As a parent, the compulsion to document every waking moment of your child’s life is always there, leaving most with boxes and boxes of photos or digital folders full of phone snaps. However, for fine arts photographer and teacher Steven Bliss, it was the spontaneous purchase of an 8×10 camera in the year his second son was born that prompted him to document his children in a more considered manner, resulting in his ongoing project, Boys.
Originally from New Hampshire, Steven wound up taking classes at the Maine Photographic Workshop to which he returned to teach after completing his MFA in photography at Ohio University. In 1992, he uprooted to Georgia with a plan to work as a photography professor at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD) for five years, however, he “found the job, people and the area to be really amicable,” so much so, he is still there 25 years later.
“During my education, I clearly remember a moment where I knew I had to choose between going after an academic career or a commercial photography career to support my art career. I have not regretted my choice, as teaching has always made me more excited about actually making pictures – I get so much back from the students and from learning/bouncing off the material that I teach,” Steven tells It’s Nice That.
When at work one day, the photographer happened upon an advert for an 8×10 camera with “two great lenses for not many dollars,” pinned to the student message board outside the darkroom at SCAD. “I had done digital projects by this time but by 2000 I was frustrated with the time I was spending on the computer,” Steven explains. Having shot the bulk of his work since graduate school with a medium format camera and 4×5, he decided it was time to upgrade: “I got it and started taking pictures with it at home and, as my two sons were both in diapers, they were the immediate subject matter for this new photo-mechanical monstrosity.”
Starting in 1999 the series was all black and white, but as Steven became more confident with the new camera he introduced colour film into the mix. “Around 2004, I made an image I was happy with and that made me believe I could show the work, that it was growing into something beyond a dad’s recording of his kids growing up,” he recalls.
Boys is a somewhat haunting series but altogether compelling and heartwarming at the same time. The nature of the camera requires each shot to be completely staged and directed, but each photograph is always based on their real relationship, with Steven open to serendipitous circumstance. As a result, the photographs have a stillness and a distance to them but retain an authenticity and “true” narrative. Their soft hues and often strange compositions portray a sense of familiarity and belonging.
Steven describes how the narrative functions on two levels: “the images are specifically about two boys, Aidan and Griffin, growing up in Savannah, Georgia – and, at the same time, the images are about two boys growing up anywhere. They are of a particular time, gender, and circumstance, but their equanimity and straightforward response to the camera, their humanity, reads as, and relates to all times/gender/circumstance.”
The last “official” photos in Boys were taken in 2008 and 2009 but as to whether it’s complete, Steven answers “I don’t think so – I made an image of the boys back from college with the big camera just this past weekend.”
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