Mount Diablo photographer to open gallery
By Lou Fancher
Stephen Joseph, an East Bay photographer celebrated for panoramic images of landscapes -- in particular of Mount Diablo -- is set to open his first gallery, nestled like a pearl in the foothills of the mountain that has served as his inspiration.
The 800-square-foot gallery, located within Summit Ranch Equine Center in Alamo and built with a 20-foot glass wall that stretches equally wide and affords a dramatic, sweeping view of a grass-covered hillside, will feature the work of Joseph, 63, who has produced six books, including the 266-page "Mount Diablo: The Extraordinary Life and Landscapes of a California Treasure."
One of Stephen Joseph's photographs show Castle Rock on Mount Diablo. ( Stephen Joseph )
"I've made my living selling Mount Diablo work, primarily," says the Pleasant Hill-based artist. "I started hiking it regularly in the 1980s. Some places, I've seen hundreds of times. I never tire of its rolling hills, rock formations, creeks, Black Pond, it's oak, bay and buckeye trees and weather systems. It's a microcosm of California."
Bob Marx, co-owner of Summit Ranch with his wife, Joan Marx, and a board member of the nonprofit Save Mount Diablo and partner in the gallery, says Joseph has been a friend for 28 years, ever since they met on Mount Diablo.
"I own about 60 of his images. I'm a fan. Look at the view: we're at the base of Mount Diablo. I can't think of a better place for the gallery," Bob Marx said.
Joseph said his home studio has become too small for displaying his work. "It's two 120-square-foot rooms. My images are too big. Here, I can have 50 prints, from 20-by-30-inch to up to 14-foot prints," he said.
Joseph shoots most often with a Nikon D800. For the panoramas, he stitches together eight 36-megapixel shots that add up to a 400 MB file for one photograph. He owns a wide-format, 64-inch pigment printer that renders the highest quality possible.
"I want to walk right up to a photo and have it look great: no pixelation."
Like all artists, he can visualize, a skill he uses to frame in rectangles the wayward chaos that he admires most in nature. Outlining the art that will be on display, he describes 8-foot verticals, tree portraits, 10-foot panoramas, and a massive, 5-by-14-foot overhead light box that will illuminate one of his images like a marquis.
"We'll have that glowing 24 hours a day, like a night light," says Marx.
Joseph earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in photography and printmaking from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now California College of the Arts). His experience as a teacher and connections to local educators may lead to workshops, master classes, guided hiking/photography outings, fundraisers to support open space preservation and other details still being decided. A mix of regular hours and viewing-by-appointment are likely.
"The nice thing is that I'm the artist, printer, installer, curator. I get to be involved in everything. I can do what I want to do," he said.
Joseph plans to have Sundays be his "gallery day," when he'll hang out in a lounge chair and talk to visitors while working on his laptop.
"One day on the mountain results in eight days on the computer," he says. "I'll have plenty to do."
Social media and a new website will keep customers informed and be the means by which to buy artwork. Prices range from $500 for the smallest 20-by-30-inch canvas prints, to $5,000 for large 48-by-96-inch pieces.
Summit Ranch offers an extensive youth apprentice program, a feature Joseph values. During a preopening visit to the gallery, more than a dozen children passed the gallery door as they led their horses to the ranch's private entry to Mount Diablo trails. Like the 13-year-old Joseph who wandered into his father's darkroom and was "hooked" when he saw his "dad mixing chemicals that were cool and dangerous," a budding photographer might be drawn into the gallery.
Or Joseph's images of lush green or golden grasses darkened to rich purple by the shadow of a cottony cloud or etched with the crinkly, dark branches of ancient oaks, might cause an adult equestrian to support open space preservation.
"It's endless what might happen," says Joseph. "I can create art from the landscape, and then people can use my art to preserve open spaces,'' he said. "It's the best of everything."