Stams talks about seeing art through a lens

By Page H. Gifford

Fluvanna Art Association member Paul Stams has a unique gift for translating his photographs and images in Photoshop into ethereal, overlapping images, bold colors, and collages. They are riveting works of art. There is a moment when the onlooker wonders where reality ends and fantasy begins. Stam’s work has to be experienced since it is indescribable. It’s abstraction is an expression of how he sees the world.

Stams started doing black and white photography in his 20s via a dark room in his bathroom in an apartment in New York City. He was inspired by his friend, photographer William Lulow. In those early days, he enjoyed street photography and composing with multiple images, creating photo montages. That early practice and training helped him to create compelling images.

“Mostly I shoot what captures my eye and then use Photoshop and One Photo RAW to create the image I am looking for through cropping and blending. I also shoot my photos in RAW to capture the most information possible,” he said. “I usually compose visually in Lightroom or Photoshop.” He adds that he creates using these technological tools without understanding how they work. Perhaps that is the beauty of his work – it just happens.

He has been currently working on photo montages of cities and surrealistic photo montages. Putting images together requires a variety of photos from landscapes to streetscapes to still life and people. The Charlottesville downtown mall, fruit and vegetable stands, places he travels to, and anything that catches his eye, are some of his favorite places and things to photograph. Among his challenging or memorable photography experiences has been photographing people.

“Two were capturing images of people on the downtown mall. The first I approached and asked to photograph. This was the first time I ever did this,” he said. “The second was a photo I took of a man on the mall and he challenged me for taking his photo without asking. We worked it out.” His overlapping images of people on the downtown mall in Charlottesville are alive with movement and color.

“It took a while to overcome the fear of rejection,” he said. “I am a people person so I now start a conversation and then ask to photograph them. I then continue the conversation while shooting. Also, my life partner, Enid Krieger, will often ask someone if I can photograph them. I made a book of beard photos by using this technique.”

Nowadays, it is surrealist painters like Dali and Magritte that influence his photography with their offbeat images. But like most photographers, he agrees with Ansel Adams’ statement that “You don’t take pictures, you make them.”

“I agree with that statement and spend a great deal of time in post-processing.” There are also moments when artists, like writers, also suffer from creative blocks and lack of inspiration when planning the next project.

“I am just coming out of one now. I just let it happen and don’t try to force it. Also, I look at other photographers’ work.”

Many milestones have marked Stam’s artistic journey.

“I think the first and maybe the best was when somebody I never met called and bought one of my photos from a show at the Fork Union Community Center. It was a great compliment when two artists I respected wanted to paint their version of my photos. I enjoyed being recognized for my work at various art shows and photo contests such as the Fluvanna Art Association shows, Crossroads Gallery, and Gallery 527 in Scottsville.” He added that he loves showing and sharing his work and always looks forward to future shows.

His photo and surrealistic photo montages will be shown at The Center at Belvedere during September and October. The artist’s reception will be on Sept. 6 from 4-6 p.m.

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