Interview with US Artist Stephen Galloway

Stephen Galloway’s work focuses on experiencing nature in paradoxical ways. His large scale, highly detailed photographs show natural elements as incredibly present, yet also outside our normal expectations. His photographs and installations have been widely exhibited, with works collected and commissioned by the Berkeley Art Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, the San Francisco Arts Commission and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, among others. He is currently working on new public commissions as well as a solo show at the Nevada Museum of Art opening in March, 2014.

A: Firstly, why photography? What is it about this medium that you feel expresses your artistic vision?
SG: It is so important to my work that I am showing the real world, or at least a real world. I can dream up these images in my head, and then make them in a way that they are deeply connected with our experience of the world. Obviously, I am making images that are a step or two outside our day-to-day experience, but the photographic verité allows them to always speak of something we call reality.

A: Do you remember the first photograph you shot?
SG: Maybe not the first photograph, but certainly the first successful one. It was taken looking out into a wooded area from inside a large culvert or tunnel with water running through it. The round shape of the tunnel, with the stripe of water reflecting light at the bottom, created a keyhole through which you saw the woods. You were inside looking out. It was a great match of composition and idea serving each other. Decades later, I still strive for that combination, still use circles and am still looking at nature.

A: You focus largely on the complexities of nature, can you expand on this further? What made you want to explore this theme in your work?
SG: In my studio photographic works, I am essentially making large, extremely detailed still life images of natural materials in a deep pure white space. Because of the clarity and the detail, the materials, roots, plants, leaves, dirt, are really there. Yet, one can’t really say where “there” is.

I want to make images that help me understand reality. Because our reality takes place on this earth and in this cosmos, I think exploring the physical environment was an obvious starting point, so I became a landscape photographer. I also find our natural environment a bottomless source of beauty and inspiration. But, I think of reality as layered, with many of the layers contradictory and paradoxical. This is central to my approach to my images of natural things.

A: Are you influenced by any artists/curators? If so, who?
SG: There are so many places I look for inspiration and understanding. I have as much to learn about composition from Chinese landscape painting as from American colour field painters. From the German photographers, especially the Bechers and their protégées, I have learned the importance of intense fidelity to the subject, “subject” being the thing the camera is pointed at and the reason why you are looking at it.

Some other artists in my ‘pantheon’ include Robert Smithson, Wolfgang Laib, Deiter Appelt, Maya Lin, Carrie Mae Weems, Jeff Wall, James Turrell…..

A: What can we expect to see from you next?
SG: I am currently working on a solo show at the Nevada Museum of Art, titled Place/NoPlace. So much of my studio work relies on a very abstracted place of my own creation, this pure white space, yet I am grounded somehow in landscape photography. For this show, I am making works, including installations, works on paper as well as photography, that ask, “How much can we actually know about a place?” It’s a step towards grappling with site and place in my studio work.

See Stephen Galloway’s artwork in the current issue of Aesthetica out now


1. Landing, 2013, from the series, Terraworks. Courtesy the artist
2. Chronos, 2013, from the series, Roots and Shrubs. Courtesy the artist