"Descent (ladder series #35)"
Stephen Sheffield, a native of the Boston area, is an alumnus of Cornell University, where he obtained a BFA in painting and photography. He received his MFA in photography from the California College of the Arts, in Oakland/San Francisco. He specializes in photography, mixed media and photo-montage and has exhibited nationally for over 20 years. Stephen creates large-scale commissions for private collectors, institutions, restaurants and hotels, as well as images and photographic illustrations for magazines and advertising agencies across the US. In addition to being a full-time artist, Stephen runs the black and white photography major at the New England School of Photography in Boston and is adjunct faculty at the New Hampshire Institute of Art MFA Program. Stephen Sheffield is represented by Panopticon Gallery in Boston, MA.
- Your work has a sense of storytelling and a slight twinge of humor to it. Walk us through your process – do you sketch out the scene ahead of time or is more a spur of the moment?
SS: Ideas pop into my head almost at random. I then make sketches and do research as far as location and angle, props and “feeling”. Once things are set up and planned I get to work. Of course that is when things go wrong and I have to wing it. There have been very few shots I have taken that have ended up looking exactly as I imagined them. I think much of the humor comes from the “winging it” aspect of the actual shoot.
- How has social media played a role in your photography?
SS: I use social media less for personal and more as a way to lead people to my work and to keep my work on their minds. It is also in a small way becoming a reminder to continue to make new work. You cannot show the same work forever.
- You recently moved from Kenmore Sq area to the suburbs of the south shore. Has this changed or impacted your art making?
SS: The move has made a major impact on my work flow mainly, not the work itself. Good and a little more difficult. Good for space and my kids and my wife. It was tough moving my studio out of the Fort Point Channel after 20 plus years, but now the studio has been replaced by a carriage house and a darkroom in the basement. No more rent payments and no more commuting, but it is tough to find a good cocktail and quick access to galleries and museums. Making the work itself has the potential to be easier as I move forward. Time will tell.
- What artists influence you and how do they influence your thinking, creating and career path? Because you are a mixed media artist do you look at more painters & sculptors than photographers?
SS: I am still mainly influenced by the masters. Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogene Cunningham, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Duane Michaels, I could keep going. As far as career path? There is no path anymore. These days it is every artist for themselves and ever-changing. I’m old and I need to stay quick on my feet. For my mixed media I am also still influenced by the masters, mainly non-photographic, but the Starn Twins and Gilbert and George are big ones. The biggest go-to influence who has never let me down has got to be Robert Rauchenberg.
- What are some tips/advice you would give to someone just starting out in photography?
SS: It is super tough out there these days, and and like I said before, there is no clear path for success. My advice is to try to be good at all of it! The technical, the creative, the marketing, the social, the hustle. Go to everything, (openings, museums, lectures) meet everyone and talk to anyone. Always be making art, but don’t show everyone everything. Edit! Edit what you show and edit what you say. Also, never forget to be a good and generous person. That last bit will get you through more doors than interesting or clever art.