Why I Call Stefan Hagen When I Finish a Painting

Photo by Stefan Hagen

When I finish a painting a portrait the first person I call is Stefan.

Stefan Hagen is an amazingly talented photographer. I depend on him to capture the closest possible experience of the painting. The digital image is how I share my work with galleries and clients.

He has the discerning eye of an artist as he evaluates the image on the computer. Does the yellow on the chair punch sharply against the smokiness of the blue in the background? Does the image translate the flesh tones the way the painting does?

He can see these subtle relationships in the art that make it more closely resemble the real thing. His eye experiences the same level of discernment. The photo above is of a young woman I painted recently.

Sometimes Stefan will cart over his lights and equipment and set it up in my studio. We’ll open a bottle of wine and have a glass. He’ll tell me a story about how he took the ferry back and forth across the East River with the shutter open. He laughs in his characteristic mischievous tone and smiles broadly. With a Schwarzenegger accent, he declares: “Of course they think I’m crazy.”

He runs a small gallery in Brooklyn that hosts a soup kitchen. He splits his time between his own art and a demanding schedule as a photographer for million-dollar collectibles. He is paid well to deliver the image that entices customers to pay millions for the works on offer.

Othertimes, I load my paintings into an Uber and head over the Stefan’s studio. His equipment is theatrical, towering tripods , lights, and cameras that remind you of a Hollywood set.

In the age of iPhone cameras people can be forgiven for thinking its not a big deal to take picture of a piece of art. But it is. And that becomes clear from both the elaborate care he puts into setting up and the end result.

Stefan has had shows of his own in cities from Munich to New York, pioneering a technique in which he leaves the aperture open for extended periods in an effort to capture the sense of movement and change.

One of the series I love is called Crossings. He drove from New York to San Francisco leaving open the aperture for eight days in an effort to capture the sense of the vastness of the American highway and the promise of the West.

photo Stefan Hagen

In an essay about Crossings art critic Yasmeen M. Siddiqui said: “The landscape is blurred, asserting this frontier as allusive, an impossible possible place, a utopia.”

Stefan describes his process this way: “For the past years I have worked on capturing the remembrance of a journey (or a walk at a specific location) photographically. To achieve this I have exposed the negatives for the entire duration of various journeys.”

“Each photograph from these journeys, as a result, creates an image that contains all time and place experienced during the travel using the unique ability of the photographic process to collect light. What we remember of a trip or a location is often only a very few details, but the memory usually always contains a very distinct feeling of the light and the shapes which were surrounding us.”

Another evocative piece Stefan did was of Walden Pond. Each photograph was exposed over a complete walk along the shore.

Photo by Stefan Hagen

The photographs are haunting and evocative, but also fun. They underscore Stefan’s search for meaning in art. I’m thrilled to be able to work with him and look forward to calling him each time I finish a piece.

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