Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Featured Photographer - S. Gayle Stevens

Today, I'd like to introduce you all to S. Gayle Stevens.  I had recently had the pleasure of discovering Gayle's work through some recent shows she has been a part of.  She received an honorable mention at the 2010 Krappy Kamera show, at the Pinhole Show at Rayko Photo, and at the Curious Camera show!

As you all know, I love self portraiture, and do alot of it myself using my Holga.  After having looked through Gayle's self portrait series, I was inspired to say the least, and her alternative processes combined with a Holga camera was something that I wanted to learn more about!  Hope you enjoy the interview!

Self Portrait with Patterns

How did you get introduced to your first Holga and how long have you been shooting?

I've been shooting about 20 years off and on at this point. I have been trying to remember how I got my first Holga....I'm not sure. I know I got my first ones, from Maine Photographic Workshop. It was either from reading about toy cameras in Nancy Rexroth's book Iowa, Nancy Howell-Koehler's book Creative Camera or Bob Hirsch's book Photographic Possibilities. Probably the latter. I have Dianas, Dories, Flotron, countless Holgas, plus myriads of other toy and old cameras. Can you have too many cameras?


What is it about the Holga that draws you to it? Why do you shoot with it?

Low tech. It is all about creativity plus chance. Every camera is different and all these inconceivable things happen, accidental multiple exposures etc. I like the chance part a lot, the lack of ultimate control. It is also very unintrusive and a conversation starter. No one is afraid of a Holga, and people will come up to you and ask you about your strange camera. It is light, and easy to carry around. When I first started with the Holga I was shooting with a Hasselblad and a 4x5 view camera, plus pinhole cameras, very large ones.

Absinthe of Self


How did you get introduced to the wet plate collodion tintype process and why do you like working with it? Is it a difficult process?

I do a lot of different alt processes and I have done so for quite awhile. I wanted to take wet plate for a long time. I didn't think it was something you could teach yourself so I thought I'd take a workshop. I had wanted to take a class from the Ostermans. Well, one day I was perusing the internet for alt stuff and came upon f295 and low and behold they had a wet plate workshop with France Scully Osterman - but alas it was full. A couple days later while I was waiting for a student I went back to the site because I thought I might go to their symposium and miraculously someone dropped and I snapped the last place up.


I fell in love with it immediately. I had been doing modern tintype, the liquid light process, but this is much cooler. It is so alchemy, and my grandfather was a mason. It is very, very hands-on and I am a hands-on person. I don't think it is really a difficult process. You have to have patience, and practice and most importantly be focused. You cannot multi-task and flow a plate. Wet plate is both slow and fast - you flow the plate and sensitize, then you have about 10-15 minutes to get your exposure before the plate starts to dry.  You develop and fix and wash. After you dry it over an oil lamp you varnish it with gum sandarac and lavender oil mixture, dry again over the oil lamp and everything smells like lavender. The whole oil lamp thing is kind of romantic. I'm not into the whole period re-creationist thing. I think that makes it too precious, somehow. Wet plate collodion is kinda like the Holga thing. Happy accidents on the plates, the mystery sense of chance, I like the flaws. Sometimes I think the flaws make the plate. it is like the spirits are coming out and speaking through you. When I flow a plate, there is this placid pool that draws you in and takes over - I like that place.

I was reading America and the Tintype by Steven Kasher, (great book btw) and the tintype is uniquely American. In Europe they had ambrotypes, and they had ambrotypes here, but the tintype was American. It was affordable and brought portraiture to everyone. The portrait lens that was most popular for wet plate, and still is, was a petzval portrait lens. Though faster than the Holga (about f4) it was known for it's vignetting but sharp center, so kind of like a Holga. I figure my Holga is a plastic petzval.

Are We Ever Truly Visible

Please tell me a bit about your self portrait series.

It's funny, I always resisted doing self-portraiture. I wasn't comfortable on that side of the camera. Collodion images can make you look much older too. I had some of my pinhole work at a show and a man I had spoken to before at other openings said I was one of the bubbliest, happiest people he had ever met and yet my work was so dark. I laughed, I never thought of my work as dark actually. I started thinking about how we are viewed by people and what is a true representation of a person. Is it who we think we are, or how we are perceived, or is it the part we play? Are we the sum of the parts that make up our lives? We are viewed by how we dress, what we drive, our possessions.  Are those objects - clothes, car, iphone - who we are? I realized that a lot of the work I had already done was self portraiture because it was individual elements from my life brought together. I started shooting myself - it started with 'Know Thy Self', which I first entitled 'What will happen when my inner darkness comes out'. I did it as individual pieces, but it later turned into a triptych. I started by accident shooting everything with my mouth open, I was counting. But then I thought, when I was a kid my grandmother would always get on me for having my mouth open, the flies will get in. Then there was that song I knew - an old lady who swallowed a fly... so anyway I just figured the spirits were emerging, lol. So everything now seems to be about dreams, recollections, history. I am older, my parents, grandparents have passed, my daughter is grown... I am reflecting. Did I mention I'm wordy?  :-)

 Emergence of Darkness

Know Thy Self

What other cameras do you have in your arsenal?

Too many!  I have 2 Nikon D2x's, a Panasonic Lumix, my walk around camera (literally when I take my walks for exercise). An 11x14 Seneca view camera, an 8x10 Kodak commercial view camera, 5x7 dry plate camera, a Russian knock-off dry plate 7x9.5 camera, 2 Hasselblads, 2 5x7 Burk and James view cameras which I converted to half plate for use at school. A ton of antique small cameras. 120, 620 125, 35, countless Dianas old and modern, countless Holgas. And more...oh I have a handmade wet plate camera that my partner made for me that has a very simple lens very soft, less depth of field than my Holgas, it has backs to shoot 2 1/4, 2 1/4 x 5 and 5x5.


Favourite photo film(s)?

My favorite films, though I shoot little or no film anymore since I discovered wet plate, are Velvia, Reala, and Tri-X. Though I've shot practically everything - I used to like infrared.


Your favourite Holga photo that you've taken?

Hmmm, good question. I think it changes. My favorite out of my past series is the swimming pool at West beach blvd and Barkely. It is looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, a pool that has turned into a pond since Katrina, the house is just a foundation, slab really. Plants are growing out of the pool, nature reclaiming the land. And out of my self series, 'Self portrait as an Encephalopod or I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can' because it is so silly. Just like a child playing. I was holding the camera right out in front of me spinning around just like kids do holding hands and spinning around in circles.
Pool West Beach and Barkley

Self Portrait as Encephalopod I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can

What inspires you?

Things that people overlook. The small things, everyday things, they speak to me.

Gayle's Links


Thank you Gayle!

I am My Memory


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