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360 Degree Art

The panoramic photography of Stephen Joseph shows you East Bay artists as you've never seen them before


Sneaking a peek behind the door of an artist’s studio is a rare privilege. But Pleasant Hill photographer Stephen Joseph, best known for his breathtaking shots of Mount Diablo, has a new project that allows us to do just that. His ongoing Artists Series is a collection of indoor panoramas that takes us on a private tour of work spaces belonging to top artists living and working in the East Bay.

Joseph still hikes every inch of Mount Diablo, finding and photographing stunning Shangri-las in the shade of every oak and in expansive verdant canyons. But two years ago, he moved indoors to shoot New York painter Jack Beal’s studio. The spellbinding, 360-degree photo captured the essence and creativity and passion of the artist in his element—and left Joseph itching for more. Later that year, he began to recruit friends like Pleasant Hill painter Greg Piatt, who in turn signed up their colleagues (and artistically inclined relatives), and the Artists Series was born.

In these photographs, Joseph reveals every inch of the mysterious and private studios. “Most people don’t ever get to see inside an artist’s studio,” he says. “So I want to show everything, from the paint on the floor to the beams on the ceiling.”

Joseph creates the sweeping studioscapes by taking anywhere between eight and forty vertical photographs of the space, and then splicing the images together. The result is an astonishing barrage of detail that can make a room the size of a closet look like a cathedral. “I like that the photograph’s visual clues don’t necessarily tell you how big the place is,” he says. “Space gets distorted. What looks like a huge distance is actually just a few feet.”

This distortion occurs mostly at the edges of the picture. Ceilings sometimes drape around the space like curtains, while floors may smile with unexpected curves. “This kind of photography is like opening up a globe and making it a flat map,” says Joseph. “The lines are going to change. But I like playing around with that kind of thing.”

He also gets to play with multiplicity, as many of Joseph’s shots feature multiple images of the artist scattered throughout—a by-product of the number of photographs he must take to produce the pieces.

From the dust-covered tundra where Oakland sculptor Dennis Gallagher dreams up his monolithic creations to the ordinary Dublin office where Scott Adams crafts his famous Dilbert, each of the featured spaces is as unique as the art born there. Joseph captures quilters, pop artists, and neon-benders sheltered within their own worlds.

The Artists Series is a reminder that a lot of the artwork gracing upscale galleries in San Francisco and the rest of the country begins on this side of the bridge. Whether it’s in an old Quonset hut in Oakland, a former bottle factory in Crockett, or on a kitchen table in Orinda, the East Bay is chock-full of creativity. Enjoy these amazing photographs, and the peek into these artists’ worlds they provide.

Erik Eiserling

Flip-flops don’t immediately spring to mind as the most sensible choice of footwear for someone juggling molten glass, but Berkeley glassblower Erik Eiserling must know what he’s doing. Trained in Sweden’s Orrefors glass factory, Eiserling makes stunning bowls and vases with sleek, simple silhouettes (some of his colorful pieces sit on a table to the left in Joseph’s photograph).

With furnaces burning at 2,000˚F, his small work space gets pretty warm. “It got so hot in there,” says Joseph. “I kept checking the camera, wondering if it was made to operate in such high heat.”

Eiserling is photographed making a bowl—scooping molten glass from the furnace, and rolling and blowing the glass into shape before it cools. It’s a blur of action that Joseph was keen to capture. “I was standing there watching him just whipping the glass all over the place,” he says. “Glassblowers never stand still. They’re working with molten glass, so they can’t stop. Working digitally gave me the option of creating this sense of motion and speed. It was really fun to do.”

Joseph took multiple shots of Eiserling at his various stations, and then layered the images on top of each other using the Photoshop program on his computer. “Stephen really captured the essence of the medium,” says Eiserling. “I’m constantly moving, but so is the glass. He managed to catch its fluidity.”

Eiserling is exhibiting pieces in the museum at San Francisco Airport’s International Terminal through January 2006. Visit www.erikeiserling.com to see more of his work.

Bill Concannon

Neon lights bathe Bill Concannon’s Crockett shop with the comforting glow of a ’50s diner. Formerly a bottling plant, this 2,700-square-foot brick building is home to Aargon Neon, a studio Concannon founded in 1975 specializing in creating signs, sculptures, and special effects for movies such as Star Wars. In the photograph, the large neon daisies seen scattered through the shop were being made as props for a stage show. “My studio was, quite literally, in full bloom that day,” Concannon says.

Sidestepping the open flames of several Bunsen burners, Joseph was practically in the dark shooting this space. “It was tremendously difficult, but I was still able to record every bit of detail,” he says.

Concannon says the photograph has helped him appreciate his shop anew. “The amazing sweep of the place makes me see it in a different way,” he says. “[It gives me] an outsider’s view. There’s such incredible detail. I’ve taken a magnifying glass to the print Stephen gave me, and it’s just amazing what I could see.”
Visit www.aargon-neon.com to see more of Concannon’s work.

Clayton Bailey

Cradling his two-headed robot baby, peeking out of a mirror, and shooting his custom-made toy guns, Port Costa’s Clayton Bailey appears in Joseph’s photograph 20 times. A multitalented artist, Bailey creates weird and wonderful ceramic sculptures as well as exquisitely crafted popguns.

And for thirty years, he has scoured scrap yards and flea markets for cookware, washing machines, and automobile parts he can reincarnate as robots. “Sometimes I work on these guys for years,” says Bailey. “They are never really done. One more little thing always shows up that I can add to them.”

The ones that do get finished are carried off by galleries and museums, or by adoptive parents that include celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone and Bill Gates. “Clayton’s studio was one of my favorites to shoot,” says Joseph. “You can tell from looking at their work which artists will be more playful. I mean, this guy makes robots out of toasters. He was great fun.”
Visit www.claytonbailey.com to see more of Bailey’s work.

Liz Piatt

Enveloped in color and with her husband and son (framed in the kitchen window) close by, Liz Piatt projects an unassuming nature that seems fitting for a quilt-maker. “Out of all the pictures, this one captures the individual’s personality the best,” says Joseph. “Liz is a fabulous artist who makes these gorgeous, involved quilts, and yet she is such a humble person.”

Mother to Joseph’s friend, artist Greg Piatt (also featured in the series), Liz has been using the same Singer sewing machine (just behind her in the photograph) since her husband gave it to her as an engagement present 53 years ago. She lives and works in Orinda, using her kitchen table as her studio. “It’s actually a tiny space,” Piatt says. “But the photograph encompasses so much that it looks huge. It’s very deceiving.”

At both edges of the photograph is one of Piatt’s favorite quilts, called Celebration, which took two months to complete. A word or a saying may inspire her quilts, but she never draws a design. “They just grow as I make them,” she says. “I don’t plan a quilt ahead, because then I would know what it was going to look like, and it would be boring to make.”
Three of Piatt’s quilts permanently hang in the Walnut Creek library.

Mark Bulwinkle

The self-proclaimed inventor of rust as art, Oakland artist Mark Bulwinkle first seduced the macho medium of steel when he was welding in a shipyard 30 years ago. “I started cutting up steel as I would paper,” remembers Bulwinkle. “People didn’t know you could treat steel with that sort of finesse. It was not considered delicate, but it is—with the right skill.”

Best known for his giant, flat, rusting metal sculptures, Bulwinkle occupies an acre of space in West Oakland, working and living in a huge Quonset hut. “Picking a vantage point in Mark’s space was more difficult because it’s round,” says Joseph. “Composition is critical when you’re working with distortion. If I’m just a foot too close to a wall or something, it ends up huge. But this turned out great. It looks like he lives in a submarine.”

Keen to outdo his friend Clayton Bailey, who appears 20 times in Joseph’s photograph of his studio, Bulwinkle decided to pose nude. “I went to sleep that evening thinking ‘What have I done?’ ” he says. “When I saw the picture, I was relieved I wasn’t a huge, magnified centerfold.”

More center-speck than centerfold, Bulwinkle is seated slap-bang in the middle of the photograph. “Mark is a fabulous artist with a great sense of humor, “ Joseph says. “I had to have at least one nude in the series.”
Mark Bulwinkle has a piece in the Scents of Purpose exhibition, which runs through September at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Visit the museum’s website, www.thecjm.org , for information.

Mel Ramos

This pristine 1,000-square-foot Oakland studio inhabited by painter Mel Ramos seems more gallery than work space. “You couldn’t get a cleaner studio,” laughs Joseph. “Just look at that floor. There’s not a spot of paint on it. An artist’s work space shows off something about his work, and Mel’s paintings are as meticulous and perfect as his studio.”

A pop artist once taught by Wayne Thiebaud, Ramos paints seductive, sometimes even voyeuristic, pictures using comic book heroes, advertising imagery, and his trademark curvaceous nude women. Whether they are straddling a cigar, emerging from a candy wrapper, or folded up in a martini glass, his sensuous sirens have appeared in galleries from San Francisco to Paris.

In stark contrast to Clayton Bailey, Ramos’s friend and former teaching colleague at California State University, East Bay, Ramos appears just once in Joseph’s photograph, as a tiny figure outside the sliding glass door. “That was intentional on my part,” admits Ramos. “Stephen told me about one artist that didn’t want to be in her photograph at all. I thought I would go for the middle ground and just lurk in the background.” Visit www.melramos.com to see more of Ramos’s work.

Marcia Donahue

Berkeley sculptor Marcia Donahue’s living room is a masterpiece in its own right. Crammed with the ethnic art she has collected during the past twenty years, her house is lavish, offering many colorful surprises. “Each room is as wild as the next,” says Joseph. “It’s incredible. She opens up the space occasionally to the public, so it’s kind of a gallery as well asa home.”

Working in stone and ceramic, Donahue makes art for—and about—gardens. Beyond her kitchen lies a sculpted garden of giant ceramic bamboo. But much of this space is home to other people’s art, including that of Mark Bulwinkle, who can be seen sitting in the left of the picture. “This room had the most textures and light,” says Joseph. “The color is beautiful. Everything’s glowing.”

That’s just how Joseph likes it. “For me, a room filled with textures and with no white ceiling or blank spaces is like having a sky full of clouds,” he says. “The more complicated the space, the easier it is to find places to stitch the photographs together.”
For Donahue, Joseph’s photograph has pushed her living room even further into exotic luxury. “I love how my rich interior was given all those arches and curves,” she says. “It seems even more opulent.”

Rondal Partridge

Rondal Partridge has been a professional photographer for more than 70 years and, in his own words, still uses “every goddamn camera” he can get his hands on. “He’s 87 years old and has more energy than anybody I’ve ever been around,” says Joseph. “He was running up and down the stairs showing me all these different things. I enjoyed photographing him tremendously.”

Son of the famous San Francisco photographer Imogen Cunningham, Partridge—who apprenticed with both Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams—is photographed here in his Berkeley home. “I had been to his house before, so I knew that it was interesting,” says Joseph. “But Ron, perhaps more than any of the others, is very important to the photograph. It shows him off really well.”

Photographing another photographer, especially one as noted as Partridge, has unique challenges. “He has been photographing forever,” says Joseph. “When you’re working with someone like that, there is some pressure there to perform and to produce an interesting-looking photograph. You want them to like what you do.”

Joseph can rest easy: Partridge is a fan. “There are two critical parts to photography,” he says. “One is your intelligence, and the other is your technique. Some people don’t combine them. But Stephen does.”
Visit www.rondalpartridge.com to see more of Partridge’s work.

Scott Adams

It is from this room in Dublin that Dilbert, the cartoon world’s favorite techno-nerd, begins his journey to 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries around the world. Scott Adams is the man behind the hugely successful comic strip, and when Joseph went to photograph his space, he found it strangely free of clutter. “This is the plainest room I’ve shot,” he says. “But this is what Scott works with.”

A giant cardboard cutout of Dilbert and his rebellious dog, Dogbert, came to the rescue, and Joseph was able to line the walls of the room with shots of Adams and his characters.

“It’s an amazing thing when you can use photography and a little bit of Photoshop to make the world look far more interesting than it really is,” says Adams. “Stephen’s work treads the line between reality and fantasy, and your brain is constantly trying to sort it out.”
Visit www.dilbert.com to see more of Adams’s characters.

Dennis Gallagher

Although the photograph of Jack Beal’s work space was the first Joseph had taken in this vein, this is the picture that got the Artists Series rolling. Now belonging to Oakland sculptor Dennis Gallagher, the 6,000-square-foot space was Joseph’s first California studio. “It really wasn’t until I had shot this photograph that I decided to do a whole collection of studios,” says Joseph. “It just turned out so great.”
Gallagher’s giant ceramic sculptures—sometimes up to 12 feet tall—teeter on the precipice of collapse like Roman ruins. “Everything in there was coated in a patina of grey ceramic dust,” says Joseph. “I especially love the patterns it made on the floor. These photographs start right at my feet and go straight over my head.”

The surreal warping of the ceiling’s rigid metal beams is a perfect example of the distortion with which Joseph loves to work. “It’s very important to me that all the lines, angles, and light in these photographs are really interesting,” he says. “It’s all part of trying to create a great atmosphere.”

In keeping with Gallagher’s seemingly fragile structures, Joseph has made the artist—framed within a fractured, upturned arch—fade into the studio’s soft light. “The photograph picked up the light from my space very nicely,” says Gallagher. “That incredible lightness is what I’m striving for in my work. Stephen captured it beautifully.”
Dennis Gallagher is represented by San Francisco’s Rena Bransten Gallery, www.renabranstengallery.com

Oakland Museum of California’s Collection Facility

This is where the Oakland Museum’s multimillion-piece collection sleeps. “It is a humongous warehouse,” says Joseph, “and probably the biggest space that I photographed. But what’s interesting is that you can’t really tell from the picture that it’s much bigger than any of the other spaces.”

Giant pipes curl in the foreground like space-station debris; a textile sculpture droops from the ceiling like a ragged chandelier, offset by leggy animals lined up in an orderly fashion. “I’ve always thought that this was a visually interesting place,” says Drew Johnson, the museum’s photography curator, who is sitting in the picture. “I thought it would lend itself particularly well to Stephen’s remarkable panoramic photography.”

And it did. But not without some technical hurdles. “It was challenging to balance the light in this one,” says Joseph. “I had one color light coming through the bottom windows and fluorescent light from up above.”

When she’s not writing for Diablo, Hannah Craddick indulges several creative pursuits of her own, including music, pottery, painting, and dance. You can find more of Joseph’s photography at www.stephenjoseph photo.com

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