Briefly describe the work you do.
Whether it be a classic Hitchcock mystery or a contemporary daytime soap opera, the dramatic interplay between characters in a make-believe world has strongly influenced my work as an artist. As a photographer, my intent is for viewers to see my images as a series of dramatic vignettes unfolding before their eyes. Through these photographs, the viewer is able to get a glimpse into various “scenes” of my life – sometimes semi-autobiographical – sometimes “dislocated” stories from those in my life at the time. I see myself as a “visual storyteller” dealing with the underlying themes of love, relationships, loss, and hope. Through the combination of the visual image and text, it is as if I am taking my viewer on a my journey – not only the physical, but the emotional, and spiritual aspects as well. In images where there are two men, I have purposely left out the sexual aspect of the interaction – although there may be a desire implied – in order to focus on the other aspects of the connection. The nature of relationships is universal.
My initial series, “Between Heaven and Hell”, incorporated text over the photograph. The text, was not meant to be a literal interpretation of the scene, rather I wanted to give the image a sometimes-ironic twist, allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions about the action observed. My selections of photographs depict the photographic portrait and the spaces (environment) in which they occur. I strive to communicate how the figure relates and perhaps changes in direct relation to the space in which the figure (portrait) exists, as often times the setting in which a portrait is made tells us more than we might imagine. I strongly believe that in addition to the “text” that accompanies the photograph, the essence of an environment can add mystery to an image or answer questions about the person being photographed.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As a child growing up in a small suburban area outside Schenectady, NY, I have always had love for going to the movies and watching television – not to mention books. I was reading by the age of four and was always fascinated by the moving image that was housed in the wooden box in the living room. I also always loved to draw and paint. Fast-forward to preparing for college, I was unsure at the time with how I could combine all of the things I was passionate about into a career. So, I decided to follow my heart and pursue what I loved the most – creating art.
My early work began as a series of black and white sumi ink paintings that were inspired by film stills from my vast collection of videos from the 30’s and 40’s. As time went on, I continued to be fascinated with the framing of the shots of the films I would watch, yet wanted my work to have a more personal connection to what was happening on the other side of the screen. Around the same time, I got a position as an art educator at a local high school, where one of the courses I was asked to teach was Photography. It was then I realized the power of the medium, and replaced my paintbrush with a camera.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio is just a room in my house where my books, camera equipment, and 27″ iMac computer are located. It is there where the planning of the shots and editing occurs. I consider the various places / locations where I create my photographs to be my “studio”. Part of the enjoyment is finding the right location for the particular scene.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Back in 2006, when I showed my body of work to a number of gallery directors in New York at a portfolio review, I was told that although my work was engaging, it was probably only going to appeal to a niche audience. Although somewhat discouraged, I still continued to create my dramatic vignettes that reflected what was going on during my life at that particular time. As time went on and my work became more authentic, I began to have my work accepted into a variety of juried shows, both locally and nationally. I realized that viewers were able to look beyond the fact that the work explored the themes of a gay relationships and instead related to the experiences that are inherent in all relationships.
Another challenge I experienced when I first began exhibiting my work was from individuals who had a problem with the text being superimposed on the photograph In fact, there were some viewers who dismissed the work because of the text and others who couldn’t understand why I was using “courier” as my font. I purposely chose “courier” for the text, because I wanted it to seem as if it had been typed on an old ‘40s typewriter; similar to how scripts are created. There are instances when I felt that the inclusion of text within the photographic frame gave my work an unique experience for many people. Viewers would “read” both the text and the photograph and want to know what the “story” was really about. I always meant for my work to be open to interpretation; allowing for each viewer to bring their own prior experiences to the viewing on my work. I like people to come away from viewing my work by making connections with the various personal relationships in their own lives.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or doyou just work whenever you can?
My work schedule as a fine art photographer revolves around my work schedule as a media arts educator as well as the schedule of my various “actors”. Currently, when I do schedule a shoot, it it usually an all day affair starting by mid-morning and ending around dinner time with celebratory meal with my actor. Then it’s home to my computer where I’ll upload several hundred of my digital files to select the best four or five shots to edit for the series. If I’m lucky, I’ll be in bed by 4 AM.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
With the creation (and construction) of the series, A Solitary Man, I found I no longer wanted to be in front of the camera. After considering a few individuals to be the main character, I asked my friend and fellow photographer Tim if he would be interested in being the subject of my latest series. He agreed and now I couldn’t see anyone else in the role. It was through Tim that I met James – who would be a guest star in A Solitary Man and later the subject of my current series, The Book of James. I also decided to use “artifacts” – whether it be a handwritten letter, an e-mail, or a page from a journal instead of superimposing text onto the photograph. The work is displayed as a framed photograph juxtaposed with a framed piece of writing.
Also, my need to always incorporate “text” into my photographs has diminished with my latest series, The Book of James. I still have a strong desire to be a visual storyteller, but for some reason the beginning of this particular set of photographs were not enhanced by the inclusion of text. When using text with the photographic image, the challenge was always that neither the photograph or the words could be stronger than the other.
I am still a visual storyteller, but have chosen a variety of ways of being true to myself and give my viewers a small personal glimpse into my real and imaginary worlds. Art can (and should) imitate life.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
One of the challenges I had to deal with in moving from being a painter to a photographer was finding “actors” to be a part of my personal narratives. I finally decided to use myself as the “lead actor” in my initial series (and the two that followed) as well as my partners (at the time the particular series was being shot) and a few close friends. I thought that having some of the individuals who portray the characters in my semi-autobiographical series play themselves might work. I have always felt that chemistry experienced in reality would transcend the medium of photography. Initially I would set up the scene without the individuals knowing exactly what the concept was for that particular scene. They also had no idea what text would accompany the photograph.
The one exception was the series, Until Soon. Until Soon was inspired by a conversation I had over a short period of time with my friend, David. David and I met by chance one Sunday winter evening. There was an “energy'” between us that led to a conversation. During the conversation, we realized we had a number of very similar situations in common. The main difference was that the situations that we had in common had occurred over ten years apart. For me, it was like traveling back in time. Reliving a part of my journey with this stranger who coincidentally reminded me of a good friend who was with me on that journey ten years earlier almost to the day. In fact the title, Until Soon, came from the closing of an e-mail David had written me.
This was also the first time I considered presenting my work as diptychs, which are best described as a series of dramatic segments that depict the interaction (and communication) of the two main characters. In this series, the text is actually handwritten by the individual characters allowing the viewers to hear their “inner voices.” The text is a combination of actual dialogue that had occurred between David and myself, as well as notes/ phrases I had written in my journal. This combination of text and visual imagery is designed to help the viewer come to their own conclusions about the action observed. It is purposely left unclear as to which text is being “spoken” by which character.
Master photographer Duane Michals and his work have played a major influence in my work as an artist. I had the great pleasure and honor to spend five days with Duane at a workshop in Maine during the summer of 2007. After sharing and discussing my series, Between Heaven and Hell with Mr. Michals, he suggested I reduce the original photos’ size down from 16″ x 24″ to 5″ x 7″ , to give the viewer a more intimate experience – especially given the subject matter. His work continues to excite and influence me today.
I also am inspired by the work of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jesper Just, and Karl Erik Brondbo who all have a cinematic look to their work.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
At the moment, I feel I am living the best of both worlds, being a fine art photographer as well as teaching photography to a group of inspiring, creative, and engaging students. Each “vocation” complements the other. If I was to have a dream job, it would probably be a film director. No surprise there. In fact with my latest series, I have a desire for my photographs to have a cinematographic feel to them in contrast to the film noir look I desired with my first series.
Stephen Honicki plays out his “dramas” in the Albany (Capital District Region) of NY. In addition to staging and documenting his personal vignettes and narratives as part of his various dramatic series, he is also a media arts educator at Niskayuna High School where he teaches Photography and Video. Honicki received his BA in Fine Art from the University of NY at Albany and his MS in Art Education from the College of Saint Rose.
Photographs from his various series have been exhibited as part of the Annual Photography Regionals of the Capital District at the Albany Center Gallery, Opalka Gallery, and Fulton Street Gallery. In addition, Honicki has had work selected for three consecutive years (2008-2010) to be part of the Exhibition by Artists Of The Mohawk-Hudson Region held at the Albany Institute of History & Art, the University Art Museum at SUNYA ,and the Hyde Museum respectively. Extensive selections of photographs from the series were showcased at the 62nd Exhibition of Central New York Artists at Munson Williams Pratt Arts Institute in Utica. He has also had work selected to be part of the Paducah International Photo Exhibits.
His work has been published in MASCULAR magazine, NEXT Magazine, Self-Searching: The Art of the Self-Portraiture, as well as the art and literary publication, Love + Lust: Open to Interpretation.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.