J Riley Stewart on site in the Great Smoky Mountains

My Passion and Craft

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My tagline "Real Moments. Reimagined" pretty much sums up why I make photographic art. As a traditionalist, I believe images have the greatest value when they show us real moments we've never seen before, but show them in a way that intrigues us, stimulates our imaginations to create our own stories, and perhaps even change us in the process.

I have no compassion for my camera or the other tools I use to realize this goal in picture-making. My camera is a heartless beast. It merely records light reflecting off material things in front of it, and it squashes all of it onto the flat, two dimensional surface of the film. It doesn't record perception, or the air, or the smells and sounds I experienced when I clicked the shutter. In other words, it doesn't record the heart of the moment. I accept that it's my job as an artist to put the heart back in the picture; I have to reimagine the scene that my camera so heartlessly gave me.

I don't mind being called a "traditional" fine art photographer. I capture my scenes using 'old fashioned' bellows cameras onto larger films because that's the best way I know of documenting the exact moment when light and shadow dance with my subjects. Then--and only then--do I let my camera do what it does best, to record the dance. The 'reimagination' comes during expression of the dance, when I change the boring documentary into a creative story worth remembering.

Every technique I employ as a photographer supports my need to create large-scale exhibition prints having the qualities I love about photography. I print using permanent pigment inks onto 100% cotton paper, and then hand varnished the prints to create a delicate semigloss finish. Varnishing contributes a unique aesthetic, but also protects the photograph so there's no need for matting and glazing. Varnishing also makes the framed photograph much lighter and easier to clean than a matted and glazed photograph.

My artwork appears in several private and corporate collections internationally and can be seen in regional exhibits and publications dedicated to the preservation of Virginia's scenic beauty and cultural heritage. Public partners include George Washington's Mount Vernon, Westmoreland Davis Foundation/ Morven Park, The Aldie Mill and Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, The Mosby Heritage Area Association, Fairfax County (Virginia) Parks Authority, and the Clarke County (Virginia)Historical Association. I am a founding artist in Arts in the Village Gallery in Leesburg, Virginia, USA.

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