Space To Create

“An artist’s studio is the soul of their creative process. In a physical space of their own formation, artists experience the breadth of emotional, intellectual and creative freedom. They shape the space, and the space shapes them.

I recently had the privilege of photographing five talented and diverse Bend-based artists in their studios. Here’s what I discovered: artists have a lot of stuff, and they like to move it around. Objects are collected from nature, salvage yards, dismantled toys. The artists mix glazes, paints, and inks. They hammer, glue, and sand. Power tools create sparks, hand tools carve into clay and wood. They are deliberate and delicate, sometimes. Other times, they smash and destroy things. They play, they work. In the end, things of beauty emerge. But the process and the space, can be messy and unpredictable.

Follow me and delve into the eclectic, sacred world of five local artists’ work spaces.”

Excerpt from the the current winter issue of Cascade Journal ( ), and feature article “Space To Create”.
Photographed and written by Carol Sternkopf.

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Pick up your copy today and read the full spread!

The Muse

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“Taking Off”

I was invited to create a piece for the fabulous Muse Conference that happens here in Bend, Oregon every year. I did this piece last spring, and now it stares at me every day in my work space. At 30 by 40 inches, it is quite a presence in my peripheral vision!  Wanting to create something outside the more literal way I usually work, I began playing around with photo layers. It seems that the stars really have to line up for it to all work. It’s an odd combination of instinct, and rolling the dice.

I am enormously interested in creating images that beg to tell a story, and I know this can only happen for the viewer if they feel moved enough to fill in the narrative. So, it’s important to move people! As a photographer, I’m susceptible to human emotion playing itself out. Scenarios or a singular facial expression always make me wonder what the larger story is, or better yet – what it could be?

My daughter Ana was the model for this piece.  Like many artists, I’m inspired by love. Ana is a true gift to me. Her entire being is compelling to me as an artist as well as her adoring parent. She has always allowed me to use her authentic presence in my art, which I think is big of her! Imagery I have created of her has always held the story of her deep and gracious soul. If that isn’t a true muse, what is?

Behind The Chutes


I’m hardly a cowgirl, But I almooooooost feel like one after shooting local rodeos here in Central Oregon for the last two years.

I was granted “back-stage” access to the rodeo a few years ago through a magazine assignment to photograph our beautiful county rodeo queen. This fascinating aspect of American culture grabbed my attention in a big way. The strong family traditions, athleticism, danger, style, hard work, and love and care for ranch animals are all attributes I have come to associate with the rodeo community, and seem to be calling to me long summer days, after long summer days , for a few years now.

For me, developing a body of work on this scale is simultaneously developing respect for a subject. And In this case, mine is for the extremely hardy competitors of the western rodeo world.

Happy Trails, and see you again next summer where I will be continuing my “Behind The Chutes” photo essay.




Just Us Chickens


When I was in third grade my teacher Mrs. Schulz asked me to stay after class one afternoon to tell me how much she liked some stories I had written about Charlie, my families’ golden retriever. I was thrilled that she pulled me aside to tell me this – mainly because she was my favorite teacher of my entire life up to that point, but even more so to hear that she happen to be giving a prize to the “best-golden-retriever-story-writer” that year and that that I had won! What were the chances?! Apparently math was not my subject.

This was rural southern Wisconsin and Mrs. Shultz lived on a farm two miles from our tiny grade school. I had a pretty good idea that the prize was going to be something alive, and furry. Imagine any child’s delight to be able to choose two baby bunnies from a hay filled box and take them home as their new pets.

The genuine love and responsibility that comes with raising animals, for children, has always been an instinctual “artist-subject” fit for me. Years ago I did a photo essay about local 4-H kids in the rural ranch areas of Central Oregon. I was invited to photograph in half-lit barns with a variety of pens occupied by rabbits, chickens, goats, pigs, and a steer or two. Kids who have animal kinds-of-chores to do after school and on weekends tend to be extremely cheerful, loving, patient, and extremely hardy. These seem like great traits for just about anyone, and lucky are those who get the chance to experience and exhibit them at an early age through caring for animals.

These days, if I’m on any photo shoot involving children I always ask, “Do you happen have any pets that are dying to be photographed?” If they do, the energy and joy that resonates in the resulting photographs never disappointments me, an art editor, nor a client. I always always know it’s going to be a great image. I know it in my ‘rural’ bones.

Thinking back, I cannot recall if I wrote any more stories about Charlie that third grade year or if my subject matter switched to stories of Ralf and George – two “prize” rabbits if there ever were any.




Come As You Are [creating an authentic portrait under-cover!]

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If you haven’t seen the movie American Hustle yet – go now. Stop reading this blog and get in line at your nearest theater. You can read this later.

But if you’ve already seen it, I hope you were as equally blown away as I was by the depth of these characters, beneath their 70’s clothing, hyper coiffed hair, intimidating sunglasses, and occasional fake accents. Without giving away the story [I promise I wont!] there is a scene in which the character played by the brilliant actress Amy Adams makes a strong argument to a  critical FBI agent that we all use some kind of ‘cover’ in life, and it’s not such a bad thing. In fact in her particular case it was a survival mechanism as well as opened up a few opportunities she may not have normally had – including love.

[OK, I promise my lips are sealed about this film for the rest of this blog! And I hope you have at least gone on to Fandango by now to buy tickets.]

I recently had another under-cover experience in my world of portrait photography with a wonderfully bright and fashion conscious 13 year old girl, Betsy, who I’ve known for a very long time. I was not too surprised when her mother called to schedule a photo shoot with me, and asked me what I thought about Betsy wanting [more like insisting] on wearing a much loved and worn Harry Potter costume she has owned for many years. She is, and always has been  CRAZY about anything Harry Potter – smart girl that she is. That fantastic story resonated with Betsy’s childhood years so profoundly that she seizes every opportunity to don her signature replica H.P. quidditch cape. [And if you don’t know what quidditch is, stop reading this blog right now, and  go to your nearest library….wait, never mind!] My point is, what better opportunity than having a portrait taken  for Betsy to pull out the cape. In a way, it’s her “cover.” And more importantly, it is her wise and authentic self demanding to be documented. What a great opportunity she saw.

My response was, “Of course I think she should wear it. Every day if possible. But seriously, yes, definitely tell her to bring all her Harry Potter ‘gear’ and any extra stuff I might want to wear!”

Ahhhh, if only all photo shoots could play out out so well. As a picky portrait photographer, my biggest desire is to capture something deep and real about a person. This week, Betsy, along with Amy Adams have taught me that a clever “cover” may not only be the ticket to the kind of honest portraiture I love to create – it seems fairly essential when involved in an FBI sting operation.

Darn’t, I’m trying not to give that plot away! Well, hopefully you have driven to the theater by now and are already in line.

Behind the Curtain


If you took me to a magic show, I would believe everything I see to be the honest-to-god truth. I would never suspect the guy who is randomly chosen out of the audience and quickly hypnotized on stage to be a plant, and that he’s “acting” as though he’s falling down drunk or speaking in a foreign language. These things would not cross my mind. And after the magician wakes him out of his unconscious state with a well rehearsed snap of the fingers, the guy swears he has never before spoken Hebrew in his lifetime. And if you don’t believe him,  ask his wife sitting in the audience – he’d never even left the Iowa state boarder! I would applaud for a bit too long after the show and assume the hypnotist was some kind of genius.

So, when my computer broke down last week and my excitable IT husband dismantled it within an hour, spreading hundreds of tiny electronic parts across the dining room table, it came to no one’s surprise that I was not the least bit interested in the details of how it was all going to be put back together. I was completely confident in the magician at hand. Gregg would somehow wave a bright colored handkerchief over the heap of metal pieces, a sudden cloud of smoke would blind us all for a few minutes, and we might even catch a white rabbit hopping across the kitchen floor just within peripheral vision. And presto, the computer would be fixed and in one piece again!

In reality, it took a week. No smoke. No bunnies. I overheard countless phone calls to Best Buy Geek Squads, and devoted Mac store employees. Terms like adding terabytes and replacing memory boards were discussed. Hard sells were attempted, and outright laughter at trying to fix a “relic” could be heard through the receiver. In more hushed tones, I overheard the phrase “could be the motherboard” – followed by a long pause. I sensed this is something that  should never again be mentioned, even with immediate family members.

But finally, my husband did in fact work some magic. And if you didn’t witness the week long process involved with the repair and simply popped over once it was all put back together again and working faster than ever, well….you might just think Gregg is a magician. Because you didn’t see the process ‘behind the curtain.’  You saw the finished result of someone who is highly trained and, as stated earlier, someone who gets very excited about broken stuff.

As I most gratefully sit down to edit some photos tonight, I think for a second, “Did Gregg just say goodnight wearing a black cape?”

I rub my eyes and don’t doubt any of it.