Sally Mann, Michael Levin and Michael Kenna. I have Emmet Gowin‘s wonderful book Changing the Earth and love it but I did not come to him through his photography but by an interview I read of his about creativity, photographic influence and the photographer. In it, Gowin spoke of a creative connection between artists that can exists through time. It is an idea that I quite like.
Let’s talk about Gowin‘s idea using an image of yours that I love. I think this is a special image. It speaks to me viscerally. How is that possible? For me to have that response to that image there must be a bit of what moved you to make that picture in me as well. That shared sensitivity, whether in poetry, art or photography, is a wonderful thing. There is something reassuring about that connectivity between people. I also believe it is the genesis of influence and the thing that moves new artists to begin making their own work. I find it a very reassuring idea.
I have been a subscriber to LensWork Magazine for quite a few years now. The editor, Brooks Jensen, has been a big influence for showing an alternative to the wall-hung print, and for demonstrating the possibilities of combining text and image in project-based art.
Kristoffer Albrecht is a photographer that I am guessing few would know. I am a frequent visitor to his website to look at his wonderful collection of self-published books and other projects. He inspires by showing what is possible to photographers that have some book-binding skills and the inclination to try self-published small edition fine art projects.
There are a number of fine art publishing houses that I like that specialize in artisanal books and collections including Brighton Press, Amanosalto Press, and 21st Editions. I like all three and think that 21st Editions sets the benchmark for what is possible when the best of different fields work collaboratively to publish fine art works that combine word and letter press printing, photographs printed using a variety of traditional techniques, and artisanal binding. I hope to be able to see with my own eyes something they have published before my time on this earth ends.
For the last two years I have spent a lot of time looking at non-photographic print-making like etchings, mezzotints, aquatints, linocuts, and others. For print makers, I like contemporary Japanese printers like Ryohei Tanaka, Shigeki Tomura, and Hidehiko Goto. I have never really considered how they influence my photography but I am sure the print makers interest is line, texture, pattern, and shape is very similar to that of a photographer’s.
As I do my own clamshell box making and book binding, I also end up spending a lot of time looking at fine bindings to gather ideas for things I might be able to use in my own projects. If you dig, it is all there online is some form or another.
I like poetry and subscribe to the Poetry Foundation. I often listen to their podcasts while doing housework or driving. My favourite poet is Pablo Neruda. Neruda‘s poetry (or Alastair Reid‘s translations of Neruda‘s poetry) is always in my head, especially when I’m at the seaside. The later years of his life were spent near the sea. I feel like he looked at the seaside of Isla Negra with a curiosity and a will to discover very much like a photographer’s. Everything I see at the sea, I feel Neruda saw and wrote about years ago. I can’t see a line of white surf without his words “chalked geometry” floating in my head. Often when I look at things little phrases from his poems come to mind. In that way. Neruda is always with me.
If there are any poets out there reading this and are interested doing something collaboratively, please contact me. I would love to self-publish a project that combines poetry, photography, and uses my binding skills to bring it all together.
Nathan: Do you listen to music while you process your images? If yes, what do you listen to and in what ways do you think music shapes your work?
Stephen: No. And there is a very simple reason for that. I haven’t reached a level of expertise with Photoshop that I can effectively multitask. It requires all my attention to process my images. I find I lose my focus a bit when listening to music. I will listen during printing, folio assembly and during binding activities. It’s a little difficult to say how music has influenced my photography, but it’s likely that my photography has influenced my musical choices. I’ve been making quiet B&W landscapes for about four or five years now. During that time I’ve started listening to more contemporary classical music by Max Richter and Nils Framm. There is a space in their music that seems to match my frame of mind most often.
Nathan: What are your thoughts about photography and the world of social media?
Stephen: I am grateful for social media. It was the social exchange of Flickr that spurred my photography. Online sharing enabled me to contact other photographers, to read their responses to queries from others, and to research names that came up in online sharing. Any photographic literacy that I gained– its seed germinated from online sharing.
Social media also keeps me making art. Over 90% my print, book, and project based photography sales have come from showing my work online. Those online sales are important for a couple of reasons. They serve as a validation of my creative effort. It feels good to make something. It feels a little better when someone parts with their hard-earned money to make a place for my art in their life. The projects are not cheap. There is a considerable outlay of my own money to produce a project. Purchases that come from online sharing finance the production of the next project. In this way, I am able to continue making handmade collections like “Chita.” I would go so far as to say that, without social media, there would be no way for me to get the things I make before people who might potentially be interested. In this respect, I am grateful for the forum that online sharing sites provide.
Having said that, there are significant problems for photography created by social media platforms. Every photo app and sharing platform that I use encourages the viewer to flip or scroll through images. That structure encourages a like / dislike reaction from the viewer. The way the images are queued up usually means you see one from one photographer and then it is on to the next. That rapid consumption of images encourages the photographer to believe they need to “wow” the viewer. That is unfortunate. Subtlety is lost. I do not think online sharing encourages thoughtful, nuanced image making.
Nathan: I notice that you are very selective about the online places you share your work. It is difficult to avoid the reality that much of the modern world of photography is experienced online, but, as I am sure you will agree, much of the tonality, contrast and overall artistic expression is lost in a world of computer monitors that read such things differently depending on the quality and settings of those monitors. Still, the work of many well-established photographers is, in fact, primarily experienced online and not via prints. The print, as I spend more and more time with photography, is just as important to me as capturing and processing the image. Equally interesting is that many excellent photographers have their work printed by others. Do you have any thoughts about such things and your own goals for presenting your work and using social media?
Stephen: There are enough different ways of being involved with photography that there is room for everyone to do as they like. For those that would eschew printing for being out with their camera, who am I to comment. It worked for Henri Cartier-Bresson and many others. There is no denying that time spent finishing and printing is time lost being out in the world with your camera. It falls on the individual to discover what makes them happy. In my case, that creative happiness includes time spent processing and trying to put images and prints together in a way that makes for an interesting project. That process forces me to think about why I photographed something, what it means to me, and whether that might be meaningful enough to others to warrant their attention and time. Although it can be daunting at times, I enjoy the challenges presented by project-based creative work and intend to continue working that way going forward. Both print and social media will have central roles in my creative work; the print by making the creative effort tangible, social media as the vehicle for sharing it publicly and for its ability to put it before people who might not see it otherwise. My goal is self-publish one project yearly. I have managed to do that two years running and have most of the third project finished and two others projects in
Nathan: Inevitably, every interview ends with gaps– important perspectives never addressed. Are there any final words you would like to add?
Stephen: I think it would be– in the spirit of this dialogue– best to leave the gaps as they are– the fact of their presence an invitation to meet in their spaces at another time. Until then, thank you Nathan.
Nathan, I would like to thank you for allowing me a platform to introduce myself to your audience. I am grateful for the many kindnesses you have extended to me.
Explore More of Stephen’s Work: website
Several Images with Notes from Stephen