Stephen Strom: A Retrospective
VERVE Gallery of Photography is pleased to present Gallery Artist Stephen Strom in a Retrospective Exhibition. Stephen Strom: Retrospective is a survey of the artist’s photographic career including color prints from seven bodies of work created over the past 35 years.
Strom’s images are a journey into a world both arid and infinite - blessed of a beauty that requires some eyes to adjust their notions of what constitutes beauty in the first place. He sees the world in a grain of sand, and in the wondrous forms that many grains of sand make. They intimate that the grain of sand was once a towering mountain, then a crag, then a boulder, then a rock, then a pebble, and that the world is a very old place in which such processes play out over millions of years. They sense heaven in a wildflower, and they speak to the wonder that we experience when we are able to attain a glimpse of something that we know but have never quite seen in the same way before: the pachydermatous wrinkles of ancient desert rises spotted with clumps of wildflowers; the unexpected greenery that springs up from the dry earth after a good soaking rain; the subtle gradations of color that move the eye along the stony contours of the Colorado Plateau, once the floor of silent seas. Those images attest at once to the infinite and the intimate. They are a hymn of praise to what can be held in the hand and to what the mind can scarcely comprehend.
Over the past few years, Strom has turned his eye from tellurian landscapes to those on Mars. Drawing on his professional life as an astronomer as well as a fine art photographer, he explores in his new series “Earth and Mars” the undulating shapes and colors seen on Martian desert landscapes. With an aesthetic eye drawn to the commonality of patterns manifest in Martian and terrestrial scenes, all shaped by the same forces (ancient and active volcanoes, powerful winds, water, and asteroids) he captures the profound beauty fashioned by the laws of physics---“the interaction of the elemental: fire, earth, water and air.”
Strom describes the most recent body of work, Earth and Mars as follows:
“Over my career as an astronomer, I became drawn to, then seduced by the changing patterns of desert lands sculpted by the glancing light of the rising and setting sun: light that reveals forms molded both by millennial forces and yesterday’s cloudburst into undulations of shapes and colors. In response, I began what has become three decades long devotion to capturing images of those remarkable patterns and the rich history they encode. The images in Earth and Mars represent both a 30-year visual exploration of the American landscape and the remarkable photographs produced by Martian orbiters, rovers and landers launched over the past two decades by NASA and its European counterpart, ESA (the European Space Agency). Tens of thousands of these images are available in digital form in public domain archives, which as an experiment, I decided to examine from the perspective of an artist rather than an astronomer. In doing so, I tried to imagine myself standing on the surface of Mars, or on a high Martian mountain and searching for patterns which evoke the same powerful emotional response as tellurian landscapes.”
“The Martian images were selected after examining long, digital ‘strip maps’ available in the public domain, data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The images displayed in this exhibition were chosen both for their aesthetic qualities and their value in illustrating the action of familiar physical processes on another world.
The retrospective contains images from 6 other bodies of work; a few selected examples follow:
Author and essayist Gregory McNamee describes the work in Stephen Strom’s book Earth Forms (Dewi Lewis, 2009) as follows:
“Stephen Strom’s images speak to that land as it is: a place that, in the main, is without humans, late entrants onto that vast stage. The ensuing sense of solitude that those images convey is not necessarily lonely, frightening, or overwhelming as much as it is humbling. Against such sprawling backdrops, as against the vastness of the heavens above, we humans matter very little. That realization alone should encourage us to take better care of places that will outlive us by orders on orders of magnitude.
Stephen Strom’s series, Illusions of Intimacy, are landscape interpretations, both of the desert and seaside beaches that express in their quiet, understated way the same powerful combination of pattern, history and emotion as the grander landscape. Stephen speaks of this series: “What I aspire to create is what the late essayist Ellen Meloy described as a ‘geography of infinite cycles, of stolid pulses of emergence and subsidence, which, in terms geologic and human, is the story of the earth itself.” My hope is that the viewer will find in this collection what Meloy called the ‘calm of water’, the ‘spill of liquid silences’, and a ‘quality of light and color that pierces the heart.’”
Stephen Strom spent his professional career as an astronomer. Born in 1942 in New York City, he graduated from Harvard College in 1962. In 1964 he received his Masters and Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University. From 1964-68 he held appointments as Lecturer in Astronomy at Harvard and Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. He then moved to the State University of New York at Stony Brook and served for 4 years as Coordinator of Astronomy and Astrophysics. In 1972 he accepted an appointment at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ, where he served as Chair of the Galactic and Extragalactic program. The following 15 years were spent at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA; from 1984-1997 he served as Chairman of the Five College Astronomy Department. In 1998 Strom returned to Tucson as a member of the scientific staff at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory where he carried out research directed at understanding the formation of stars and planetary systems and served as an Associate Director of the Observatory. He retired from NOAO in May, 2007.
Stephen began photographing in 1978. He studied both the history of photography and silver and non-silver photography in studio courses with Keith McElroy, Todd Walker and Harold Jones at the University of Arizona. His work, largely interpretations of landscapes, has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and is held in several permanent collections including the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, the University of Oklahoma Art Museum, the Mead Museum in Amherst, MA, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. His photography complements poems and essays in three books published by the University of Arizona Press: Secrets from the Center of the World, a collaboration with Muscogee poet Joy Harjo; Sonoita Plain: Views of a Southwestern Grassland, a collaboration with ecologists Jane and Carl Bock; Tseyi (Deep in the Rock): Reflections on Canyon de Chelly co-authored with Navajo poet Laura Tohe; as well in : Otero Mesa: America’s Wildest Grassland, with Gregory McNamee and Stephen Capra, University of New Mexico Press (2008). Dewi Lewis Publishing published the monograph Earth Forms comprised of 43 images, in 2009.