A dive into the background of the photographer whose works have taken him places
What is your Background Stephen?
I was born and raised in Fredericksburg; VA. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to the US from Greece in the late 1920’s. My father was a successful restaurateur and my mother a passionate school teacher. My uncle gave me an old 35mm camera when I was 14 years old and it changed my trajectory. I started taking pictures and worked on the school newspapers giving me the lifeline I needed to make it through high school. I attended the University of Miami in the communications department concentrating on documentary photography and film. I then transferred to the School of Visual Arts in New York City graduating with a BFA in Photography.
Teaching the craft that I so adore is an important component to my existence as an artist. I realized this when I was teaching at the University of Richmond, in Virginia in the 1990’s, and with private instruction since then. Articulating about the process and aesthetics of photography allows me to share my knowledge acquired from my education and work experience. Moreover, it enhances my own learning process as was imprinted on me by my mother, a lifelong educator, who explained that learning is a relationship that passes information and knowledge back and forth between the teacher and the student. It bares the gift of being part of a circle that fosters acceptance and understanding toward everyone.
When did you begin the art of photography?
It was in New York. The 1980’s was a magical and transformative time for me in the city and where I honed my technique and mastered the medium of analog photography. It was my time to come of age and when I began to make photographs for myself. It was also a time that juxtaposed the times of greed, conservative politics, and the AIDS crisis with new music, art, and pop-culture objecting to the current climate. It provided a unique and important time in history for so many artists to express their collective discontent--myself included.
I had always been enamored with the process of photography mostly how silver in gelatin reacted to light in the Black and White film but when I began to focus on photographing people, creatures, objects and scenes with the intent to visually communicate a small but significant emotion or human gesture that I noticed is when I found my artistic voice. In a sense it was the marriage of the medium I loved and expressing my observations of life for others to see. I continue to work with at process while also embracing the revolution of the digital process.
The beauty of nature is your main focus or so I noticed. Why did you choose nature out of everything else?
I love photographing nature; however, for me it is what I see in nature as it relates to the moment or gesture and its relationship to light and space that I want to bring attention to in my photographs. The process is the same for all subject matter, whether human, animal, element or place.
On Instagram, most of your photographs are in black and white than in colored. Why is it so?
It is because available and natural light in a scene is paramount to my expression and I feel the Black and White medium is more efficient and pronounced. I am not void of color in my life and do work in color. I use color more in some experimental collage work and small pop-cultural sculpture I also create. Color is also incorporated in my cooking as well.
What do you do when you're not out working?
I cook, garden, listen to music and watch films and share my life with my beloved partner.
Apart from photography beautiful scenes, what else do you do?
Until a few years ago I was working full time for another artist managing his public projects. One of which involved co-producing an Emmy award winning documentary film titled “Take Me Home Huey”, about a Vietnam Huey Medivac helicopter; he transformed into contemporary sculpture that traveled to raise awareness for PTSD and tell the story of the crew that was reunited. I was responsible for helping get film aired on PBS. After that project, I was able to retire from that position and relocate to Seattle, WA and devote all my time back to my photography.
If you were to look back at your first work, how would you rate it and why?
When I look back at past works most of the time, I know why I made the photograph. It also reminds me of how long I have adored the process and medium of Black and White photography – Then I am grateful that I have had another form of communication in which to process my life experiences.
What is the greatest highlight of your career?
The next time I get to go out with my camera. It brings me joy, hope and a sense of self.
What projects are you currently working on?
I generally take my camera everywhere and see what starts to happen over a period of time. Once I notice a trend emerging, I will follow that direction. Last year I had been photographing where food comes from and how it is distributed and consumed. I learned about sustainable farming, raising goats and family relationships to farms and produce stands. Again, the images were more stand-alone even though they were connected. Since the pandemic as you pointed out from seeing my work on Instagram, I have been photographing more creatures, trees and landscapes. I have also been applying for art grants and exhibition space.
Visit Stephen Zapantis' web page to be updated on his latest works www.stephenzapantis.com