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(Image: Stephen Zapantis)

Artist of the Week: Stephen Zapantis

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating, and what kind of mediums do you work with?
Stephen Zapantis: I am a photographer working predominantly in black and white film and, more recently, in the digital process. When I was a kid, I was captivated by the polaroid process in the 1970s. My uncle gave me an old 35mm camera when I was 14 years old, and it changed my trajectory. I started taking pictures and worked on the school newspapers giving me the lifeline I needed to make it through high school. I attended the University of Miami in the communications department concentrating on documentary photography and film. I then transferred to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, graduating with a BFA in Photography.

New York in the 1980s was a magical and transformative time for me in the city and where I honed my technique and mastered the medium of analog photography. It was my time to come of age and when I began to make photographs for myself. It was also a time that juxtaposed the times of greed, conservative politics, and the AIDS crisis with new music, art, and pop-culture objecting to the current climate. It provided a unique and important time in history for so many artists to express their collective discontent — myself included.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
Photographing people, creatures, objects and scenes with the intent to visually communicate a small but significant emotion or gesture is paramount to my work. I rely on available light to emphasize these moments. Following the parameters of straight photography, adhering to the principles of printing full-frame and avoiding major manipulation in the development process is a discipline I embraced from very early on. My images are usually made on the streets, public places and in nature by responding to something I want to share. I am mesmerized by how black & white film responds to the exposure of natural light, and I am learning how to achieve similar effects with the digital process.

When working with film, after making the image comes development of the negatives and then returning back to a positive print. For me, this part of the silver gelatin process is as intriguing. We are fortunate in Seattle to have the Photographic Center Northwest, a wonderful teaching institution that also allows supporting members to rent darkroom space. When the pandemic is under control, I very much look forward to being able to return.

Luckily, with digital photography, the process of using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are as important. This process is less messy, more streamline, and less time-consuming and can be achieved sitting at the kitchen table. Although it is not my first love, I am fond of it as well.

That being said does not mean all of my art is void of color. Embracing the technical phenomena of digital photography, treating it as an extremely different medium, I also create color photographs, digital abstracts and photo-collage images that express my own personal thoughts and emotions. By doing so, it allows me to create freely using the best attributes of both the analogue and digital processes. This approach in my work enables me to both observe and react to the world I inhabit and my own subconscious.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from.
I love photographing nature; however, for me, it is what I see in nature as it relates to the moment or gesture and its relationship to light and space that I want to bring attention to in my photographs. The process is the same for all subject matter, whether human, animal, element or place.

Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
I take a camera most everywhere I go and also plan specific shooting locations. Light is such an important element in photography, and because I rely on natural light, you have to take advantage of gorgeous light when it is present.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
Yes, I do, the next photograph I am about to make. I like all of my images as I always know what the stimulus was to create it. The question for me then becomes, does it translate the emotion, gesture or moment I intended to share.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
The experience of life itself, how we receive, react and process information that comes our way. Art allows us another form of communication to express feelings and emotions apart from the norms of socialization.

Teaching the craft that I so adore is also an important component to my existence as an artist. I realized this when I was teaching at the University of Richmond in Virginia during the 1990s, and with private instruction since then.

Articulating about the process and aesthetics of photography allows me to share my knowledge acquired from my education and work experience. Moreover, it enhances my own learning process as was imprinted on me by my mother, a lifelong educator, who explained that learning is a relationship that passes information and knowledge back and forth between the teacher and the student. It bares the gift of being part of a circle that fosters acceptance and understanding toward everyone.

If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
You can visit my website and follow me on Instagram. I am currently looking for gallery representation and always submitting for exhibitions.

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about
During the pandemic, I have also taken more notice around the home. This spring, a family of raccoons arrived in my backyard. A mother and four juveniles appeared, and after the mother realized it was a safe spot, she would leave the little rascals and go to forage for food. As they matured, their mother disappeared, and the siblings have stuck together and visit every so often. They are quite theatrical and have provided an enormous amount of pleasure and are extremely photogenic.

I also have been working on making photographs about food consumption and the whole farm to table aspect: the people, places, animals and plants that are involved and their relationship to each other.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
Double espresso, please.