STEVE’S WORDS ON...
“I love to connect people, ideas, and ‘opposites’ — things that exist in the same realm but on opposite poles, such as Andy Warhol and Leonardo da Vinci. They are both great artists. Warhol extracts from the realm of things that are already made, and adorns them. Da Vinci draws and paints exquisitely, representationally. I love them both and my goal is to reference both, but without really being either. What I do is connect disparate things that I love. In the field of music, for example, I love Hank Williams III, and I love Led Zeppelin. All these people are great in what they do, and that’s the common ground that allows you to build a bridge.”
“I like to be painterly in everything I do. You don’t plan out every color, every aspect of the composition. You don’t say ahead of time when it’s going to be done, or even how it’s going to be started. It’s an in-the-moment intuition. The intuition comes in the form of an idea. For example — I’m going to grab this tube of red, I’m going to apply it straight from the tube. Then you apply it in this fashion until you’re done telling the story with that color red, and that’s intuited also. Like in jazz, you step back, and you let it occur to you how you’re going to respond to the story of red. It’s response upon response until the overall story is done, in the form of an interesting composition.”
“I love to forfeit control because I’m not the one in control anyway. God is in control. His ideas are complete. So this artistic expression is a discovery of all the elements of a complete idea. This discovery is both before, during, and after the manifestation of this idea as communicated through me. Just because I’ve completed my project doesn’t mean I’ve discovered all elements of the idea. Sometimes there are elements that fall into place a day, a month, even a couple years later, and you realize how neatly all the elements came together, how it bore fruit.”
“I met my wife in 2003. I reached the turning point in my life lying in a hospital emergency room in 2005. I graduated with my B.F.A. in 2008, 26 years after high school.
“There’s a ton of contemplation, and then you just do it. Should I do this? Should I ask my wife? What will happen if I go to the hospital? Should I go back to school? And then you just do it, you just move forward. That’s the same way I feel about creating art. Though the work is spontaneous, I have always spent much time contemplating before starting a piece. I’m sure this will change with experience, because you become more patient and more confident that if you just wait, it will come.”
A CONVERSATION WITH STEVE ON PHOTOGRAPHY, COMPOSITION, AND BEAUTY
Q. How did you develop your sense of composition?
A. By taking thousands of photographs over the years.
Q. How does black-and-white photography develop your sense of composition?
A. It develops your eye to see the weight of objects, shapes, negative space, dynamics of texture, and patterns, things that sometimes get hidden or camouflaged in color photographs. It leads you away from subject-driven photography. Black-and-white simplifies.
I would recommend that students start out with black-and-white for this reason — then they can graduate to color. I think this approach makes the photography more honest. With black-and-white it’s difficult to be flamboyant. Sometimes people can get taken in by flamboyance and kitschiness. Young photographers need to learn to appreciate color and what color does.
Q. Please talk about the artistic tension in your work.
A. There is tension to the left and right through the validation of peripheral objects drawing the eye away from the subject. The eye can't settle. Wedding photos have a different purpose. There’s generally no tension (unless the bride and groom want artistic photographs). Landscape photography focuses on the sun, moon, lake, etc. But I actively look for tension and try to create it. It makes you feel alive.
For example, suppose I look through the viewfinder as I am taking a portrait, and I see a beachball rolling by. I’ll get both. I think it’s more interesting and less static. I am attracted to tension. It’s less authentic. I'm not trying to capture reality.
Q. How do you want viewers to see your art?
A. A photograph is a two-dimensional plane — it’s not real because it’s not three-dimensional. The focus of photography in general is to make it seem real, to make you feel like you're right there with that sunrise in Tahiti. That's not what I want. I don't want people to interact with it on a literal level. I want you to interact artistically, with the shapes, the lines, the movement. A pretty face, a beautiful sunset, they're a dime a dozen. Let's find another way to present it.
Q. Do you think spiritually about these concepts?
A. Two-dimensionally, you might see a pretty woman, and think, “She's smokin’ hot.” But spiritually, that’s unsatisfying. Talk about creating tension. Three-dimensionally, you ask, What's the spirit of this person, what drives them, what have they learned? What fills out who they are? For me it's the Spirit.
Q. Your wife has a pretty face. How do you see her?
A. She’s got talent, she's strong, she's smart. That takes me further along the path of a well-grounded, enduring marriage.
What takes me away from sinning in my heart? If you're looking for physical reasons, what keeps your heart focused on your wife?
It’s the vision that God gave to me, the revelation. It’s having a higher concept of everything, and seeing the way God sees. Men have to find their own way. They have to want to be cured.
Just looking isn't harmless. Some people are afraid to settle down so they are afraid to be cured. They feel that if they give up that energy, they've given up on life. That’s not how I see it.
I am more settled. I have lost tension as a result of this. But tension in photographs — that’s the art world. It shouldn't be static, it should work for you, hanging on your wall.
I want to present the spirit of the thing, whether it’s a sunrise, a sunset, a beautiful face, or a flower. I believe it's the spirit of the thing that calls me to take the photo of it.