Stephen Strom began photographing in 1978. He studied both the history of photography and silver and non-silver photography in studio courses with Keith McElroy, Todd Walker and Harold Jones at the University of Arizona. His work, largely interpretations of landscapes, has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and is held in several permanent collections including the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, the University of Oklahoma Art Museum, the Mead Museum in Amherst, MA, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. His photography complements poems and essays in three books published by the University of Arizona Press: Secrets from the Center of the World, a collaboration with Muscogee poet Joy Harjo; Sonoita Plain: Views of a Southwestern Grassland, a collaboration with ecologists Jane and Carl Bock; Tseyi (Deep in the Rock): Reflections on Canyon de Chelly co-authored with Navajo poet Laura Tohe; as well as in Otero Mesa: America’s Wildest Grassland, with Gregory McNamee and Stephen Capra, University of New Mexico Press (2008). A monograph comprising 43 images, Earth Forms, was published in 2009 by Dewi Lewis Publishing. His most recent publication is Sand Mirrors, a collaboration with Zen teacher and poet Richard Clarke (Polytropos Press, 2012). A book comprising Strom’s terrestrial landscapes with images of the martian surface (Earth and Mars) will be published by the University of Arizona Press (release date: 10/2015).
I have spent of my professional life as an astronomer, searching out patterns encoded in the light from distant stars in the hope of understanding how our sun and solar system came to be. Over a research career spanning four decades, I have spent countless hours perched on remote mountaintops, looking upward mostly, but also contemplating the desert below during those precious moments of quiet and solitude before and after nights spent at the telescope.
During those times, I became drawn to, then seduced by the changing patterns of desert lands sculpted by the glancing light of the rising and setting sun: light that reveals forms molded both by millennial forces and yesterday’s cloudburst into undulations of shapes and colors. In response, I began what has become a 30-year long devotion not only to capturing in images those remarkable patterns and the rich history they encode, but to attempting the nearly impossible: via camera, paper, silver and ink, to evoke and perhaps recreate the powerful emotional responses that desert lands elicit in me. My tools are simple – a 4×5 view camera or 35mm SLR, and long focal length lenses whose power to compress space can create an illusion of intimacy, of comprehension, inviting viewers to look deeply into what light and earth together form.
My images attempt to provide a glimpse into what the late essayist Ellen Meloy described as a “geography of infinite cycles, of stolid pulses of emergence and subsidence, which, in terms geologic and human, is the story of the (earth) itself.” What I hope to re-create is what Meloy called the “calm of water”, the “spill of liquid silences”, and a “quality of light and color that pierces the heart.”