Steve Ballance uses scanners, instant film & digital technology to transform photography
Steve Ballance says his interest in photographic processes is comparable to the ancient practice of alchemy where the wizard attempted to turn base metals into gold.
For decades, he’s been intrigued by how one’s perception is changed by the processes that translate subject matter to the viewer.
“There’s a lot of conceptualization in my work,” says Ballance, whose impressive portfolio is dominated by still life cornerstones of flowers and female nudes who are often adorned in elaborate paper-mache masks. Much of it is based on classical myths of the Greeks and Romans.
“I just want them (viewers) to look at it and decide if they find it interesting. I use the masks to get people to not personalize the image.”
Much of Ballance’s works involve a process known as Polaroid Transfer, in which the image is photographed on Polaroid film. It is then peeled apart before it can completely develop and the part containing the dyes is pressed onto dampened watercolor paper. Ballance then scans them into a computer and has them printed on an inkjet printer.
“There’s something that happens in the transfer process,” he explains. “I can’t predict what happens, but I like the way it comes out.”
‘MORE FUN TO MAKE’
His work can be seen at the Artist Design Network in Traverse City and online at the Gallery 50 website www.galleryfifty.com .
“I’m not that interested in marketing my art, I’m much more interested in making it,” he says. “Frankly, it’s much more fun to make it than sell it. My audience is a small audience.”
Ballance’s parents moved the family to Traverse City when he was a three-year-old. He attended TC schools before heading to Michigan State University where he majored in psychology.
“I didn’t study art, but my girlfriend was an artist, so I was always around art,” he recalls. “When I graduated, I took my graduation money and bought a camera. A co-worker taught me some camera techniques and then I went to Chicago where I learned how to use a darkroom.”
After suffering a back injury in 1973, Ballance returned to Traverse City and began hanging out at NMC’s burgeoning art department. “The most interesting people were in the art department,” he laughs. “So I taught a photo class there and have been there ever since.”
That relationship continues to this day.
Ballance is the program’s Professor Emeritus, though he officially retired from NMC 11 years ago. As a professor, Balance mainly taught classes in design and digital photography.
CONSERVING AS RESOURCE
When asked about other artists whose work he admires, he quickly rattles off the names of NMC colleagues, including printmaker Doug Domine, potter Mike Torre and photographer Sheila Stafford.
While a handful of artists like Ballance continue to create images with Polaroid, or Instant film, it has been supplanted for general use by digital photography. Consequently, in 2008 Polaroid halted production of its instant film.
Now only two companies continue to manufacture instant film – Fuji and The Impossible Project, a group of people who took control of the old Polaroid manufacturing equipment to continue making Polaroidcompatible film after falling in love with the works of artist Stephanie Schneider.
“I bought up a bunch of Polaroid film and I still have 15 or 20 boxes in my refrigerator,” says Ballance, who has also been tinkering with developing images without the use of a camera, directly scanning objects on a flatbed scanner.
Several of his floral works featuring vibrant tulips display brilliant colors and richness achieved by directly scanning them on the flatbed surface. “I’ve always been interested in the tools that are used to create images and art,” explains Ballance. “Whether they are cameras, scanners or computers.”
In his ongoing search for new artistic endeavors, Ballance recently attended a workshop on photopolymer gravure, a process for producing etchings from digital images. Some feel that these etchings rival the quality of traditional copper plate photogravure, while others find that the lack of differential depth in the polymer coating compromises quality.
Currently he’s focusing on building a studio to house his projects. But Ballance continues to push the boundaries of image making by examining creative ways to link-up a digital camera and a scanner together to make innovative images that challenge viewer’s perceptions and ask “What exactly is photography?”