Honoring our teachers: Steve Harper

Steve Harper and his dog Shadow, Mono Lake, 2006 -- by Joe Reifer

Steve Harper and his dog Shadow, Mono Lake, 2006 — by Joe Reifer

I went to open studios to network and sell art. I intended to write about the amazing amount of production that goes into showing your work — what I learned — and how people reacted. I eventually will cover these topics, but I’m not quite ready for an art show post mortem yet. I want to talk about something more important — learning and growing as an artist, and the people that can help you push on to the next plateau.

During open studios last weekend, Andy Frazer’s night photography documentary screened in the room where I was showing my work. Andy has added footage from an interview with Steve Harper, who taught night photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco from 1979-1990. I had the opportunity to hang out with Steve at The Nocturnes Eastern Sierra conference this past Summer. Lance Keimig and Tim Baskerville, who founded The Nocturnes, and Tom Paiva, all studied with Steve. Tom’s brother Troy Paiva, also got turned on to night photography through one of Steve’s classes. I got interested in night photography through Troy’s incredible website and book Lost America.

In Andy’s film, Steve talks quite eloquently about how machines and abandoned structures become monuments when observed at night. He also talks about a night photo he made at the Sutro Baths in the 1980′s where he’s holding a sheet, which gives an ethereal white shape and forms a repetition with the water and sky. I was displaying a lot of the work I’ve done with ghosts in my images, in which I use a white bed sheet to create a transparent, glowing form. I’ve been working on the ghost project for a year, but really had a conceptual breakthrough in understanding my own work through listening to this interview with Steve.

If there are people that inspire you, make the most of it. Take a workshop with them. Read articles they’ve written. Buy their book. Say thank you. When the time is right, open yourself up to accept constructive criticism from those who have walked the road before you. Ask for a portfolio review. Put yourself in a situation that pushes you. If I hadn’t made one good image up at Mono Lake, the whole trip was worth it just to be around Steve. Thank you, Steve.

I’ll be talking about two other teachers who were a big inspiration over the next few days. Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “Honoring our teachers: Steve Harper”

  1. Joe,

    Thanks for the kind words about my documentary film.

    The current version of the film contains about five minutes of the interview with Steve Harper. By the end of this year I’ll have the entire interview with Steve available as a seperate film. It will not contain much of the multimedia material that’s in the documentary film, but it will contain the interview in its entirety (minus the cars driving by, the people walking through the set, and the occasional outburst of uncontrollable giggling by otherwise professional “crew”).

    Also, it was great seeing Joe and the other photographers at Studio Nocturne last weekend. His framed prints looked great up on the wall!

  2. Andy – I’d love to see the entire interview when it’s complete.

    I’d also like to point out that Tim Baskerville of The Nocturnes was the one who organized the Sierra workshop that honored Steve Harper, and Tim also organized Open Studios. So thanks, Tim!

    And Steve Harper emailed me privately to say that being around all of the creative night photographers at the conference this Summer was “the biggest gift to my spirit since I was actively teaching.” Make sure not to miss Steve’s great website.

  3. Being basically a shy person – maybe that’s why I photograph at night – it does not come to me naturally to relish in such honor having been bestowed upon me – but it sure feels good!

    Thank You, Joe and Andy. Thank You to all of those who attended the Mono Lake 2006 Conference for honoring me with your kindness.


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