A Conversation with Painter Steuart Pittman – Part 1

by Pac Pobric

In July of 2011, Pac Pobric sat down with painter Steuart Pittman to discuss a group of photographs the artist had taken on a recent trip to China. Pittman, who earned his MFA at Mills College, is currently based in Oakland, California. Pittman has held solo shows at the Andrew Ütt Gallery and Blankspace Gallery. He was the recipient of the Jay DeFeo Award and a nominee for the SFMOMA SECA Award in 2010. For more information on his work, visit his website at www.steuartpittman.com

Pobric: What is the relationship between your photography and your painting? 

Pittman:  This type of photography is a stage in my painting process, a kindred habit of sorts. I’m a painter. That’s what I take most seriously. I’ve thought of drawing for a long time as a thing that happens with varying degrees of commitment and seriousness. Drawing is a place where anything goes. That’s true only to a certain extent for painting. Drawing is much more quick, and this type photography is similar to drawing in that way.

I always have a disposable camera in my handbag. I’ve had one on my person since the week I moved to California, in 2007. I don’t think I’m a great photographer, but I do take a lot more photographs on film than the majority of people. The disposable cameras facilitate that specific and intense urge to make a picture. It occurs in fleeting moments, and I generally only shoot on the disposables in natural daylight. Film isn’t cheap—I shoot maybe every other day or so—and I think that element is a valuable departure from the digital impulse, which has people constantly taking pictures of everything on their smart phones. I appreciate the sense of preciousness that comes along with shooting on film; making pictures is always incredibly exciting, whether it’s photos, drawings, or paintings.

The cameras start to add up and the pictures add up. I think of the disposable camera as similar to drawing in that way. It’s not overly committed for me, it’s from the hip. But it’s still framed in a way. I think about what I’m doing when I’m shooting but there is a looseness that comes through in the images. I let things happen and sometimes it works out. I kind of know how to develop film from classes I took in college. I know about basic lighting principles and where to stand when I’m taking the shot. But the beauty is in all the variables and the unknown. I don’t develop these pictures myself—I take them to Walgreen’s—so I am always surprised at the finished product. Sometimes you get rich stuff, and most of the time you get complete garbage.

As a painter, I am attracted to the canvas because it develops with rich color and luminosity. Disposable cameras—when used properly—also capture a distinct luminosity. But shooting on disposables is still a different activity. It’s not painting and it’s not drawing. Regardless, I look at the situations and the environments with a painter’s eye, I guess. I’m looking for the same things and asking the same questions. I am attracted to bold, geometric shapes and nuanced color relationships.

All photos are “Untitled” (2011), by Steuart Pittman; 4″ x 6″, C-prints




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One Response to A Conversation with Painter Steuart Pittman – Part 1

  1. Hung Liu says:

    Enjoy your camera work with a painter’s eye.
    Hope you continue doing it – making pictures by any means necessary.

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