Stan Bowman Contemporary Fine Artist

 

HISTORY AS AN ARTIST

The Early Years

 

Now I am not really part of the "computer generation" but I spend a lot of time in front of a computer these days. I grew up in the 1940's and 50's when the "Drive In" and crew cuts were the norm of the day. Yet today I have an ongoing fascination with computer technology which perhaps can be seen on one hand as bordering on the obsessive, but also  as a sensible recognition that we have moved into a new digital age where "electronics" has become our mantra.

 

How It Started.

 

So what made me jump headlong into this 21st century technology? Perhaps it has been my fascination with the "new" because I grew up in California where practically nothing seemed anything more than a few years old. As a boy I lived in eight different houses before I was 14, all rented by my parents. My father did not believe in owning a house. Only in high school did I live in one house and then for only four years until graduation. But it was also during this time that I discovered what at first was a new hobby, later an ongoing fascination, and finally an obsession. This was photography. It started innocuously enough in 1951 with the gift of a small snapshot camera and a developing kit. Working at night in the garage of our current rented house I carefully loaded film onto a reel under a dim red light, mixed chemicals, and processed a roll of film. Taking the film out of the canister fixative solution I unrolled it and saw on the film, miraculously, the negative images that were unmistakably of objects and people. What excitement, what magic. Hence was born my desire to take and make pictures.

 

When I got to high school I succumbed to the same interests that most high school kids adopt, sports, cars and girls. Photography faded into the background and did not emerge until a number of years later in college. In 1961 at the University of California in Berkeley I entered the architecture program and one semester took a course on lighting. One project was to find a place to study the change of sunlight from dawn to dusk. When I heard this I thought "O. K., I can do this with photographs". I found a covered passageway with large windows between two Berkeley campus building and made exposures outside from one spot every hour of the day. Then I printed four photographs for the project, four different times of the day. Looking at the pictures I was amazed by the patterns of sunlight that came through the windows and changed dramatically during the course of the day, This study was an epiphany for me. I was totally mesmerized by the shapes created and quality of light, and this set the direction of my interest in photography then and for the future.

 

My Time As An Architect. 1964 to 1970.

 

After graduation in 1964 the next ten years passed quickly, with me getting my architectural license and working in several architectural offices in the San Francisco Bay area. At some point I began to think again about making photographs, bought a new Pentax 35mm camera, and began taking photo classes at University of California Extension in Berkeley. It was fun and my collection of pictures grew quite rapidly. However what had started out as an interesting weekend diversion from my regular job had also become a compelling obsession.

 

One project grabbed my attention for over a year and became my first really significant black and white photographic project. My architectural job required me to travel by bus across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, and then walk to my job. Each day I would arrive at the bus depot in San Francisco and I became fascinated with the people who were there each day who seemed to be almost like permanent residents, One day I took my camera with me intending to take some photographs of the depot and its residents. One of the first things I discovered was that as soon as I took my camera out they became aware of and stared at me. It was only when I put the camera on a tripod and waited a while did they start to ignore me. Then I took my pictures. Many trips later I had a set of images that for me caught the character and mood of the place and the interesting residents. This became the images of my first serious photo exhibition, and was then followed by a similar series of photographs taken at the San Francisco Train Depot.

 

The real watershed experience in photography, however, came in June of 1968. That summer I made a trip south along the California coast from San Francisco Bay to Point Lobos State Park for several days of picture making with some photo friends. I knew before I went that I would be traversing the rocks and shoreline where Edward Weston and Ansel Adams had produced such wonderful and creative photographs some 30 years before. But I was not quite fully prepared for the extraordinary beauty of the location.

 

Now the thing about Point Lobos is that it is probably one of the most astounding coastlines in the world with incredible rock formations worn smooth and spectacular by eons of water washing up onto the shore. Tide pools and small sea creatures are everywhere. As I was standing there next to the water the warm and magnificent late afternoon cut across the incredible rock formations. I saw a play of light and shadow that was immensely moving and beautiful. The textures and shapes and movements of lines of the rocks mesmerized me. Motivated to make pictures, I took many images with my Pentax 35mm camera being aware that I was making some of the best images I had ever made.

 

As I drove back to my Bay Area home I felt a certainty that I had captured the amazing beauty of the scenes I had just witnessed. I even thought about how I would print the images, using Agfa Protriga Rapid silver gelatin photo paper (which unfortunately is no longer available). Now the thing about that paper was that it contained more silver than most papers so blacks are deeper, yielding a longer tone range than could be gotten with other materials. Additionally Protrega had a slightly warm brownish tone, and I knew this would perfectly match the mood I saw created by the warm afternoon light as I was taking pictures. In the days after I arrived home I carefully developed the rolls of film, made contact sheets, and saw to my delight that the images I had hoped for were there, even more amazing than I had hoped for.

 

About a year after my trip to Point Lobos, in 1969, I undertook another photo project that provided me with new images for a third significant group of photographs. The location was an abandoned turn of the century hot springs resort called Byron Hot Springs, near Stockton, California. I arrived there one spring day with a group of photo friends who had been telling me interesting things about the place. Immediately I was fascinated as I saw several groups of lavish but deteriorating buildings, all no longer in use but still presenting the remnants of the former glory of the resort. What I learned then from the on-site caretaker was that this place had a compelling and fascinating history both as a posh turn of the century resort but also as an internment camp during the Second World War. The details of this second use were rather vague, and I assumed at the time it had been used to intern Japanese Americans.

 

 

Byron Hot Springs when it was built in the 1890's had become one of the most lavish and desirable hot springs resorts not only in the United States, but also abroad. Submerged large and beautiful marble lined tubs with warm soothing hot spring water drew the wealthy of that time to the California valley. Opulent hotel accommodations matched the magnificent springs to make this a most special place to visit. But what I found was a fascinating but mixed history. The resort had been abandoned for over 20 years and looked it.

 

At the end of my first day there I knew that I would have an amazing group of images. Everywhere was astounding in the form of sensuous surfaces and textures, all showing the effects of time and deterioration, and pieces of evidence referring to the prisoner years. I sensed that I could make a photo essay of this that would be about the history of this place, but also that I could create a group of fascinating photographs that in themselves were about light, rich surface texture, and shapes. The latter interested me the most. For almost the entire summer I made trips back and forth the Byron Hot Springs and collected a group of exciting images that resulted in a significant series of photographs.

 

Let me add a quick postscript note about Byron Hot Springs. A recent Internet search revealed to me that in actuality this place had been used by the US Government during the Second World War to confine both German and Japanese prisoners of war. One of two such camps in the US, it was considered as a temporary detention center for the interrogation of prisoners. By the end of the war it had served its purpose and was turned back over to the original owners who made no particular attempt to renovate or reuse the facility.

 

MFA at the University of New Mexico. 1970 to 1973.

 

In 1970 I had started to consider leaving the profession of architecture. I had begun to realize that I was more interested in making photographs than in making buildings. After some soul searching I made the decision to leave architecture and apply to graduate school in photography with the intention of seeking a university teaching job after graduation. I then applied to the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, one of the best photo programs in the nation, and was accepted. Being a student in the program was a pleasure, and it was an exciting time. It also gave me the chance to explore the southwest US, one of the most scenic areas of the United States.

 

 

In June of 1971 I made a summer trip to White Sands National Monument near Carlsbad, NM. The moment I saw the sand dunes unfolding before me I was in awe. Now the sand there is actually quite firm and it proved easy to walk some distance off the road . The warm late afternoon sunlight raked across the sand gently defining the peaks and valleys, creating wonderful patterns of light and shadow. The sky was clear, and there was no wind at all. White Sands is a huge national preserve and many photographs have been taken there. But I found myself able to see it for myself and to take a series of photographs that were as compelling as any of the work I had done previously.

 

After three years I completed the requirements for an Masters of Fine Art in photography, and graduated. During the spring of 1973 I began looking for a university teaching position, a challenging task for anyone just about to leave school. Imagine my surprise when I received a telephone call from Cornell University and was invited to fly out for an interview in the Architecture Department which was starting a new program in design communications which included a strong photography component. It was March when I flew out, the weather was cool but nice. I met and talked with a multitude of faculty and students, and at the end, much to my extreme pleasure, I was told I would receive a letter offering me a teaching position. I flew back to Albuquerque where I began to plan for a 2000 mile relocation to upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes, one of the most scenic locations in the United States.

 

The Cornell years. 1973-1999.

 

Arriving in Ithaca in the fall of 1973 I faced the immediate task of settling myself and my family in a brand new and unfamiliar environment. But it was also a fascinating new location with landscape completely different from either California or the deserts of New Mexico. Upon my arrival I was told by photo colleagues at Cornell that Ithaca was second only to Seattle in number of overcast days in a year. Others told me I would love the summers and hate the winters. Moving into an older 1880's remodeled farmhouse I began to anticipate the coming of a cold winter with a fair amount of snow, something I had never known either in California or New Mexico. It seemed to offer both an unsettling and exciting change from what I had known previously.

 

Moving to a new environment as a photographer offers the creative opportunity to explore new imagery. Upstate New York and the Finger Lakes for half the year is green and dense with many trees and foliage. The eleven Finger Lakes are long narrow lakes that were formed by depressions of land, with hills pushed up between them. They are bowels of water, and to get to the next lake one needs to drive up and over the hill which separates it from the adjoining lake. Ithaca lies at the bottom of Lake Cayuga, between the larger cities of Syracuse and Binghamton. This area is also rural New York with many farms spread out among small rural towns. Ithaca, however is one of the larger towns with over 50,000 people, although many of these are students attending Cornell and Ithaca College.

 

Now one might expect that a photographer arriving in such a place would naturally gravitate towards making landscape pictures to come to terms with the new environment. But this did not happen for several reasons. On one hand adjusting to my new role as university professor and to the task of learning to participate on a university faculty and teaching students full time proved a big challenge, one which kept me on campus most of the time. Perhaps as the result of this my first photo project in Ithaca was directed toward creating a "at home" self portrait which was both easier to accomplish and also necessary for me to find my place in this new location and life style. This group of images was my way of finding a new voice while I focused on my experiences at that time of my life. This resulted in a group of twenty images that were exhibited at several locations in the US.

 

In 1980 I moved into a new phase at Cornell, as I was granted tenure and shortly thereafter became the Chair of the Art Department for a five year term. One would think that with new administrative duties I would have even less time for my photographic work, but in fact the opposite happened. I experienced one of my most productive growth periods as an artist.

 

Two things happened to help move me along. On one hand I had been exploring color photography for several years and had started to teach it in my classes. My interest in color imagery grew and blossomed and I began to experience the excitement of color. But also as I was even more confined on campus due to my administrative duties I put my attention to finding a way to expand my work into new and uncharted areas in my campus studio.

 

This took the form of setting up a copy stand in my studio just down the hall from my Department Chair's office which would allow me to more easily continue my personal work.

 

It started innocuously enough with me buying some vegetables at the local farmers market intending to photograph them in the studio underneath a 4x5 camera attached to the copy stand. I put the vegetables in the frig in my studio and forgot about them. One day remembering they were still there I got them out and found them in various stages of decay. Looking at them, I found they were even more interesting in their changes than when fresh. Also I had the sudden impulse to "enhance" this deterioration so I picked up hardware tools, a hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, etc., and worked over the vegetables, pounding, squeezing, etc.They became even more interesting to me. Moreover the colors seemed to expand their range of feelings. Then I arranged these vegetables but also added in the tools themselves used to shape the organic objects. At first these were arranged freeform, but then later in careful patterns, drawing on my strong design training from architecture. The result was quite pleasing. The use of the 4x5 camera and color film also meant I could achieve crisp and excellent detail for the final images. These were then printed as 16x20 color prints in my darkroom on campus.

 

Once I had assembled and created some twenty images I began to search for exhibit venues. It turned out that these were to be shown in the next few years both nationally and abroad. During 1984 I had exhibitions both in New York City at the O. K. Harris Gallery in SOHO, and also at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art, a two person show with my talented photographer friend Barbara Kaston. Then in 1985 I made a summer trip to the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie conference in Arles, FRANCE where I again showed my work around with much critical acclaim. This resulted in a series of shows in Europe at various locations over the next two years as well as a more extensive show at the Recontres in 1986.

 

Looking for a way to extend this body of works I began creating a more complex series of images where each was composed actually of four images, so called "Quadrants". The intention was to create more complexity by having four images that can be experienced separately, but also can be viewed as one single image. These took a great deal of time to compose and photograph as I needed to be aware of the other three images that would be adjacent to each other. These works were subsequently shown in several locations in the US and abroad. However this was the completion of an exciting run of images and also marked the end of this kind of assemblage for me. But the interesting thing is that even though I would go back only once more to using a copy stand and large format camera to make images using traditional photo methods in the not too distant future I would again start creating collages of images but this time it would be on a computer.

 

I would complete two more significant photographic series of images using a camera and making prints in a photographic darkroom in the 1980's. The first would be from a stay at an artists colony in Paris, France, in 1987. Having stepped down as Chair of the Art Department I now had time to work on my photography in earnest. Additionally I had decided to explore the possibilities inherent in photographing with large format camera's, using both 4x5 and 8x10 view camera's.

 

Learning about the possibility of a residency at Cite Des Arts International in Paris I applied and was accepted in the spring of 1987. On sabbatical leave from Cornell, I traveled to Paris and moved into a studio apartment in the Cite which was located in the heart of Paris adjacent to the Seine River and just opposite Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I had been to France before to attend photographic conferences but had never stayed for a longer period of time to photograph. I found like many other artists before me that I was lost at first regarding what I might photograph. I had taken the 8x10 field camera with me and started lugging this around Paris taking pictures. I really enjoyed setting up the camera and frequently had a group of Parisians around me, all curious about what I was doing. My intention was to make both color and black and white film exposures, develop the black and white negatives there in my Paris studio, but take the color negatives back to Ithaca to process.

 

I had arrived in April but found that by the end of July I really did not have any sort of satisfying body of images. In August, with four weeks left of my residency, I suddenly realized what it was that was attracting my attention and what I wished to photograph. During my stay in Paris as I walked around I saw a mixture of all sorts of ads for various products or services on wall or display surfaces, movie announcements, ads for sexual phone connections, etc. What struck me most was the stark contrast of this advertising with the classical character and architecture of Paris. Suddenly I realized what I wanted to do, make images with my 8x10 camera which expressed this contrast.

 

 

When I returned to Ithaca in the fall of 1987 I began to process the color negatives that I brought back from Paris, and print them on 20x24 Kodak color papers in my home darkroom, a nicely outfitted spacious room newly created a few years earlier. The color printing process is much more demanding than black and white requiring keeping the chemicals at a precise temperature within a degree or two either way. I had also built special covered processing trays so that I could turn on lights to see while processing prints. However when I was exposing paper and loading it in the covered tray I needed to do it in darkness or at times use a dim color safelight, making it possible to see just a little bit. At that time I also had an 8x10 enlarger so I could print enlargements of the 8x10 color or black and white negatives brought back from Paris.

 

Then in 1989 I was offered the opportunity to spend the fall semester teaching in the Cornell program in Rome. located in the Palazzo Massimo not far away from the Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome. The location was a historic palazzo that appears in most of the current architecture history books about Rome including the classic text by the noted historian Banister Fletcher. Thinking that this would offer me the opportunity to also photograph this amazing major urban city, I took with me a 4x5 field camera and both color negative and black and white sheet film. My plan was to do the same as when I was in Paris, process the black and white there and bring the color film back to Ithaca for processing afterwards.

 

 

 

Rome was an incredible experience and I was able to get out and photograph throughout the entire city. Amazing scenes are everywhere. Rome is a contrast, being a mix of the ancient Roman ruins, classic Italian medieval and Renaissance churches and buildings, and yet also being a large modern urban city. One is almost not sure what to photograph as everywhere one goes there are things to picture. Finally I began to realize that again it was contrasts of ancient and modern that was fascinating me, the montage of the unexpected, the fantastic mix of the classic with modern Rome street life.

 

When I returned to Ithaca I processed my exposed color films and thought about how I might picture this experience. Since it was the contrasting mix of objects that held my attention I decided to montage my pictures. I made many prints of scenes, cut out objects from the prints with a knife. and layered these back together on a copy stand and re-photographed them with my 4x5 camera to create a single image. This resulted in a series of some 16 images, all printed on Kodak chromogenic color paper.

 

What is most significant about the Rome series may be that it was the last group of images that I printed in a photo darkroom. Soon after I dismantled my home darkroom and converted it into a computer room in which I could pursue my growing interest in computer technology. This series is also interesting because in that I began to more fully explore the montage of objects in a picture space, a process that transferred over to the computer as I found I could do it much more easily that way and with even much more possibilities for control and manipulation.

 

The New Technology. 1984 to 2002.

 

During the 1980's while I was deeply involved with using a large format camera and making type C Kodak color prints I was also getting my first taste of the approaching technology revolution which would soon invade the photographic world to change it inevitably and irrevocably. In 1984 Apple introduced the first MAC computer and I soon bought one through Cornell. This was an exciting experience although I did not know how to use this for much more the text writing and editing. The importing of images had not yet begun.

 

Then in 1985 I learned that Cornell had a grant program funded through IBM in which IBM would supply state of the art computer equipment to faculty for research. I applied and received a grant of $20,000 for equipment, a computer, software, and a IBM color printer, the first ever of it's kind. But I wanted to use this for making images, not writing text or crunching numbers, so I went in search of graphics software. By chance I found an inexpensive paint program at the Cornell Campus Store which would allow me to paint with 16 colors. Starting with that I began to make abstract color images, focusing on the pixels and combinations of pixels, just like the French painter Seurat had done in the 19th century with daubs of paint. Additionally I found I could easily manipulate the images, such as duplicate and repeat sections, "inverse" (reverse) the color of pixels, rotate sections making them turn 90% either direction or flip horizontal or vertical. All this was new to me and quite exciting. When finished I printed out these images on my IBM color printer, cut them in squares, and pasted them together into a larger work by taping them together on the backside with clear cellophane tape. It was primitive at the time but it allowed me to begin my exploration of the basics of digital imaging.

 

About the same time a fortunate conversation with a Cornell College staff member opened up the window of my vision about the possibilities of this new technology for photography. Sitting in his office one day I said to him that I would really like to be able to work with an image in the darkroom and for example take an arm that was hanging down and move it around so it was stretched up. I said this was almost impossible to do in a darkroom. His reply was, "Well, you know, you can probably do that on the computer". Suddenly the possibility of computer manipulation of images dawned on me. If I could digitize photographic images then the sort of image manipulation I desired was possible. This propelled me to go across campus and search out people who were just beginning to explore the use of the computer for creating and editing graphic images.

 

Not long after getting my IBM research equipment I came across some other new equipment that really excited me. A colleague invited me to a demo on campus by a company called Truevision that was showing a graphics board they had designed that would capture video images, called the ICB(Image Capture Board). This board was connected to an external video camera that could capture still images. They had also designed a software program called TIPS for manipulating these images with much greater possibilities than I had with my simple Campus Store bought software. Fortunately the Truevision folks were willing to loan their equipment to Cornell for a while, and about a month later I was offered the equipment and set up a station in my campus studio. One of the first undertakings was to invite professor colleagues and students into my studio, grab images of them, and then manipulate the images in TIPS. What fascinated me was the possibility to duplicate 1/2 of a face, flip it over, and get a completely symmetrical face, something that does not occur in reality. This was an exciting time and I created my first series of digital images that were shown later in several gallery exhibitions.

 

As time went on I bought a video camera and experimented more and more with grabbing images and importing them for manipulation into the computer. But grabbed video images at that time were rather low resolution and not satisfying to someone acquainted with the detail of an 8x10 film camera image. So I began to search for a way to get higher resolution images, and the first breakthrough came when in the late 1980's I discovered and purchased a Microtek flatbed scanner. Suddenly I had a crispness and detail not available through video images. This was the beginning of my ongoing use of the scanner as a means for importing images into the computer arena, a way of working that continues today.

 

In the early 1990's I scanned in photo images as the digital still camera had not yet arrived, and would not really appear for general consumers until the Kodak introduced their DC line in 1996. I gathered printed images from magazines, newspapers and other printed sources which I then used in my works. I also was able to scan film negatives and prints made with a standard film camera on my flatbed camera and use these in image collages. Then I came across Photoshop that Adobe had released in 1990, and was blown away by possibilities. However initially I was not able to use the program as I only had a PC computer and Photoshop was a MAC only program. But then in 1993 the Windows PC version of Photoshop appeared and I jumped into image editing on Photoshop with both feet.

 

When shifting to a new medium it is not uncommon for an artist to struggle a while to establish a voice. It is a matter of really beginning to understand the materials and how one can relate them to one's personal life experiences. It is a matter of becoming fluent with the new language which is necessary for artistic expression. Even though I started doing some imaging on the computer in the 1980's I would have to say that it was in the mid 1990's that I began to feel comfortable with this new technology and find my ways of expression. It also corresponded with my retirement from teaching at Cornell, allowing me the chance to follow my desires as an artist more or less full time.

 

My first art exploration after leaving teaching began in 2000. I was inspired to try some painting which I had done on and off for more than 40 years. But as I worked on painting in acrylics on canvases I became convinced they needed something more. So I scanned in objects on the flatbed scanner and printed them out on canvas on a recently purchased Encad wider format printer. Then I cut these out with a sharp knife and glued them down on top of the painted canvases. This became a very interesting series of multimedia collages, a meeting of traditional acrylic painting with digital images.

 

 

Also in the same period of time I began my first really significant series of digital only art images. Working still with a flatbed scanner I began to archive all sorts of objects and montage these together on the computer in Photoshop, sometimes with a few digital camera shots added. This first series stretched on into 2002 and included sometimes strange combinations of objects. On one hand this seemed a natural continuation of what I had been doing with my photographic collages made on a copy stand some ten years earlier, only now it was infinitely easier to piece elements together in Photoshop. Moreover it offered so many more possibilities of arrangement and manipulations. At the same time these digital montages afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with my strong design background from my years as an architect, and to challenge me to find just the right organization to satisfy me. Finally I had always been interested in strong contrasts and juxtapositions of dissimilar objects, and this held full sway in these works.

 

 

CONTINUED

Stan Bowman Contemporary Fine Artist

Now the thing about Point Lobos is that it is probably one of the most astounding coastlines in the world with incredible rock formations worn smooth and spectacular by eons of water washing up onto the shore. Tide pools and small sea creatures are everywhere. As I was standing there next to the water the warm and magnificent late afternoon cut across the incredible rock formations. I saw a play of light and shadow that was immensely moving and beautiful. The textures and shapes and movements of lines of the rocks mesmerized me. Motivated to make pictures, I took many images with my Pentax 35mm camera being aware that I was making some of the best images I had ever made.

About a year after my trip to Point Lobos, in 1969, I undertook another photo project that provided me with new images for a third significant group of photographs. The location was an abandoned turn of the century hot springs resort called Byron Hot Springs, near Stockton, California. I arrived there one spring day with a group of photo friends who had been telling me interesting things about the place. Immediately I was fascinated as I saw several groups of lavish but deteriorating buildings, all no longer in use but still presenting the remnants of the former glory of the resort. What I learned then from the on-site caretaker was that this place had a compelling and fascinating history both as a posh turn of the century resort but also as an internment camp during the Second World War. The details of this second use were rather vague, and I assumed at the time it had been used to intern Japanese Americans.

Byron Hot Springs when it was built in the 1890's had become one of the most lavish and desirable hot springs resorts not only in the United States, but also abroad. Submerged large and beautiful marble lined tubs with warm soothing hot spring water drew the wealthy of that time to the California valley. Opulent hotel accommodations matched the magnificent springs to make this a most special place to visit. But what I found was a fascinating but mixed history. The resort had been abandoned for over 20 years and looked it.

In 1970 I had started to consider leaving the profession of architecture. I had begun to realize that I was more interested in making photographs than in making buildings. After some soul searching I made the decision to leave architecture and apply to graduate school in photography with the intention of seeking a university teaching job after graduation. I then applied to the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, one of the best photo programs in the nation, and was accepted. Being a student in the program was a pleasure, and it was an exciting time. It also gave me the chance to explore the southwest US, one of the most scenic areas of the United States.

Stan Bowman Contemporary Fine Artist

 

HISTORY AS AN ARTIST

The Early Years

 

Now I am not really part of the "computer generation" but I spend a lot of time in front of a computer these days. I grew up in the 1940's and 50's when the "Drive In" and crew cuts were the norm of the day. Yet today I have an ongoing fascination with computer technology which perhaps can be seen on one hand as bordering on the obsessive, but also  as a sensible recognition that we have moved into a new digital age where "electronics" has become our mantra.

 

How It Started.

 

So what made me jump headlong into this 21st century technology? Perhaps it has been my fascination with the "new" because I grew up in California where practically nothing seemed anything more than a few years old. As a boy I lived in eight different houses before I was 14, all rented by my parents. My father did not believe in owning a house. Only in high school did I live in one house and then for only four years until graduation. But it was also during this time that I discovered what at first was a new hobby, later an ongoing fascination, and finally an obsession. This was photography. It started innocuously enough in 1951 with the gift of a small snapshot camera and a developing kit. Working at night in the garage of our current rented house I carefully loaded film onto a reel under a dim red light, mixed chemicals, and processed a roll of film. Taking the film out of the canister fixative solution I unrolled it and saw on the film, miraculously, the negative images that were unmistakably of objects and people. What excitement, what magic. Hence was born my desire to take and make pictures.

 

When I got to high school I succumbed to the same interests that most high school kids adopt, sports, cars and girls. Photography faded into the background and did not emerge until a number of years later in college. In 1961 at the University of California in Berkeley I entered the architecture program and one semester took a course on lighting. One project was to find a place to study the change of sunlight from dawn to dusk. When I heard this I thought "O. K., I can do this with photographs". I found a covered passageway with large windows between two Berkeley campus building and made exposures outside from one spot every hour of the day. Then I printed four photographs for the project, four different times of the day. Looking at the pictures I was amazed by the patterns of sunlight that came through the windows and changed dramatically during the course of the day, This study was an epiphany for me. I was totally mesmerized by the shapes created and quality of light, and this set the direction of my interest in photography then and for the future.

 

My Time As An Architect. 1964 to 1970.

 

After graduation in 1964 the next ten years passed quickly, with me getting my architectural license and working in several architectural offices in the San Francisco Bay area. At some point I began to think again about making photographs, bought a new Pentax 35mm camera, and began taking photo classes at University of California Extension in Berkeley. It was fun and my collection of pictures grew quite rapidly. However what had started out as an interesting weekend diversion from my regular job had also become a compelling obsession.

 

One project grabbed my attention for over a year and became my first really significant black and white photographic project. My architectural job required me to travel by bus across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, and then walk to my job. Each day I would arrive at the bus depot in San Francisco and I became fascinated with the people who were there each day who seemed to be almost like permanent residents, One day I took my camera with me intending to take some photographs of the depot and its residents. One of the first things I discovered was that as soon as I took my camera out they became aware of and stared at me. It was only when I put the camera on a tripod and waited a while did they start to ignore me. Then I took my pictures. Many trips later I had a set of images that for me caught the character and mood of the place and the interesting residents. This became the images of my first serious photo exhibition, and was then followed by a similar series of photographs taken at the San Francisco Train Depot.

 

The real watershed experience in photography, however, came in June of 1968. That summer I made a trip south along the California coast from San Francisco Bay to Point Lobos State Park for several days of picture making with some photo friends. I knew before I went that I would be traversing the rocks and shoreline where Edward Weston and Ansel Adams had produced such wonderful and creative photographs some 30 years before. But I was not quite fully prepared for the extraordinary beauty of the location.

 

Now the thing about Point Lobos is that it is probably one of the most astounding coastlines in the world with incredible rock formations worn smooth and spectacular by eons of water washing up onto the shore. Tide pools and small sea creatures are everywhere. As I was standing there next to the water the warm and magnificent late afternoon cut across the incredible rock formations. I saw a play of light and shadow that was immensely moving and beautiful. The textures and shapes and movements of lines of the rocks mesmerized me. Motivated to make pictures, I took many images with my Pentax 35mm camera being aware that I was making some of the best images I had ever made.

 

As I drove back to my Bay Area home I felt a certainty that I had captured the amazing beauty of the scenes I had just witnessed. I even thought about how I would print the images, using Agfa Protriga Rapid silver gelatin photo paper (which unfortunately is no longer available). Now the thing about that paper was that it contained more silver than most papers so blacks are deeper, yielding a longer tone range than could be gotten with other materials. Additionally Protrega had a slightly warm brownish tone, and I knew this would perfectly match the mood I saw created by the warm afternoon light as I was taking pictures. In the days after I arrived home I carefully developed the rolls of film, made contact sheets, and saw to my delight that the images I had hoped for were there, even more amazing than I had hoped for.

 

About a year after my trip to Point Lobos, in 1969, I undertook another photo project that provided me with new images for a third significant group of photographs. The location was an abandoned turn of the century hot springs resort called Byron Hot Springs, near Stockton, California. I arrived there one spring day with a group of photo friends who had been telling me interesting things about the place. Immediately I was fascinated as I saw several groups of lavish but deteriorating buildings, all no longer in use but still presenting the remnants of the former glory of the resort. What I learned then from the on-site caretaker was that this place had a compelling and fascinating history both as a posh turn of the century resort but also as an internment camp during the Second World War. The details of this second use were rather vague, and I assumed at the time it had been used to intern Japanese Americans.

 

 

Byron Hot Springs when it was built in the 1890's had become one of the most lavish and desirable hot springs resorts not only in the United States, but also abroad. Submerged large and beautiful marble lined tubs with warm soothing hot spring water drew the wealthy of that time to the California valley. Opulent hotel accommodations matched the magnificent springs to make this a most special place to visit. But what I found was a fascinating but mixed history. The resort had been abandoned for over 20 years and looked it.

 

At the end of my first day there I knew that I would have an amazing group of images. Everywhere was astounding in the form of sensuous surfaces and textures, all showing the effects of time and deterioration, and pieces of evidence referring to the prisoner years. I sensed that I could make a photo essay of this that would be about the history of this place, but also that I could create a group of fascinating photographs that in themselves were about light, rich surface texture, and shapes. The latter interested me the most. For almost the entire summer I made trips back and forth the Byron Hot Springs and collected a group of exciting images that resulted in a significant series of photographs.

 

Let me add a quick postscript note about Byron Hot Springs. A recent Internet search revealed to me that in actuality this place had been used by the US Government during the Second World War to confine both German and Japanese prisoners of war. One of two such camps in the US, it was considered as a temporary detention center for the interrogation of prisoners. By the end of the war it had served its purpose and was turned back over to the original owners who made no particular attempt to renovate or reuse the facility.

 

MFA at the University of New Mexico. 1970 to 1973.

 

In 1970 I had started to consider leaving the profession of architecture. I had begun to realize that I was more interested in making photographs than in making buildings. After some soul searching I made the decision to leave architecture and apply to graduate school in photography with the intention of seeking a university teaching job after graduation. I then applied to the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, one of the best photo programs in the nation, and was accepted. Being a student in the program was a pleasure, and it was an exciting time. It also gave me the chance to explore the southwest US, one of the most scenic areas of the United States.

 

 

In June of 1971 I made a summer trip to White Sands National Monument near Carlsbad, NM. The moment I saw the sand dunes unfolding before me I was in awe. Now the sand there is actually quite firm and it proved easy to walk some distance off the road . The warm late afternoon sunlight raked across the sand gently defining the peaks and valleys, creating wonderful patterns of light and shadow. The sky was clear, and there was no wind at all. White Sands is a huge national preserve and many photographs have been taken there. But I found myself able to see it for myself and to take a series of photographs that were as compelling as any of the work I had done previously.

 

After three years I completed the requirements for an Masters of Fine Art in photography, and graduated. During the spring of 1973 I began looking for a university teaching position, a challenging task for anyone just about to leave school. Imagine my surprise when I received a telephone call from Cornell University and was invited to fly out for an interview in the Architecture Department which was starting a new program in design communications which included a strong photography component. It was March when I flew out, the weather was cool but nice. I met and talked with a multitude of faculty and students, and at the end, much to my extreme pleasure, I was told I would receive a letter offering me a teaching position. I flew back to Albuquerque where I began to plan for a 2000 mile relocation to upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes, one of the most scenic locations in the United States.

 

The Cornell years. 1973-1999.

 

Arriving in Ithaca in the fall of 1973 I faced the immediate task of settling myself and my family in a brand new and unfamiliar environment. But it was also a fascinating new location with landscape completely different from either California or the deserts of New Mexico. Upon my arrival I was told by photo colleagues at Cornell that Ithaca was second only to Seattle in number of overcast days in a year. Others told me I would love the summers and hate the winters. Moving into an older 1880's remodeled farmhouse I began to anticipate the coming of a cold winter with a fair amount of snow, something I had never known either in California or New Mexico. It seemed to offer both an unsettling and exciting change from what I had known previously.

 

Moving to a new environment as a photographer offers the creative opportunity to explore new imagery. Upstate New York and the Finger Lakes for half the year is green and dense with many trees and foliage. The eleven Finger Lakes are long narrow lakes that were formed by depressions of land, with hills pushed up between them. They are bowels of water, and to get to the next lake one needs to drive up and over the hill which separates it from the adjoining lake. Ithaca lies at the bottom of Lake Cayuga, between the larger cities of Syracuse and Binghamton. This area is also rural New York with many farms spread out among small rural towns. Ithaca, however is one of the larger towns with over 50,000 people, although many of these are students attending Cornell and Ithaca College.

 

Now one might expect that a photographer arriving in such a place would naturally gravitate towards making landscape pictures to come to terms with the new environment. But this did not happen for several reasons. On one hand adjusting to my new role as university professor and to the task of learning to participate on a university faculty and teaching students full time proved a big challenge, one which kept me on campus most of the time. Perhaps as the result of this my first photo project in Ithaca was directed toward creating a "at home" self portrait which was both easier to accomplish and also necessary for me to find my place in this new location and life style. This group of images was my way of finding a new voice while I focused on my experiences at that time of my life. This resulted in a group of twenty images that were exhibited at several locations in the US.

 

In 1980 I moved into a new phase at Cornell, as I was granted tenure and shortly thereafter became the Chair of the Art Department for a five year term. One would think that with new administrative duties I would have even less time for my photographic work, but in fact the opposite happened. I experienced one of my most productive growth periods as an artist.

 

Two things happened to help move me along. On one hand I had been exploring color photography for several years and had started to teach it in my classes. My interest in color imagery grew and blossomed and I began to experience the excitement of color. But also as I was even more confined on campus due to my administrative duties I put my attention to finding a way to expand my work into new and uncharted areas in my campus studio.

 

This took the form of setting up a copy stand in my studio just down the hall from my Department Chair's office which would allow me to more easily continue my personal work.

 

It started innocuously enough with me buying some vegetables at the local farmers market intending to photograph them in the studio underneath a 4x5 camera attached to the copy stand. I put the vegetables in the frig in my studio and forgot about them. One day remembering they were still there I got them out and found them in various stages of decay. Looking at them, I found they were even more interesting in their changes than when fresh. Also I had the sudden impulse to "enhance" this deterioration so I picked up hardware tools, a hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, etc., and worked over the vegetables, pounding, squeezing, etc.They became even more interesting to me. Moreover the colors seemed to expand their range of feelings. Then I arranged these vegetables but also added in the tools themselves used to shape the organic objects. At first these were arranged freeform, but then later in careful patterns, drawing on my strong design training from architecture. The result was quite pleasing. The use of the 4x5 camera and color film also meant I could achieve crisp and excellent detail for the final images. These were then printed as 16x20 color prints in my darkroom on campus.

 

Once I had assembled and created some twenty images I began to search for exhibit venues. It turned out that these were to be shown in the next few years both nationally and abroad. During 1984 I had exhibitions both in New York City at the O. K. Harris Gallery in SOHO, and also at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art, a two person show with my talented photographer friend Barbara Kaston. Then in 1985 I made a summer trip to the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie conference in Arles, FRANCE where I again showed my work around with much critical acclaim. This resulted in a series of shows in Europe at various locations over the next two years as well as a more extensive show at the Recontres in 1986.

 

Looking for a way to extend this body of works I began creating a more complex series of images where each was composed actually of four images, so called "Quadrants". The intention was to create more complexity by having four images that can be experienced separately, but also can be viewed as one single image. These took a great deal of time to compose and photograph as I needed to be aware of the other three images that would be adjacent to each other. These works were subsequently shown in several locations in the US and abroad. However this was the completion of an exciting run of images and also marked the end of this kind of assemblage for me. But the interesting thing is that even though I would go back only once more to using a copy stand and large format camera to make images using traditional photo methods in the not too distant future I would again start creating collages of images but this time it would be on a computer.

 

I would complete two more significant photographic series of images using a camera and making prints in a photographic darkroom in the 1980's. The first would be from a stay at an artists colony in Paris, France, in 1987. Having stepped down as Chair of the Art Department I now had time to work on my photography in earnest. Additionally I had decided to explore the possibilities inherent in photographing with large format camera's, using both 4x5 and 8x10 view camera's.

 

Learning about the possibility of a residency at Cite Des Arts International in Paris I applied and was accepted in the spring of 1987. On sabbatical leave from Cornell, I traveled to Paris and moved into a studio apartment in the Cite which was located in the heart of Paris adjacent to the Seine River and just opposite Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I had been to France before to attend photographic conferences but had never stayed for a longer period of time to photograph. I found like many other artists before me that I was lost at first regarding what I might photograph. I had taken the 8x10 field camera with me and started lugging this around Paris taking pictures. I really enjoyed setting up the camera and frequently had a group of Parisians around me, all curious about what I was doing. My intention was to make both color and black and white film exposures, develop the black and white negatives there in my Paris studio, but take the color negatives back to Ithaca to process.

 

I had arrived in April but found that by the end of July I really did not have any sort of satisfying body of images. In August, with four weeks left of my residency, I suddenly realized what it was that was attracting my attention and what I wished to photograph. During my stay in Paris as I walked around I saw a mixture of all sorts of ads for various products or services on wall or display surfaces, movie announcements, ads for sexual phone connections, etc. What struck me most was the stark contrast of this advertising with the classical character and architecture of Paris. Suddenly I realized what I wanted to do, make images with my 8x10 camera which expressed this contrast.

 

 

When I returned to Ithaca in the fall of 1987 I began to process the color negatives that I brought back from Paris, and print them on 20x24 Kodak color papers in my home darkroom, a nicely outfitted spacious room newly created a few years earlier. The color printing process is much more demanding than black and white requiring keeping the chemicals at a precise temperature within a degree or two either way. I had also built special covered processing trays so that I could turn on lights to see while processing prints. However when I was exposing paper and loading it in the covered tray I needed to do it in darkness or at times use a dim color safelight, making it possible to see just a little bit. At that time I also had an 8x10 enlarger so I could print enlargements of the 8x10 color or black and white negatives brought back from Paris.

 

Then in 1989 I was offered the opportunity to spend the fall semester teaching in the Cornell program in Rome. located in the Palazzo Massimo not far away from the Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome. The location was a historic palazzo that appears in most of the current architecture history books about Rome including the classic text by the noted historian Banister Fletcher. Thinking that this would offer me the opportunity to also photograph this amazing major urban city, I took with me a 4x5 field camera and both color negative and black and white sheet film. My plan was to do the same as when I was in Paris, process the black and white there and bring the color film back to Ithaca for processing afterwards.

 

 

 

Rome was an incredible experience and I was able to get out and photograph throughout the entire city. Amazing scenes are everywhere. Rome is a contrast, being a mix of the ancient Roman ruins, classic Italian medieval and Renaissance churches and buildings, and yet also being a large modern urban city. One is almost not sure what to photograph as everywhere one goes there are things to picture. Finally I began to realize that again it was contrasts of ancient and modern that was fascinating me, the montage of the unexpected, the fantastic mix of the classic with modern Rome street life.

 

When I returned to Ithaca I processed my exposed color films and thought about how I might picture this experience. Since it was the contrasting mix of objects that held my attention I decided to montage my pictures. I made many prints of scenes, cut out objects from the prints with a knife. and layered these back together on a copy stand and re-photographed them with my 4x5 camera to create a single image. This resulted in a series of some 16 images, all printed on Kodak chromogenic color paper.

 

What is most significant about the Rome series may be that it was the last group of images that I printed in a photo darkroom. Soon after I dismantled my home darkroom and converted it into a computer room in which I could pursue my growing interest in computer technology. This series is also interesting because in that I began to more fully explore the montage of objects in a picture space, a process that transferred over to the computer as I found I could do it much more easily that way and with even much more possibilities for control and manipulation.

 

The New Technology. 1984 to 2002.

 

During the 1980's while I was deeply involved with using a large format camera and making type C Kodak color prints I was also getting my first taste of the approaching technology revolution which would soon invade the photographic world to change it inevitably and irrevocably. In 1984 Apple introduced the first MAC computer and I soon bought one through Cornell. This was an exciting experience although I did not know how to use this for much more the text writing and editing. The importing of images had not yet begun.

 

Then in 1985 I learned that Cornell had a grant program funded through IBM in which IBM would supply state of the art computer equipment to faculty for research. I applied and received a grant of $20,000 for equipment, a computer, software, and a IBM color printer, the first ever of it's kind. But I wanted to use this for making images, not writing text or crunching numbers, so I went in search of graphics software. By chance I found an inexpensive paint program at the Cornell Campus Store which would allow me to paint with 16 colors. Starting with that I began to make abstract color images, focusing on the pixels and combinations of pixels, just like the French painter Seurat had done in the 19th century with daubs of paint. Additionally I found I could easily manipulate the images, such as duplicate and repeat sections, "inverse" (reverse) the color of pixels, rotate sections making them turn 90% either direction or flip horizontal or vertical. All this was new to me and quite exciting. When finished I printed out these images on my IBM color printer, cut them in squares, and pasted them together into a larger work by taping them together on the backside with clear cellophane tape. It was primitive at the time but it allowed me to begin my exploration of the basics of digital imaging.

 

About the same time a fortunate conversation with a Cornell College staff member opened up the window of my vision about the possibilities of this new technology for photography. Sitting in his office one day I said to him that I would really like to be able to work with an image in the darkroom and for example take an arm that was hanging down and move it around so it was stretched up. I said this was almost impossible to do in a darkroom. His reply was, "Well, you know, you can probably do that on the computer". Suddenly the possibility of computer manipulation of images dawned on me. If I could digitize photographic images then the sort of image manipulation I desired was possible. This propelled me to go across campus and search out people who were just beginning to explore the use of the computer for creating and editing graphic images.

 

Not long after getting my IBM research equipment I came across some other new equipment that really excited me. A colleague invited me to a demo on campus by a company called Truevision that was showing a graphics board they had designed that would capture video images, called the ICB(Image Capture Board). This board was connected to an external video camera that could capture still images. They had also designed a software program called TIPS for manipulating these images with much greater possibilities than I had with my simple Campus Store bought software. Fortunately the Truevision folks were willing to loan their equipment to Cornell for a while, and about a month later I was offered the equipment and set up a station in my campus studio. One of the first undertakings was to invite professor colleagues and students into my studio, grab images of them, and then manipulate the images in TIPS. What fascinated me was the possibility to duplicate 1/2 of a face, flip it over, and get a completely symmetrical face, something that does not occur in reality. This was an exciting time and I created my first series of digital images that were shown later in several gallery exhibitions.

 

As time went on I bought a video camera and experimented more and more with grabbing images and importing them for manipulation into the computer. But grabbed video images at that time were rather low resolution and not satisfying to someone acquainted with the detail of an 8x10 film camera image. So I began to search for a way to get higher resolution images, and the first breakthrough came when in the late 1980's I discovered and purchased a Microtek flatbed scanner. Suddenly I had a crispness and detail not available through video images. This was the beginning of my ongoing use of the scanner as a means for importing images into the computer arena, a way of working that continues today.

 

In the early 1990's I scanned in photo images as the digital still camera had not yet arrived, and would not really appear for general consumers until the Kodak introduced their DC line in 1996. I gathered printed images from magazines, newspapers and other printed sources which I then used in my works. I also was able to scan film negatives and prints made with a standard film camera on my flatbed camera and use these in image collages. Then I came across Photoshop that Adobe had released in 1990, and was blown away by possibilities. However initially I was not able to use the program as I only had a PC computer and Photoshop was a MAC only program. But then in 1993 the Windows PC version of Photoshop appeared and I jumped into image editing on Photoshop with both feet.

 

When shifting to a new medium it is not uncommon for an artist to struggle a while to establish a voice. It is a matter of really beginning to understand the materials and how one can relate them to one's personal life experiences. It is a matter of becoming fluent with the new language which is necessary for artistic expression. Even though I started doing some imaging on the computer in the 1980's I would have to say that it was in the mid 1990's that I began to feel comfortable with this new technology and find my ways of expression. It also corresponded with my retirement from teaching at Cornell, allowing me the chance to follow my desires as an artist more or less full time.

 

My first art exploration after leaving teaching began in 2000. I was inspired to try some painting which I had done on and off for more than 40 years. But as I worked on painting in acrylics on canvases I became convinced they needed something more. So I scanned in objects on the flatbed scanner and printed them out on canvas on a recently purchased Encad wider format printer. Then I cut these out with a sharp knife and glued them down on top of the painted canvases. This became a very interesting series of multimedia collages, a meeting of traditional acrylic painting with digital images.

 

 

Also in the same period of time I began my first really significant series of digital only art images. Working still with a flatbed scanner I began to archive all sorts of objects and montage these together on the computer in Photoshop, sometimes with a few digital camera shots added. This first series stretched on into 2002 and included sometimes strange combinations of objects. On one hand this seemed a natural continuation of what I had been doing with my photographic collages made on a copy stand some ten years earlier, only now it was infinitely easier to piece elements together in Photoshop. Moreover it offered so many more possibilities of arrangement and manipulations. At the same time these digital montages afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with my strong design background from my years as an architect, and to challenge me to find just the right organization to satisfy me. Finally I had always been interested in strong contrasts and juxtapositions of dissimilar objects, and this held full sway in these works.

 

 

Stan Bowman Contemporary Fine Artist

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