Ivanna Eudora Kean ROTC by Bill Stelzer
Mark those calenders for Friday, June 3, to check out a rare one-artist show at Bajo el Sol in Mongoose Junction.
Stop by the gallery from 5 to 8 p.m. and check out about a dozen photographs by St. John artist Bill Stelzer. While Stelzer is adept in a variety of mediums, the June 3 Bajo show will focus on a body of work he’s calling “Life Supersaturated.”
“They are basically images that I’ve taken in travels around the world,” said Stelzer.
Every continent except Antarctica is represented in the show, but the photographs, taken over the past decade, are not just travel snapshots. Stelzer uses his 25 years of experience in Photoshop and other programs, to layer texture and depth into the photos, creating painterly images full of emotion.
“I put the images on a computer and use the latest computer graphics technology and my background of 25 years in computer graphics to push them into this more artistic and painterly realm,” said Stelzer. “I kind of leverage what happens after the shot into more of what would normally happen before shot. A lot of time you go out with all this expensive equipment and lenses and things, but I only had this little camera.”
“But with that little camera you can get these perfect shots that are often more interesting and spontaneous than if you tried to set it up,” Stelzer said.
Stelzer then takes the images and uses various filters and computer graphic techniques to create rich textures in the photos, using Photoshop for a lot more than perfecting images.
“I take the image and go to the computer and use different filters, but I use them in an artistic manner,” said the artist. “So you are using all these tools of Photoshop, but you are using them in an artistic manner instead of using them to improve photos. I build and layer the image and almost turn them into brush strokes.”
If it’s difficult to imagine what Stelzer is doing, there is a good reason for that.
“It’s kind of hard to describe because there aren’t many people doing this on a professional artistic level,” he said. “A lot of these tools are used by professionals, but they are used to clean things up or to fix something not right in the image.”
Edge of the Sahara Desert, Africa, by Bill Stelzer
While it might be difficult to explain his technique, Stelzer’s end results are images that speak louder than photographs, but are just as accessible.
“It looks like a photograph at first, but then you realize there is more to it,” said Stelzer. “It’s literally saturated, but I’m also using the computer in an artistic instead of a technical way. I use the computer as a paint brush and use the camera as a sketch book.”
Because Photoshop can be, and often is, used to make a model’s cellulite disappear or create that perfect sunset for a beach wedding on a hazy day, Stelzer’s artistic aims with the medium were taken lightly for a long time.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but there is so much push back when someone says, ‘That looks nice, but you did it in Photoshop,’” said the artist. “It’s seen as cheating. It was always frustrating because I didn’t have a lot of camera gear and my skills were in Photoshop — that’s what I was good at.”
“I couldn’t use those skills in an artistic manner because everyone kept saying, ‘Oh you did that in Photoshop,’” Stelzer said. “Like that made it not count or something.”
It took a tragedy for Stelzer to finally stop caring how other people viewed his Photoshop work.
“Honestly, it was a few days after Annie Love died, that I just started going in and doing this,” he said. “It was so cool. Everything else was like work, but this is what I loved.”
With a free-flowing form, Stelzer likens the process of creating supersaturated images to painting.
“It’s like an exploration because when you are painting something you kind of don’t know what it is going to exactly look like in the end,” said Stelzer.
“If you go with all that photography equipment you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. But with this complex software you can get that same level of unpredictability and reaction within that system and it takes on a life of its own.”
“You can think you want to push it in this direction or that direction, in terms of texture and color, but it’s so unpredictable,” he said. “You are exploring and you don’t know what will happen until you push it in one direction and see. Then something unexpected will happen and you go down that road instead.”
For all of the images in “Life Supersaturated” Stelzer used only instamatic film cameras with fixed focus and fixed lenses.
“The standard way to do this to bring in lights and filters and have assistance and have back light and all this to take a picture,” said Stelzer. “You can get incredible images that way, but you can also lose spontaneity or you can lose a moment that you would be able to catch with a handheld camera.”
“Now when I’m taking photos, I take ones that aren’t there on their own, but I know I can turn it into a painting because it has certain elements,” he said. “I use layers and color and shape and emotions and I’m always thinking how I can capture someone’s emotions and thoughts and light.”
Stelzer is heavily influenced by Danish painter Hugo Larson who spent three years painting scenes of everyday life in the Danish West Indies in the early 1900s.
“In the 1900s when Hugo was painting he would go around and set up his easel and would paint people doing what they were doing,” said the artist. “He would just capture these everyday scenes and I wanted to do a modern version of that. My photos are not posed, they are people doing every day things, but I turn that into iconic, captivating images through all the things I do in Photoshop.”
“I’m basically creating a painting out of a photograph instead of out of a scene,” said Stelzer. “I am preserving these everyday moments, but heightening them. You wouldn’t look at it twice, but once it becomes a painting, it’s captivating.”
Stelzer’s work has been shown in a variety of venues from the Caribbean Museum Center in St. Croix to the Elaine I. Sprauve Library in Cruz Bay, but the Bajo show is Stelzer’s first solo exhibition.
Stop by Bajo el Sol at Mongoose Junction on Friday, June 3, for Stelzer’s “Life Supersaturated” show. For more about Stelzer’s work check out www.lifesuperstaurated.com. For more information about Bajo el Sol, call the gallery at 693-7070.