Stephen Criscolo is a 19 year old conceptual photographer. He just graduated high school and is now currently attending the University of Georgia working towards a major in Photojournalism (he’s considering double majoring in fine art but is unsure yet). Stephen’s photography is full of content, details, and can be described in many ways. His photography can be described as beautiful, futuristic, artistic, and inspirational.
He works with all kinds of different themes within his photography, yet he maintains to keep a style that is true to himself. Join us as we find out where Stephen’s fascination with space and the future stemmed from and what elements were key to the development of his photography.
How did you become interested in photography?
I picked up a camera about 4 years ago. I was the kid who brought it with me everywhere. Originally just simple analog photography, usually just to make Facebook albums for my friends. One day I decided to go home and angle the tripod towards myself against a white sheet. I see that it has now spiraled out of control haha.
Do you have any formal training in photography?
Not at all. I am entirely self taught both in camera and photoshop. It was a long learning process though, just a whole lot of experimenting.
What’s on your gear list?
Light stands on light stands. I have a ton of different lighting equipment, from strobes and flashes to reflectors and soft boxes. I only have one tripod and it’s kinda falling apart too. I can’t even begin to tell you how many wireless remotes I have just left in the woods while shooting. The first half of my 365 was edited on photoshop elements, but roughly this time last year I made the switch to CS5 and I couldn’t be happier with how my process is evolving.
Is there one piece of equipment or a prop that you just can’t live without?
My portable Canon Speedlite strobes. These things save my life on a near daily basis. Lighting is one of the paramount factors of my photography and it’s nice to have such powerful lighting equipment in such a small package. I bought my first one about 3 years ago, and I spent my entire allowance on it. Now it really has become one of those things that I have no idea how I lived without before I had it. Get lighting equipment, it’s worth its weight in gold in the right hands.
Within your 365 days project you’ve started a mini series which you’ve titled “IronMan HUDs”. What sparked you to begin creating photos like this?
My Heads Up Display series spawned from this idea of combining glamour portraiture with Sci-Fi conceptualism and thus creating a suit for each color of the rainbow. Sci-Fi has alway been my favorite form of fiction and I think it’s extremely unrepresented in the field of photography. These IronMan inspired portraits are an attempt to make Sci-Fi photography a bit more accessible to mainstream viewers. I like the idea of a coherent series with narrative focus as well. In my IronMan HUD series I am roleplaying as the lead designer for Stark Industries, showing off this years suit models to the public. You can also notice that none of the suits were designed randomly, each display has a different layout which fits with that suit’s function. (i.e. the Flight Suit doesn’t have rockets, or the Hazmat suit has modules that the others do not.)
How did you learn the techniques which you’ve applied to this series?
Lighting and depth. In order to make the displays appear real you need to make sure that the lighting on the subject matches where the virtual displays are located within the helmet. Bright displays close to the subjects face need to shine light and splash color on to their cheeks or brows. Depth is also extremely important in creating a realistic feel. I make sure to fade out and blur displays that are behind or in front of the focal plane in order to establish a sense of depth between the subject and the virtual interface. You need to make the subject actually look like they are in the helmet and not just surrounded by floating images.
What is the favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?
For day 2 of the 365, “This house is nothing but quiet” my Dad and I completely destroyed our kitchen. We unscrewed cabinets and drawers, then proceeded to throw everything we could all around the place. We knocked over furniture and spilled food everywhere. In terms of taking a photo it was my favorite to set up and I was so pleased with the result, something I was not expecting on day 2! My Dad and I hid a lot of little details like the swinging chandelier. The toughest part of the image though was getting the perfect stream of spilling sugar in the foreground, we nearly covered that section of the floor in sugar! That detail has still yet to be pointed out by anyone, but I don’t mind because it makes me smile every time I see it.
Now clean up was an entirely different story.
What inspires you?
The themes of impermanence and the future. A number of my friends believe I was born 1000 years too early. Since the future is undefined I think it makes a perfect plane for creating your own ideas. This may be the very definition of conceptualism, but I like taking single words and representing them as an image. Conceptual photography does not always need to tell a story, sometimes it works perfectly just to represent or explain an idea.
When not doing photography, how do you spend your free time?
I’m and avid long boarder and water sports fanatic! I’m using this summer for not only improvement in my photography but also to get even better at long boarding. If you ever need to find me I’m usually cruising around on my family’s boat practicing my wake boarding skills. That or listening to 20’s era music pretending to be Jay Gatsby haha
…That only happened once.
While going through some of your old photos, I notice that you shot dancers quite frequently. Is this something you’re still interested in?
You could say dance photography was my first love. I’m actually obsessed with it. At the start of my 365 I got to work with some incredible dancers and it was wonderful. It’s this awesome fusion of two very different art forms, which are focused very different ideas: Movement and Still life. I think it’s a style everyone should try, there is just so much possibility with it. It certainly helps that dancers know how to pose better than your average model too.
On that note, what type of photography interests you the most?
Light painting. It’s one of the only styles of photography that I have yet to try. I think it always looks so magical and I’m sure it has near limitless conceptual possibility. I enjoy combining different styles of photography for cinematic effect, so maybe I can try working light painting into one of my current styles. However dance photography is a close second.
What do you think were some key elements to the development of your photography?
Be different. Not just from other photographers, but from myself as well. Throughout my 365 I’ve been pushing myself to create images that are different in style and execution then the one I uploaded before it. I told myself when I started that I didn’t want to be confined to a single type of photography and ever since then I’ve be experimenting with different forms of the medium. People often tell me that my work is so varied and sporadic (in both good and bad connotation) but I take these as compliments entirely. I want people to page through my stream and be constantly interested in the different types of photographs, rather than get bored of a sort of universal style that repeats itself. I want each photo to “wow” someone because they weren’t expecting to see me deviate from a set line that many photographers create for themselves.
I see a common theme of both fear and horror used within your photography. Is there any reasoning behind this? What draws you to these themes?
These are very striking ideas in photography. I used to have such an obsession with the dark and macabre, some would say I still do. Although I have moved away from the frighteningly grotesque ideas I still think this idea of fear is a great tool in capturing attention. Everyone experiences fear in different ways so it is intrinsically empathetic. A single stream of blood in an image can not only create a strong color variety, but also adds a darker and sinister meaning to the concept behind it. One of my photos, “Everything’s Fine” (see image directly below answer) had me in a constant struggle cause I was unsure weather to keep or remove the stream of blood in the image. I think overall the decision to leave it was the better one, because the image now appears far more striking without being off-putting or gross.
How do you like doing underwater photography? Would you say this is something every photographer has to try once?
Oh absolutely! Water is such and underused medium of expression in photography and it truly needs more time in the spotlight. The movements and shapes you can create in the water are, at least to me, instantly more powerful than the same concept represented on land. You are not contained by gravity, so half the magic of your conceptual art is basically done for you. Don’t get me wrong, underwater photography is by far the toughest form of photography I have experimented with, but its something every photographer needs to do before they die. Every single underwater shoot I’ve done is in my top ten favorite shoots I’ve ever been a part of. It really got me out of my comfort zone and gave way to some of my most popular and interesting concepts.
“The Five Stages of Grief”
Space is another theme I see used in your work quite often. What draws you to this theme? I gotta say, I’ve seen the space theme used quite a lot by different photographers, but your versions are SO well done.
Haha any one of my friends could explain to you my joking hatred for earth. I don’t hate this planet, I just hate that I’m confined to it. I’ve wanted to explore space since I was very little. It’s just so mysterious and inviting! There is so much we don’t know about it, which makes it perfect for artistic experimentation. There is no doubt that space is one of the most popular themes in conceptual photography today, but usually when I see it used the subject and space are separated. Usually space is outside their window or something similar. I try to have my subjects interacting much more intimately with space than others. I think humans and space have this sort of otherworldly connection. It is very easy for me to juxtapose space as a sort of stage for human subjects to exist within. I also have an unhealthy obsession with infinite black backgrounds, so that could be a factor haha.
How has social media helped with the success of your photography?
For me it really hasn’t. I tend to keep my artistic and personal lives pretty separate, for no specific reason. I have a Facebook page for my photography but my sister created it for me. I’m not entirely sure I even have access to it haha. My friends just recently convinced me to join Tumblr and even then I’m still struggling with how that works. I see a lot of other photographers utilizing their Facebook pages to a certain degree of success. I guess I should get better about being involved in social networks. I use twitter and instagram pretty religiously though, so you can always find me on those! (although the stephen on twitter is not the same artistic stephen on flickr, so beware!)
Could we see a before and after of one of your most edited shots?
What is something you wish you were better at?
Black and white. I love colors! They are so eye-catching! I take images with striking colors in mind so when I try to switch it to black and white it basically kills me inside. People think colors are hard to work with because there are so many of them, but for me I think it can guide the viewers attention very easily. With black and white there are only two colors and I never know if the blacks should be darker or the whites lighter. Seriously, watching me edit black and whites will make you cringe. I don’t understand where the balance is. There are like maybe 10 black and white images in my 365 and you can bet they took me hours to decide on contrast and brightness alone.
Also minimalism. I need to practice on having more simplified and meaningful concepts, rather than blockbuster ideas with tons of stuff going on in the frame.
If you could visit anywhere where would you go?
If we are talking today, then I would like to go to Australia. I feel like there are a lot of photographic possibilities for me out there.
If we are talking in time, then definitely feudal Japan. it’s my favorite period of history. My favorite styles of painting and music stem from feudal Japan.
If we are talking in the realm of feasible possibility, then a terrestrial planet in the Andromeda galaxy. I love space. Have I mentioned that?
Where would you like to see yourself and your photography going in the future?
I’ve experimented very briefly with fashion and glamour photography. So far it was one of the more exciting forms of photography I have tried. I would really like to become even more experienced at that. I still have serious considerations about moving to the coast and being a full time underwater photographer. As of right now, once I graduate with my Photojournalism degree I plan on moving out to Portland to test my luck with the artist culture out there. My photography is constantly evolving so it is becoming more and more difficult to nail down a specific vision I have for the future.
Do you have any advice to give to us fellow photographers?
Lighting. I see so many incredible concepts that don’t look entirely real because the lighting is off. It is easy to learn and it will work wonders in making conceptual concepts look realistic. Once you go out to shoot and you have lighting as the first thing you take into consideration then complex concepts will materialize much easier than you would have ever thought.
Also, be different. People say they like my style and I still don’t think I have a “style”. I’m constantly striving to be different artistically then I was yesterday. You will catch way more eyes if you are out there trying to break the confines of your own style. Different isn’t always good, but neither is refusing to experiment. Never be in your comfort zone. I think your best works will always come from trying something new with confidence.
Interviewed By: Angela Butler