Success Stories: Gordon Stettinius and The Candela Empire
I’d like to offer up another option in our presidential election. Senator or Governor Gordon Stettinius has my complete support! I’ve known Gordon Stettinius for a number of years, and there is something about the man that resonates deeply with me. He’s irreverent, he’s self deprecating, he’s smart, and is serious in the best possible way. He makes things happen and takes chances, and he is charging full speed ahead into new arenas of the photo world, and succeeding mightily as he goes.
In the last two years, Gordon has gone from being a father, photographer, and educator, to a father, photographer, educator, publisher, gallerist, and just about everything else. His new gallery venture, the Candela Gallery, includes the Candela Unbound Invitational Exhibition and the submission date is April 6th, 2012. And are you listening? There is NO entry fee.
We first connected in the toy camera orbit, right after you were winding down Eye Caramba–which seems like a very long time ago…can you go back in time and share your journey into photography and to launching a very early e-zine?
Eye Caramba, the online magazine, was sort of a blip when I think of it now but I published I think 2-3 issues a year for a few years. Really, it is a little quaint to think about how the web magazine then looked because the graphics had to be so pared down, and one 35 kilobyte image to a page was about as much as most people had time for. Try to put two images on a page and you may as well get up and fix dinner while the page loaded. I guess the real reason for starting something online was I had been wanting to mimic SHOTS magazine because I loved the community that revolved around that particular magazine. I was living in Minneapolis at the time but had an occasion to visit Bob Owen in Texas in 1995 or so just to get a feel for what type of work went into the publishing of SHOTS. And I was mulling over doing something like what Bob was doing or maybe a tabloid like Photo Metro used to be… But then soon after, Bob called me up and said his wife had taken a job in Minneapolis and he was moving to town in just a few months. So, it struck me as somehow a little off to try to mimic SHOTS but in the same town. And so I tabled the idea but thought that an online magazine might have some potential.
The interwebs were less fantastical then and many photographers needed help with compressing their work and nothing was particularly fluid on the content management side but I bumped along for a while. As it turns out, I was just a poser. SHOTS is still around luckily though and Russell Joslin has done a great job over the years after taking over for Bob. So, I eventually took over Eye Caramba as my own site as I always liked the sound of it.
As to the toy camera side of the equation, I had been using plastic cameras for almost as long as I was making pictures. The low fidelity world was sort of a pre-information wilderness also back then – another reason I loved SHOTS actually was the toy camera issue. So, when the Great Lakes toy site morphed into toycamera.com I was pretty enthusiastic about all of my new friends. And we actually had a pretty good run there for some years. I guess I have always enjoyed being part of a photo community and that may answer some of the later questions as well.
Where did you get your sense of humor and your smart irreverence for anything with a whiff of B.S.?
The slightly embellished response would be that once I started taking photography more seriously, and started running with more and more photographers, I realized that there was a whole lot of earnestness in this world. And truly, I believe that photography does have the potential to bring attention to some of the injustices of the world or to make real what can only be felt in one’s heart or illuminate the issues facing us at most every turn. Really photography can do many of these great things and more… but somehow, I realized that people who were often doing more or less exactly what they wanted to do and then through the miracle of retro-elaborate proto-academical post rationalization, were conjuring all this compelling and deep jargon for their work. To read the accompanying artist statements, to certain otherwise quite fine work, was occasionally mind-blowing. How on earth did every single photograph in the fine art world get so imbued with such unfettered self-importance? I am not a cynic through and through but we can get pretty up our own arse sometimes. And I will lump myself in that crowd too.
Why the toy camera?
After I graduated from school, I wound up trying a couple different toy cameras when I was busy trying all manner of vintage equipment. My degree was a BA in studio art, doing mostly printmaking and drawing. So a lot of my photo education was post-college with the buying of thrift store cameras and different gear. I just didn’t believe in the connection between expensive gear and ‘better’ images. I was more drawn to pinhole and plastic lenses and peculiar unpredictability.
Before Gita Lenz came into your life, had you any thoughts of being a publisher? (Gordon’s essay on Gita Lenz is here).
No, not really. Though I was drawn to the idea of zines and community as I mention above. Mostly, I just wanted to see that Gita got the type of book I felt she deserved and I was not thrilled with my first forays I to Print On Demand.
I can only image what a satisfying result it was to not only get the book published in her lifetime, but to have her experience a solo exhibition….
I wish I had really gotten this whole enterprise going a few years earlier because Gita was not fully of sound mind towards the end but still it was a beautiful thing to see her amazement about the book and the pride she took in her photography.
Basically, it all comes down to timing. I started thinking about what sort of second book I might follow Gita’s with and I had just assumed it would be a smaller project. But Shelby and I started talking when he was just starting to circulate a new book proposal and after a bit of research where I sorted out how I might improve my distribution from the first time out, I started in earnest discussing with Shelby about what his proposed book might look like. We both had some ideas about how his fourth book might differ in certain ways from his earlier books. So we had several conversations before I think we both felt it was a good match between us.
With both books, what has been the most satisfying part as a publisher? And what has been the most difficult or unexpected part of the process?
There are a number of elements to the process that provided a pretty good learning curve but really a lot of the challenge has to do with budget and time management. It isn’t terribly tough when you are working with good people. In my case, I started by working with a design firm – Scout Design – I had worked with on several smaller projects and they are so detail oriented that I was free to have the larger concepts in the front of my mind and trust them to do their work.
How many books do you plan to publish each year, and how do you go about finding your projects?
We are bringing one book out in the fall and expect to bring two books out next year. More news on this very soon.
As of last fall, you are now not only a photographer, publisher, and educator, but now a gallerist! How did the Candela Gallery get started?
A couple of years back, I started looking for a new studio space. And then the idea evolved into having a space that might function as a studio and office for Candela. Then the space I wound up investing in was in the downtown arts district and we have pretty amazing foot traffic. So the idea evolved some more, since I intend to work with quality photographers, I figured that putting their work up was a fairly natural decision. I was not quite prepared for the level of work it takes to run a gallery but everything has been very well-received so far. This year is scheduled now and I have gotten pretty excited about the way the year is going to go.
I love the work of Julio Mitchel, your next exhibition at the gallery. What drew you to this artist?
Julio also approached me about a couple of potential book projects. While I still have something to learn about projects and their potential crossover, I was immediately struck by a few of Julio’s different projects as well as his earlier books. His work is so very well seen and amazingly printed. A couple of months ago, I spent a couple of days with Julio looking at an incredible amount of work and decided that, while I am researching the markets to see if I can effectively produce and distribute quality books for the projects he will eventually publish, I would be excited to share his work through the gallery.
Are you still teaching, or does the Candela empire take up most of your energies?
I am still teaching actually. I am teaching adjunct, a traditional darkroom class at VIrginia Commonwealth University.
April 6th marks the deadline for the Unbound Collection. Can you tell us about this call for entry and your ideas behind it?
The idea stems from having only a limited number of open slots in the gallery schedule. I really wanted one show that would allow more photographers a chance to connect with Candela in some way and the rest of the shows in a given year will generally be solo shows or book related. I feel that most mid career photographers have done their share of juried shows and I wanted something that would be open in concept but that would also be worth doing for the photographers. No fees because I hope to raise money through a special event. Then the money from that event will be used to purchase work from the show. The idea is a little uncharted for me but the response has been great so far. And now to put together an event that will bring in a great crowd at a decent ticket price. Ideas we are entertaining include… Door prizes, gift wrapped crap, drunken clowns, PBR, live music… I also enjoy putting together a good night every now and then.
Are you up to anything new with your own work?
My own work has slowed down a bit. But I continue to work on the Mangini Series with Terry Brown and I am shooting randomly and getting into the darkroom some. I do have an idea for a ‘project’ that hasn’t yet been started and I have a semi-ambitious show idea coming in 2013 that should also keep me going.
And finally, what would be your perfect day?
Um… er… Some family time, a few hours in the darkroom, music, bourbon, humor, maybe a little bowling?