Q&A With Sharon Stewart

Making a life with photography

According to Sharon Stewart’s website bio, photography is in her genes. Her Great Great Aunt Sadie, Quaker, was a commercial photographer in 1880s Iowa, having a studio with another Quaker woman. Stewart says the impetus of her photographic work is service and beauty. Her Agua y Fe: Water and Faith series is on exhibit through Labor Day at the Plaza Hotel’s Ballroom Corridor Gallery in sponsorship with the Las Vegas Arts Council.

Sharon Stewart
Sharon Stewart

ORP: What brought you from urban living to a more rural lifestyle?
Sharon: My birthplace on the frontera of southernmost Texas with Mexico was imbued with agrarian expanses and fecundity, a languid pace of living, and small town familiarities. I studied finance and economics at the University of Texas, Austin and moved to Houston to begin my photographic career. This served well, though I longed to dwell back with the cycles of nature whose elemental forces resonated with me rather than the densities of the city. Looking for a home in the Mora Valley was a five year endeavor, and yes, finally finding a place in Chacón, the shift from living with three million to three hundred (people) was swift and welcome.

Abran & Vidal
Abran and Vidal

ORP: Your website bio refers to your photographic purpose. Talk about that and how it has shaped your work.
Having completed a photo narrative on grassroots environmental activism in Texas, which gave voice to the concerns of salt of the earth folks protecting their land, air, water, culture from the ill effects of industry and the government’s hazardous waste practices, I was a bit discouraged by the realities of what we do to one another in the name of profit. When I moved here, I took a long look at why I was photographing, and ultimately, the answer was to serve history, this coming from strong service ethos that runs in the Stewart family line. Certainly the Toxic Tour of Texas was an activist/advocacy piece with the photographs being used in legislative testimony, published in the daily and environmental press, exhibited in libraries, shopping centers, and museums throughout Texas. Turning to a quieter life, photographing the rituals and traditions of Hispano New Mexico and the acequia culture in El Cerrito continued in the vein offering a view into lives aligned with the land and community. I had begun the El Agua es la Vida project three years before moving to Northern New Mexico, and it expanded with the exploration of the village life over the course of two decades, something I term Slow Photography, a commitment to the narrative through time. These photographs are part of the Water in the West Project and Archive residing at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. The Mora Valley narrative, Exit West: A Cultural Confluence, began upon my arrival and will continue through my life here. A major focus has been to place these images in archives and special collections at universities in the American West for scholarly research and teaching purposes.

ORP: How has your purpose evolved from when you started?
Sharon: Initially I was recording the world as I encountered it. I have come to understand that what we see, observe, perceive is an aperture into the self, as tightly or as widely as we are willing to explore and share. Image creation can be a journey into self hand-in-hand with the human instinct to remember, gather, share, enjoin, act. So as I have come to see it, my “purpose has been finessed or perhaps honed over these many years of engaged seeing.


ORP: How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it for a living?
As for many in rural Northern New Mexico, making a living is a mosaic endeavor. I often say I make a life photographing.

ORP: When do you know you’ve captured the subjects of your photographs in just the way you want?
Sharon: Photographing is intuitive for me. Certainly intentionality and placing oneself in the image field is vital. Much of the joy in photographing is opening oneself to the unknown, being free in the not knowing and releasing the imposition of will or expectation on a situation. However, the narrative structure necessitates an understanding of relationships, economic and societal influences, cultural, religious and familial overlays, so I have drawn on my university training to scope an encompassing view of a chosen subject. There is also a calming resonance I feel when all the elements align for a signal image.

ORP: The Stewart photographs I’ve seen are primarily in black and white. Is that your preferred mode of expression and if so, why?
Sharon: My initial work was in color transparency, though with too much noxious chemical exposure in the Cibachrome color printing process, I moved to black and white. However, each subject has an appropriate expression through process, which determines my choice of using color or black and white, film or pixel.

ORP: Talk about the photographers who influenced you and how their work contributed to your photographic and career choices.
Early on I studied the Dadaists and Surrealists and their alignment with chance, unexpected juxtaposition, and dream exploration—Man Ray, Merét Oppenheim, Hannah Höch, Marcel Duchamp, and by extension, Alexander Calder and his playful lyricism. In the black and white canon, Minor White for metaphor, spirituality and beauty, Edward Steichen for experimentation, Paul Strand for clear-eyed, compassionate observance and commitment to a finely crafted negative and print, Laura Gilpin for evocative landscapes, Dorothea Lange for social and economic justice. Their creative expression is synchronistic with ways I perceive the world, so I look to them as both partners and guides.

ORP: Realizing that each image has its own unique message, what do you want your photographs to convey?
Sharon: My intention is to open in viewers understanding and discovery by stimulating their imaginations and memories.

ORP: If you could use only one word to describe your photography, what would it be?
Whenever I have been asked about a favorite anything, I respond that I have many favorites for as many different reasons. Same applies to my photographic expression. If you look at the bodies of work in the arc of my creative life, you will see work originating in the personal, the universal, the communal.

ORP: What motivates you to continue taking pictures?
Sharon: I cannot not take photographs, though I become more selective about when and where and what I photograph. Photography has taught me to see, not just look, see, and those observations aren’t always tangibly recorded.

ORP: Where have you exhibited and do you have current shows up locally?
The cultural landscape images of Northern New Mexico, many of which are currently on view in the Agua y Fe: Water and Faith exhibition at the Plaza Hotel’s Ballroom Corridor Gallery in sponsorship with the Las Vegas Arts Council, have been exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Art, NM History Museum, Office of the State Historian, Center for Creative Photography, Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, NM Capitol Arts Collection, Visual Studies Workshop, Houston Center for Photography, FotoFest International Biennial. Other work has been exhibited in Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, Cuba, Canada, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C.

Learn more about Sharon Stewart and view her online galleries at www.sharonstewartphotography.net

Photographs: Sharon Stewart, used by permission

Generations: With Art There is No Divide

Eloise LindeborgGenerations: The Art of Eloise Lindeborg and Chris Casey, A lifelong artist and the grandson she never knew, on the 100th anniversary of her birth

That’s the title and subtext of the proposal Richard Lindeborg presented to the Las Vegas Arts Council in the interest of curating an exhibit showcasing the work of his mother and his nephew. The two have had different life experiences and never knew each other, but the bond of art connects them to each other and to the gift of creativity. Below are responses to questions about the show, which will be up at Gallery 140 for the month of April.

Q. Aside from the obvious, expand on the theme “Generations”. What are the differences in styles and subject matter of Eloise and Chris?
A. (Richard) I can only tell you what I see – not what a person trained in art and art history would comment on – but my mother and nephew clearly come from different generations, and not adjacent generations. Some differences between their work, reflect the 60 to 70 years between their careers. They both have a certain formalism in their work, but it is revealed quite differently in each. Chris uses formal shapes in his pottery, almost classical in many ways. My mother’s early work was formal portraits and still life paintings, probably reflecting the training of her professors. Despite this formalism, the art programs in the Big Ten, where she was trained, were not regarded by some of the East Coast schools as sufficiently grounded in the academic tradition. Chris’s decorations – and his graphic works – build on formal curve and lAbstract by Eloise Lindeborgine combinations in a free form way. Some of my mother’s works from the 1950s are pared down combinations of the same elements.  Chris’s comments about his own work indicate that he starts from a simple idea and improvises on it until he is satisfied with the result. He admits the possibility of unexpected results. My mother seems to have had a mood or a message in mind and designed the whole piece to convey that feeling through shape and color.
A. (Chris Casey) The Generations theme is significant to me both because I grew up surrounded by Eloise’s art and more importantly because, as the only other practicing visual artist in my family, she provided a precedent for pursuing a life (of) making art. Her abstract works were my favorites growing up and they’ve undoubtedly had an impact on the work I make currently. I believe the biggest difference between the art world she existed in and the one I inhabit is the incredible power of the digital age and the access to resources and exposure it can provide.

Chris CaseyQ. Do you believe the artists in this show were/are influenced by the world around them, and if so, in what ways?
A. (Richard) My mother was influenced by the natural world of scenery, objects, and people and by the social and political forces of her time. Her earliest works reflect the Pre World War I training of her major professors and are rather academic. The work she produced while studying in Europe at the start of World War II are much more contemporary than academic, even reflecting some of the ideas current in Germany at the time. By the 1950s she had evolved into a much looser style, focused on people and places familiar to her. Psychological and political influences started showing up in her work in that decade and in the 1960s. Chris’s sensibility is much more modern.   He was very into computer games and computer game design at one point, and his work clearly comes from his generation’s experience. He uses lasers and computer graphics – tools not available to my mother.
A. (Chris Casey) I’d say I’m more influenced by technology in general over video games, especially these days. I try to embrace technology in any way I can whether it be through software like Photoshop or through hardware like 3D printers. However, as an abstract artist, I do make a conscious effort to exclude overt portrayals of people and objects in my art. I see the function of my art more as an escape, a place to rest, than as a critique of modern life.

Q. Eloise Felledwas your mother; Chris is your nephew. Chris never had the experience of knowing his grandmother, but grew up knowing about her art. As curator of this show, did that influence the work you chose for exhibit?
A. This is going to be a 50-50 show, in that it features two artists, and two different sensibilities in the curating. Chris is representing himself. How much he is influenced by his grandmother’s work may, or may not, show up in how he selects his work. My mother has no choice but to be represented by my selections. I grew up with many of these paintings and have had 45 years to reinterpret them since her death.

Chris grew up living in a house that featured his grandmother’s art and visiting his grandfather at the family home here in Las Vegas where her art was always on the wall. I’ve been preparing for my mother’s part of this show for more than 15 years now, photographing and cataloging her work. My wife, Susan, knew my mother and has known her art for more than 50 years. She helps me choose and steers me away from my prejudices. Chris has witnessed this process over time and with varying degrees of interest. I suspect he has taken some aspects of his grandmother’s art to heart.

Q. This is personal for you. Does that make it harder or easier to select the works that reflect the artists?
A. My mother died when she was 56, and without getting to the point in her artistic career when it was time to start thinking of a retrospective show. I don’t have very many clues as to which pieces she would have chosen for such a show, so I have to make my own choices for the most part. I’ve lived for a long time deciding what I like and don’t like without her guidance, so I don’t labor over the choosing anymore.

Q. You grew up watching your mother create. What would you want people to know about her that reflects who she was as an artist?
A. Art has to stand on its own merits subject to ever-evolving public tastes, but many people are fascinated about the hardships some artists face and about psychological factors that might have influenced their work. I am keenly aware of how the duties of raising a family affected my mother’s career; how the male domination of the profession limited her opportunities, and still limits the opportunities of women artists; and how her poor health limited her energy for producing art and shortened her career. Her weakened lungs and circulation forced her to give up painting in oils and drawing in pastels, but she moved on to other media. Life was not easy for her as an artist, but she was driven to create and she kept at it as long as she could.

Q. Chris seems to have an eye for form and movement in his sculpture; his 2-D work reflects the same. In selecting work for the Generations show, did you want the two generational bodies of work to complement or contrast and why?
A. If there is a point to be made in presenting Chris’s work and his grandmother’s in a single show, it will be made by the art itself. The show may reveal continuities that only a joint show would uncover. It may reveal previously unseen discontinuities caused by time or temperament. Once the show is up, we can all judge for ourselves.

Q. When will the show be up and will there be an opening reception?
A. The show will be from April 2 to April 29, 2016, with an artist’s reception on Sunday, April 10 from 2 to 5 p.m.  Normal gallery hours are Tue., Wed., Thu. and Sat/ 1-4 p.m. and Fri. 1-7 p.m.  Call the Arts Council at (505) 425-1085 to confirm hours.

This is the first time a significant number of my mother’s pieces has been exhibited in Las Vegas in nearly 50 years. It is the first time Chris’s work has ever been exhibited in Las Vegas. And it is the only time their work has been shown together. That makes the show unique times three. All the work is of high quality and visually stimulating – and all of it will be for sale!

Chris Casey’s work can be found at www.chriscaseyart.com
Eloise Lindeborg’s work can be seen at this Facebook link.