Digital medium has made us a little obsessed with visual clarity. Yet as we compare our megapixels, artist Chuck Staley has discovered that true clarity comes from our emotions. Using pixels rather than paints, Chuck converts his original photographs into impressionistic paintings. Drenched in color, we don’t exactly know what the original images look like, but we certainly know what they feel like. In this latest installment of Curbly’s Artist Profile, Mr. Staley opens up about himself and his art.
Were you always a photographer or did your interest in still photography stem from your work in film?
I was given a darkroom setup and a camera when I was 14 and it didn’t take long to discover that I had "an eye" for photography. And while I took all the pictures for the high school yearbooks and worked as a press photographer for the local newspaper in the summer, I had no desire to be a photographer. What I really wanted was to go to Hollywood and become a cinematographer like Laszlo Kovacs.
When I went to the movies, I cared little for the stars or the story or the music. It was the camera moves and the lighting that I would remember. Every rack focus of the lens, every dolly of the camera. It was like a ballet to me.
After a couple of years working in television as a cameraman, I moved to Hollywood where I quickly learned that the Cinematographers Guild was a closed shop –– you had to be related to someone already in the guild. So I became a director instead. I got to call the shots, I just didn’t push the camera.
Do the photographs you use in your impressionistic images come from original stills?
Yes, everything I do is original, created from pictures taken before I started working in film and TV, or after I recently discovered the digital camera. During the times in between, no one could get me to take still pictures. If I couldn’t process and print them myself, I wasn’t interested.
On your website, you're quoted as saying that at one point you gave up caring if your images 'accurately depicted a person or object'. Instead you wanted to show your impressions of people, places and things in a way that would evoke 'emotions of the viewers.' What do you think was the turning point for giving up accuracy for impression? (Did it have something to do with how you perceived yourself in the world, how others perceived your art?)
While working for the newspaper, I was assigned to photograph a car accident near the outskirts of town. When I arrived at the scene, there was an overturned car lying in a creek, and two young men lying dead on the bank of the stream. I shot a couple of pictures, went back to the darkroom to develop and print them, then turned them in to the editor.
They ran on the front page of that evening’s edition. What a stir those pictures of those two boys lying dead created! That’s when I discovered the power of a photograph, and if I was going to take a picture, it couldn’t be boring.
I've read that the creation of your art employs, among other things, Photoshop. How might you answer those judgmental types that say, 'If I had Photoshop, I could do that too'? (For the record, I am NOT one of those people!)
Photoshop is a wonderful program but when I discovered the process I use to create my artwork, I didn’t own Photoshop nor would I have known how to use it if I did. My digital artwork starts off in my head, then I take my camera and attempt to recreate what I imagined. Most of the work is done in the camera, using the knowledge that I picked up from working in television. If you could watch the psychedelic rock shows I directed back in the days of live television, you would see some of the very same effects I now use.
Speaking of cameras, what camera do you use?
The camera I use now is the Canon EOS 20D with a Canon EFS 17-85mm lens. (It’s all about the lens.) Of all the different choices at the time I bought it a couple of years ago, it was the one that best fit my hands. There were more impressive cameras with more features, but this one just "felt right," and the menu layout is clearly understandable. A comparable camera today would be the 40D. They seem to come out with a newer version every year, but they are all basically the same.
As well as being a successful artist, you've also worked extensively in film. Do you prefer one medium to the other? If so, why?
As an artist I can work alone and do whatever I want with my art. Making a film has gotten so tedious; you have to please so many people, some with little or no talent. Hopefully films will get better and I certainly will be happy to return –– this time with scripts I have written.
And finally, if the Impressionists and post-Impressionists of the 19th century came to one of your exhibits, what do you think they'd say about your images in relation to the movement(s) they established?
I believe they would approve of my work. As strange as it may seem, many of my customers are established photographers, painters and ceramic artists. Perhaps they see in my work what I see.