Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
Thirty-nine years ago I married my best friend at age 22, we have three children who have given us four grandchildren, all live within two hours of our home in New England.
None of my children showed an interest in photography. However, my five-year old granddaughter really enjoys being in the darkroom with me. Truth told, I don’t get a lot of serious work done when she is with me, but the time spent with her, as well as, nurturing her interest is priceless.
How did you get started in photography?
I returned from a honeymoon in 1974 with a 35mm camera borrowed from my brother and about 200 pictures. Less than a dozen with my wife in the picture, the rest were of landscapes, that was the first sign. Shortly there after, I met some professional portrait photographers including Jack Holowitz, 15 years my senior and very creative. Jack is an old school black and white photographer, and he would become not only my mentor but my closest traveling companion. Several times a year sometimes for weeks at a time we would travel, usually to the Southwest with the sole focus of exploring the landscape and making negatives during the “sweet light” time of day.
Rarely in those days did I make negatives when the sun was above the horizon. Holowitz taught me that it would take several days to become completely immersed in the surroundings with an ability to make meaningful images.
Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?
Initially, I was drawn to Ansel Adams’s work. Later on I became more in tune with Edward Weston’s way of seeing, Berenice Abbott’s cityscapes, and I absolutely adore Georgia O’Keefe’s abstracts from the Southwest.
And what about their work inspires you?
I have always been drawn to the out-of-doors, it was Adams’s work which motivated me to travel West with larger film cameras. His portraits of the Grand Landscape still fuel a passion for the wilderness and majesty of the West.
As time and frequency of travel to the West increased I became more aligned with Edward Weston’s attention to smaller vignettes and textures of the vastly different landscapes of the West.
Berenice Abbott’s work, specifically, “Changing New York”, guided my entry into the Urban Landscape for the past twenty or so years. I greatly enjoy creating images from defunct factories, prisons, and other structures which once flourished with activity.
While it is a bit difficult for me to imagine the images I make are dated and will one day to others seem from days gone by, they are in fact just that, a record of a time and place that will inevitably change and perhaps be all but forgotten.
O’Keefe’s work seems other worldly to me. I remember seeing many shows here in the East always with a dozen or less of her more famous abstracts. I visited Santa Fe with my wife some years back and for the first time visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. I was completely stunned, and quite frankly unable to process the scope and beauty of what I saw that first visit. I returned several more days to the museum and don’t know yet whether I can fully comprehend the magnitude of her talents or creativity.
When did you start to develop a personal style?
I do think a personal style has emerged over the years. I am not sure I could say the same about a general theme to my work. If style is at all synonymous with “seeing” then I believe it took half of my thirty years of making images to become comfortable with my own vision.
I have tried other processes in photography such as Palladium prints and very much enjoy looking at work by others, but I always seem to come back to the Silver print. The sharpness and ability to render fine textures and create a feeling of depth are second to none for me.
I spend a fair amount of time in the selection and composing process determining how to create an impression of depth, whether through near / far relationships, negative / positive space or manipulating lighting conditions. Rarely in my landscape work will the sun be above the horizon. Therefore, I am forced to create dimension with diagonals, spacing and the use of tonal separation, whether natural or manipulated. The final print is always a work in progress and must continue to be alive in my mind. When I lose that feeling it is time to print differently or just retire an image.
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
Because my work is rooted in film and wet process silver prints, I find with each passing day there are fewer and fewer who work with the limitations that I do. The same could be said of those who even understand those limitations or when those limitations have been superbly exploited to enhance the photograph.
Understanding two-dimensional relationships of tone and form and how with knowledge of light, one can create the third dimension, at least the impression of depth and understanding of light. That will hopefully always separate the accomplished photographer, film or otherwise, from the masses who believe themselves to be photographers because of affordable instruments of capture.
How do you overcome a creative block ?
A more detailed answer is contained in the, “Creative Community” response. Simply put, I enjoy looking at other’s work, specifically where images begin and end. Most times for me it is easily apparent what to photograph, the hard part is determining what secondary subject matter to include and what needs to be excluded, what will best provide support and secondary interest to the main subject matter. I have good friends who tell me that I see things that they simply do not see, that said, many times I see images from others which I call “walk-bys” (subject matter I would just walk by) and realize that I need to slow down and look even closer than I think I have. It is a process I hope I never become completely satisfied with and why I will always gain something from looking at others work.
Would you tell us about your workspace?
For more than twenty years I worked out a 65 sq. ft. darkroom. You could barely put two people in there at once. In 2006, we moved into a new home and one year later a 450 sq. ft darkroom was christened. A separate production and framing area complete my work space.
With the steady demise of the wet process, I’ve been able to acquire darkroom equipment I only dreamed of. A 17 ft. of stainless steel sink, (3) 5×7 enlargers, and an Ultra Violet light source make for a terrific work flow for not only my personal work but visiting instructors and the workshops that I run myself.
How important is it to your art form to have “creative community”?
I can expand on both, “Creative Community” and “Creative Block” with the following: I have long realized I drew inspiration from the core of friends I have who embrace and work in the Large Format genre. In 2003, I called six close friends who inspired me most to collaborate and form a group to spread the word about Large Format photography. This meeting gave birth to what is today known as the New England Large Format Photography Collective. Mission Statement here http://nelfpc.com/
I could never have imagined what the group would become in the ensuing ten years. NELFPC now numbers twenty plus members and continues to provide me and I’m sure the rest with inspiration and support for our personal work. Vastly more important is the contribution the Collective has made in the form of hosting what we call “Large Format Weekends” where NELFPC brings in talent from around North America for learning and fellowship for “extreme” three day weekends. Visiting LF photographers from around the country join in for total photography weekends. The list of visiting talent is a who’s who in modern-day Large Format Photography. A different and equally important contribution came about five years into NELFPC’s existence when several members had a connection with a local hospital’s Cancer Center. A collaborative effort between NELFPC and the Middlesex Hospital’s Philanthropy Department continues to produce an exhibition of Large Format photographs entitled “Raid Our Gallery”. Between NELFPC’s membership and some of the LF friends we have made over the years, we contribute 100 large format photographs. A one night celebration of those photographs and a few hundred people at a lavish reception have returned over $30,000.00 that has gone directly to the Cancer Survivors in the care of the Cancer Center. As Jim Shanesy, a good friend and contributor from the very beginning said so eloquently, “nothing else gives my photography more meaning than donating to this exhibition to benefit those less fortunate than I”.
How does your art effect the way you see the world?
Interesting question. So many times I find myself driving and always looking for an image, I pass by things in motion but in an instant I begin to imagine what I hoped I had just seen. Many times the image is developing in my mind as I make my way back to the location, sometimes what I had seen in my mind is either not there, or more often is not possible to recreate with the limitations of still photography. Nevertheless, I do find myself seeing the world around me as vignettes frozen in my minds imagination. Every now and again one of these “drive bys” turn into a magical experience.
Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects ?
The Paul Paletti Gallery in Louisville, KY handles my work. In the past three years I have had four solo shows beginning in Springfield Massachusetts and then traveling to Toronto, Canada during the month-long Contact Festival. The show then went onto Louisville for the summer at the Paletti Gallery. Most recently I had a show locally in central Connecticut at the PhotoSynthesis Gallery.
As I’ve concentrated on shows over the last few years, I’ll shift my focus to annual location workshops as I close in on my retirement years. I have been to so many truly magical places to photograph it is time to share those with others. I will be teaching a Silver Printing Workshop in Toronto during this year’s Contact Festival in May of 2013 at Elevator Labs. The Toronto workshop is sold out but other dates of darkroom and location workshops are posted on my website.
Any stories about your work you would like to share?
The attached jpeg of the sand dunes in Death Valley has an interesting story I’ll share. As most photographers know, the dramatic lighting for photographs of sand dunes is short-lived. As the sun rises the long dramatic shadows are lost until the sun again will sit on the horizon for an instant. My morning of shooting at Stove Pipe Wells in Death Valley had concluded and I began the long walk out towards the car. Walking up and down the dunes with 40 lbs of gear does cause one to stop and catch your breath. Standing a top a dune catching my breath and noticing my partner still shooting I turned to see this sea of sunlit sand with the sun directly at my back. I began to think if I gave enough exposure and reduced development enough I could compress even the distant mountain range into a narrow band of higher tones. With the wind howling to such a degree I was unwilling to use an expensive lens, I opted for an old Ektar 127mm lens I rarely use on a 4×5 Meridian camera. In the blazing sun it was difficult to tell myself to give increased exposure nevertheless I did and compressed development to such a degree I was able to print the image on high contrast paper which exaggerated the small black pockets in the dune field. Admittedly, the print is not easy to print, but I have been told by many it does not look like a photograph but rather an etching. The image has been a popular seller over the years.
Another image comes to mind, I clearly have a connection with the Manhattan Bridge area. There are at least a half-dozen stories I could tell, but will choose to share the story of how the “NYC Rooftops” came about. As I said previously, I tend to see the world in frozen snippets and happened to be driving across the Manhattan Bridge back towards Brooklyn with a friend and noticed out the passenger’s window this rooftop scene leaving the Manhattan side. I doubled back to see if what I had hoped was in fact there and achievable. It was as I had hoped for and although it was some months later before returned to make “NYC Rooftops”. During a hot July 4th weekend in 2010, I parked on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge as I usually do and began what turned out to be nearly a mile walk with my 7×17 camera to make the attached photograph, (see attached color photo of camera positioning). The size of the opening in the steel fencing did in fact dictate the lens that I was forced to use. I would have preferred to use my 355mm, however the front lens element was too large. I ended up using a 305mm Kowa Graphic. This was an important concession as a sheet of 7×17” film yields a contact print, in other words a same sized photograph without the benefit of cropping. As one would imagine the focus / composition was extremely trying as it took many attempts to get the best composition and focus possible. While all this was going on I never was really aware of the noise or considerable vibration caused by the three trains which run back and forth on the middle area of the huge bridge. With a one second exposure I had to wait quite a while before I could get a sense of timing to when the trains would provide a quiet moment to make the exposure. I have an ongoing project of graffiti and this may well be the signature image. Gallery owner, Paul Paletti, purchased one for his personal collection and I have received numerous positive comments on this image.
To learn more about Steve Sherman and his work please visit his site at Steve Sherman.
Thank you Steve for sharing your time and your art.