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.