The Gordon Stettinius Mixtape
The Mixtape Series are profiles of movers and shakers in the fine art photography world,
often reviewers at portfolio events and taste makers in their own right.
Humor is a sweet spot for me. I appreciate humor in photography and find it to be almost restorative at times when the art world can be so full up with people trying earnestly to share their deepest thoughts, compulsions, concerns. I am not meaning to diminish serious work because I believe in the power of photography to illuminate the unseen, to engender discourse, to reveal issues, to make a difference, etc. But sometimes the self-serious nature of art photography can get a little overbearing. There is just so much navel-gazing out there in the photo world. And I am sometimes guilty of this as well. But make me laugh and I will buy you a beer.
Photographer, Gallerist, Collector, Publisher, Curator, Juror, Writer, Father, and General Photo Enthusiast, Gordon Stettinius, is a bright light in the photography zeitgeist. I first became aware of Gordon in the late 1900’s when I discovered Eye Caramba, possibly one of the first on-line photography magazines, of which he was the founder and editor. We were also active members of the burgeoning toy camera community and since that time, he has created some big photographic footprints. So as I rattle off his recent significant achievements, this is where you have to sit down and pour yourself a cup of coffee and begin to understand why Gordon has his own Mixtape.
He is the Founder of Candela Books and Gallery and has celebrated the work of such wonderful photographers such as Gita Lenz, Shelby Lee Adams, Julio Mitchel, Chris McCaw, Greta Pratt, Susan Worsham, Maggie Taylor, Louviere & Vanessa, Courtney Johnson, with two exhibitions opening soon: Continuum, Linda Connor, opens November 1, 2013 and Photographic Works by Louis Draper, opens January 10, 2014). He has championed over-looked photographers, in particular Gita Lentz, whose work might never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for his determination and caring, creating a monograph and exhibition of her wonderful work.
He has created the Candela Collection, a collection of photographic artworks purchased by proceeds raised by Candela’s annual Unbound! exhibition events. This collection will be donated ultimately to a significant permanent collection. He has been a Reviewer at Photolucida, FotoWeek DC, ACP Portfolio Reviews, PhotoNOLA, LOOK3 Portfolio Reviews, and Critical Mass.
He was the Juror for CURRENTS 2013 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an Adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a practicing photographer represented by the Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, Virginia and the Robin Rice Gallery in New York. His work is held in numerous private and permanent collections including Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA,Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, Capital One, Richmond, Virginia, Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA, Rourke Art Gallery Museum, Moorhead, MN, Longwood University, Farmville, VA, Photo Media Center, Erie, PA, Collection Photographica, Malmo, Sweden, and the John Cleary Collection, Houston, Texas.
In addition, Gordon is about to create a book of his own work, Mangini Studio Series, a collaboration with Terry Brown. Some of his incarnations follow.
And now it gives me great pleasure to present The Gordon Stettinius Mixtape:
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. High school art classes were cool – I loved to draw mostly – but I didn’t really see a career in photography coming at all. I was sort of a math-strong kid and sort of assumed I would be a business type of student. I took one of those Kuder Occupational Interest exams probably in my sophomore year of high school, and when I got the results back, my top two suggested careers were a tie between “Photographer” and “Radio Station Manager”. Which I sort of thought was funny at the time. Now, I would have to say, music really does run a close second to photography among my primary interests. Radio station work may have to be my next play. Ha! I took my first photo classes at the University of Virginia from Holly Roberts. But my emphasis at the time was upon drawing and printmaking mostly.
After graduating from UVA, my first jobs were in a commercial design studio and then in photography retail (Ritz Camera!) for a year and some, but I soon moved to San Francisco where I enrolled part-time at the San Francisco Art Institute. At SFAI, I took a few classes in photography and photo-screen-printing and drawing and then I was also a TA for Pirkle Jones for a year while I worked in their photo lab, mixing chemistry, checking out equipment and such. I really started to veer towards photography at this point. Linda Connor was one of my professors at SFAI and she was a huge influence. It is hard to pinpoint how she affected my development because she has lived her photographic life with grace and depth, in pursuit of the spiritual and sacred in photography. And I could be better described as more adrift within the secular world I think, making sometimes cynical observations, grinding away at ideas, politics and religion from a more critical perspective, pathologically curious, but Linda taught me so much about art as life, that art is more than the making of objects, that music and food and your peers and a never ending curiosity are all caught up together. She was for me, and still is, an incredible teacher.
I moved to Tucson in the early 90s and took some classes at the University of Arizona, volunteered at the Center for Creative Photography and spent five years working for Mary Virginia Swanson at Swanstock, a fine art stock photography house. My roles at Swanstock varied from intern, in the beginning, to picture researcher to office manager. So, every day we would pour over photography, look through artists’ slide files, review photographers’ portfolios… generally trying to find the right image for whatever jobs were on the books: a Geffen Records CD cover or a Parenting magazine article or a series of Vintage Books bookjackets… We were a small outfit but we really handled the work of so many talented photographers and educators. This was a pretty intense immersion into exceptional imagery, every day, hustling to get three or five or seven research jobs out to Fed Ex on deadline. And then it was back to the office where we would take the presentation tabletop off of the pool table, drink a couple of beers and shoot pool. That was a great time. And a great learning experience for a twenty something that didn’t have much in the way of a business acumen to that point.
Through the years and the different photo-related jobs, I have always chipped away at different photo projects. I am pretty smitten with low-fidelity cameras… I started using Dianas, Holgas, Brownies and vintage cameras nearly twenty-five years ago and still shoot with them mostly. My choice in photo gear made for an awkward fit with the commercial photography world, but I did pursue portrait work and magazine work and shot bands and for different weekly papers and music magazines.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
Founder of Candela Books and Candela Gallery… And I still am trying to earn the label of photographer. Basically, I have more ideas than I have time to work on them but I know that I am not alone in that dilemma.
A typical day might include any of the following…
A lot of email correspondence as the gallery is a pretty needful beast. I am trying constantly to either wrangle photographers, engage with collectors, or introduce the gallery to someone who has crossed my awareness.
Review of a book project or exhibition proposals. We have proposals for both shows and books on a steady basis. This also falls under the correspondence heading but is more rewarding for me.
Meetings / talking to classes / small design tasks / editing projects that are in the works / looking at books.
And then there are days in the darkroom, when I tend to tune all the other stuff out.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I think that the photobooks that I have published have to be at the top of the list. Candela has published three books so far and has a couple more in the pipeline. I feel like these projects are adding to the historical record AND helping the careers of those artists I am working with. And that feels pretty good.
Otherwise, the gallery runs a close second and does receive most of my attention in most months. Being able to work with artists I admire and, when it all goes as planned, to be able to support those people a little has been really rewarding.
The Candela Collection is pretty exciting too. We have created an annual exhibition and special event – Unbound! – which raise funds to purchase photographic works for the collection. We intend to donate this work eventually to a notable permanent collection. So the show is more than another group show, creating sales and collection opportunities for artists and I feel that is a pretty unusual opportunity. I am sort of proud of that idea and the Unbound! party is a great time on top of that.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
I am fairly open really. As an exhibiting photographer, and having the experience from working in a photo stock library, and also having spent several years in teaching also, I can flip a few different switches while looking at other photographers’ work. And now I am a publisher and gallery owner so I do seek out photographers to work with all of the time. It is safe to say that I am a fairly high order of photo nerd. I really enjoy looking at work even if it really isn’t quite up my own aesthetic alley. That said though, I am driven by process and intellect more than I am by beauty and refinement. I enjoy an implied narrative to an image. I like those images and projects which stimulate thought, create a collision of emotion or political statement or poetic distortion. I prefer elements of uncertainty and the peculiar to more the more traditional landscapes or nudes. Commercial work and fashion do not excite me much either though and so I will generally revert to discussion of process and formal concerns and marketing possibilities when discussing commercial portfolios. I would rather live in the world of ideas than a world of images that have an advertizing agenda.
Humor is a sweet spot for me. I appreciate humor in photography and find it to be almost restorative at times when the art world can be so full up with people trying earnestly to share their deepest thoughts, compulsions, concerns. I am not meaning to diminish serious work because I believe in the power of photography to illuminate the unseen, to engender discourse, to reveal issues, to make a difference, etc… But sometimes the self-serious nature of art photography can get a little overbearing. There is just so much navel-gazing out there in the photo world. And I am sometimes guilty of this as well. But make me laugh and I will buy you a beer.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
I think to be comfortable in your own skin is key and not be a photographer so hungry to impress different types of people that you then try to create too many different versions of your work and potential. There will be times when it feels like a certain reviewer is not an exact fit but all the reviewers are networked to some very real extent. And most will know more about the larger photography industry than their own particular niche. Speaking for myself, I try pretty hard to think of other people who may appreciate a given photographer’s project. I only have a limited number of concrete opportunities to offer at any given time and so will do everything I can to make a useful introduction for someone if I think I can make an interesting match, then will encourage people to drop my name if I think it will be useful at all.
Articulate your expectations. If someone is open to feedback or criticism or suggestions, I really, really enjoy riffing. I like adding ideas to projects, questioning them… But this is not what everyone wants to hear in these situations so I try to read what it is the photographer is looking for.
Also, I personally like to see a second project. If someone wants to live and die by one project that is totally fine, and commendable even, but the additional project shows some depth and perseverance, variety of interests, competency. Also though, I cannot tell you how many times that someone has read me wrong or assumed that I would enjoy some certain body of work and then we discover , sometimes too late, that something else is far more to my liking. Too many projects spilling out of your portfolio cases is kind of an ominous sign and I think most reviewers would frown upon the I-am-good-at-everything-and-so-I must-show-you-everything syndrome. But having a second project, either in progress or an older completed body of work can be pretty useful and honestly can spin the meeting in a better direction at times.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
My stage name is Gringo Starr.
And because this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
Music… I am probably as eclectic over there as I am in the visual world. I will listen to folk or world or blues or jazz but I tend to get out for the more alternative and indie shows I guess.
I lived in Minneapolis for several years and did a small advertising job for the club First Avenue, which is an historic music venue and I was lucky enough to be put on their permanent VIP list. That was probably the best perk I have ever gotten as a photographer… Ben Harper, Emmylou, Wilco, Golden Smog, the Wallflowers, Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, The Friends of Dean Martinez, Prince, Garbage, Bob Mould, GWAR, The Specials, The Residents, Steve Earle, Vic Chestnutt, Joe Henry, Gillian Welch…
Absolutely any live music is a pleasure. A few more recent shows… Black Keys, Wilco, Radiohead, Lucinda Williams, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, Young the Giant, Todd Snider, Bright eyes, Cracker, Calexico, Alabama Shakes…
Neutral Milk Hotel was through Richmond last weekend and I was sorely disappointed not to be in the audience. The tickets sold out in like five minutes.
I will dance on occasion. I am not well-trained.
And now, I turn the Mixtape over to Gordon for an extended play list–he provides an essay and celebrates some recent additions to the Candela Collection.
First, a big thanks to Aline for all of the work that goes into the different aspects of Lenscratch. These articles are a great read and the volume of artist features on this site was already a beautiful wormhole but now with the recent overhaul, the ability to research the work is even better. And now for me, today at any rate, this is an opportunity to let a very photographer centric crowd know that we exist.
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So we keep trying… Candela is trying to build on the progress we have made so far. We are trying to keep all projects moving gracefully. We are trying to add to our collection of photography each year. We are trying to find a museum that will accept a donation of that collection eventually. We are trying to find new and great work all of the time. We are trying to introduce that work to new audiences, new collectors. We are trying to add programming to the gallery because the gallery is too slow on some days… I am trying to spend a day a week in the darkroom. I say it all the time… We are trying. It has become something like a mantra.
Things we are looking forward to:
Candela’s next exhibition, Continuum, photography from Linda Connor, opens next week on November 1st. And we are extremely excited to share her beautiful work here in Virginia.
Then Candela will mount a retrospective show of the photography of Louis Draper, which will open January 10th. This is the second archive project that I have worked on – after Gita Lenz – and over the past year or so we have had the pleasure of studying his work from Harlem and elsewhere, dating from the 60s through the 90s primarily. The project is still getting started really. Draper will have several pieces up at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art at the same time in an exhibition entitled Signs of Protest.
Also I have a photographers’ portfolio project that I am putting together. This is a collaborative idea where I want to market a portfolio of 12 photographers through the gallery and participating photographers would each receive a portfolio as part of the arrangement and then a percentage of sales. From years of teaching, I have always had a portfolio project like this in my classes and I want to build something similar through the gallery. If anyone would like to be considered for this, then contact me with a great image or two as I am reaching out to photographers now.
Finally, the past year or so, I have been collecting imagery around two book projects I am editing. Images of photographers’ families are a soft spot for me. I love this work and expect to bring out an anthology eventually. And then I also want to put together a book on low-fidelity imagery… toy cameras, pinhole, lensless imagery, etc. I want to publish a book of great work without dwelling too much on the how-to aspects or the history of genre. By leaving the didactic parts out of the project, I hope to simply bring some great work together in a well-designed anthology. These books are unscheduled at present and will be released alongside other artist monographs after 2014. So the schedule is not a tight one just yet. Please, let me know what you are working on.
A Selection of Work from the Candela Collection
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