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, hes been intrigued by how ones perception is changed by the
processes that translate subject matter to the viewer.
Theres 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 Ballances 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.
Theres something that happens in the transfer process, he explains. I
cant 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 .
Im not that interested in marketing my art, Im much more interested in
making it, he says. Frankly, its much more fun to make it than sell it.
My audience is a small audience.
Ballances 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 didnt 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 NMCs 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 programs
Professor Emeritus, though he officially retired from NMC 11 years ago. As
a professor, Balance mainly taught classes in design and digital
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 Polaroid-compatible 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. Ive always been interested in the tools that are used to create
images and art, explains Ballance. Whether they are cameras, scanners or
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 hes 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 viewers perceptions and ask What
exactly is photography?