Tag Archives: photography

May/June 2018 About the Cover

May 11, 2018 by

Last summer in the far northwest corner of Nebraska, an Omaha-based photographer (who goes by the handle @ONElapse on Instagram and Facebook) set out to capture a timelapse of sunset. This issue’s cover image was taken from the timelapse, which spanned several hours. It was windy and raining lightly, but no sign of inclement weather can be seen in this frame. Look for the photographer, accompanied by his dog, setting up another camera along the ridge in the vicinity of Fort Robinson.


2018 May/June Instagram

Here are the nine images featured in our May/June issue. Include the hashtag #OmahaMagazine with your Instagram photos to be featured in the next issue of Omaha Magazine.

Follow Omaha Magazine on social media via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Find us at @omahamagazine.


 

35 Years Of Omaha Magazine Covers

March 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Omaha Magazine publisher Todd Lemke fondly remembers several magazine covers from his 35 years in the local magazine business. But he is particularly fond of the November/December 1993 issue—a poster of which hangs on his office wall. The cover features a beautiful model wearing a Russian fur hat and coat. The lead story? “Revelations on Russia.”

Here’s the behind-the-scenes scoop: Lemke and the author of the cover story, Sandy Stahlstein, had traveled to Russia over the summer. While abroad in the land of “czars, caviar, and communism,” Lemke had proposed to the writer. And she said, “Yes.”

For many years, covers of Omaha Magazine featured one person’s portrait. Often it was someone whom the public could easily identify and read about in the magazine’s inside pages. Five years ago, the 30th anniversary issue changed that idea like a light bulb popping over Lemke’s head.

“I was talked into being the cover subject by Bill Sitzmann, who told me that readers want to know the faces behind the names in business, and that includes our business,” Lemke says.

That was one of the first conceptual covers of Omaha Magazine. Lemke liked the idea so much, he and the creative team began creating unique covers for subsequent publications. 

As lead photographer, Sitzmann saw concept covers as a way to stand out from the crowd, also noting that his skill set suited him to the work. The covers have won awards, inspired and intrigued the viewer, and brought an unparalleled feel to the publication.

“The cover that has won the most awards was the black-on-black cover with the spot gloss on it,” Lemke says of 2014’s Best of Omaha issue. The spot gloss varnish meant that while nearly the entire cover was black, there were words on the cover that were glossy while the majority of the cover was matte. “You had to move the cover around under a light source to see the words, but the cover really engaged the reader.”

Conceptual covers also enable Omaha Magazine to feature Omaha stars in uncommon ways. One of Sitzmann’s favorite covers is the July/August 2014 issue featuring Chuck Hagel.

“I got that done in two days,” Sitzmann says. “I flew to New York and drove straight to D.C. with all my gear. I shot at the Pentagon, spent the night at a friend’s house in New York, and flew back to Omaha the next day.”

He also enjoyed shooting the July/August 2015 cover with Keystone Pipeline activist Jane Kleeb holding a black snake and covered in chocolate syrup to emulate oil.

“She was all in,” Sitzmann says. “I gave her the snake idea, and she went for it.”

Other favorite conceptual covers include Mayor Jean Stothert on the September/October 2013 issue featuring the headline “Leading in a Man’s World” (with her head Photoshopped above a man’s hairy arms) and the September/October 2017 issue’s double cover on indigenous language revitalization (tribal elders translated text into the Omaha, or Umoⁿhoⁿ, language for the front with equivalent English text on the inside).

Bringing together these covers involves strategic meetings of the minds of everyone on the creative and editorial team.

“I am proud that each cover is a team approach between edit, photography, and graphics as to the selection and the composition of the design,” Lemke says. “Not everyone agrees all the time, but we are able to respect one another’s opinions, and I think most people walk away from the table saying, ‘Yes, that will work.’”

See the magazine’s current staff at http://omahamagazine.com/articles/35-years-on-staff/

Read Omaha Magazine at omahamagazine.com. Subscribe to support community journalism. 

November/December 1993

March/April 2013

September/October 2013

Best of Omaha, 2014

July/August 2014

July/August 2015

September/October 2016

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Skater Slant

November 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With his hair pulled back into a ponytail, a cigarette behind his ear, and a tattoo of his own design edging from the sleeve of his T-shirt, the up-and-coming videographer is measuring his rapid success carefully. Twenty-year-old Dax Sukstorf offers boyish smiles sparingly, but he’s quick with a kind word.

The 2015 Omaha North High grad knew from a young age his future lie in visual media. From polaroids up to his current Nikon D5300, Sukstorf has always had a camera in his hands. He got his start working with his mother’s photography business, helping to shoot and edit for weddings. “It was nice, but it’s just not really my kind of thing,” he says. Still in high school, he found the process of shooting and editing “nice” photos pleasant, but unfulfilling. “Taking photos of something is cool,” he says, “but I want to make a photo.” He resolved to take the risk of starting his own business, where he could push the limits of photography and challenge himself creatively.

While friends were changing their majors every semester or resigning to career fields they had no passion for, Sukstorf was methodically building his company. He experienced house parties through a camera lens, experimenting with different shooting techniques and networking with the local musicians who would become his client base.

A young man on a mission, it wasn’t long before the photographer uncovered a uniquely raw and irresistible creative voice. Perhaps influenced by the polaroids of childhood friends on their skateboards, Sukstorf finds himself adamantly against reliance on digital editing tools in his work. “I would rather take a photo and work on it for a very long time, you know, not use Photoshop,” he says, “but use the camera to take the photo and print it, and sell it as what it is: art.”

And his photos are art—not the Instagrammable portraits or cityscapes many 21st century photographers are producing. Sukstorf’s photos have a texture to them.

Subjects—usually local rappers—appear to move in the still images. Lighting, which Sukstorf refers to as “the most important thing always,” takes on an almost tangible form in the foreground of many photos.

Sukstorf has owned several cameras in his career, but his weapon of choice in creating art is an old Canon 30D with an external flash. He maneuvers the clunky camera expertly, aiming to capture the essence of an entire moment. By strategically leaving the shutter open for an extra couple of seconds at the perfect time, the decade-old equipment produces photos that appear “burned” instead of a static image that appears “frozen.” Sukstorf says of his method, “It’s like a video and a picture.”

After endless experimentation with photography, the transition into videography seemed only natural. “I definitely just learned photos as a base,” he says, “but videos are definitely the main interest.” After only one year of shooting and networking, he landed his first visual media contract with local rap group R0ach. Once the photos and videos of the rappers in action were
posted, the “Dax Visuals” video brand exploded from there. His ever-expanding client list is essentially a roll call of local hip hop artists, including work with $wipes, PB, Big Tate, and Absolut-P’s Movie House Radio project on
101.3 FM.

The immediate spike in demand for video work can be attributed to a uniquely slow and diligent editing process. A distinctive texture similar to his photography is present in Sukstorf’s music videos, making them unmistakably his own. Images fade and movement and light are intricately manipulated to create a hazy, mesmerizing effect. The artist is understandably hesitant to reveal too much about his process or estimate the amount of work that goes into a video, but he offers this breakdown of his craft: “There’s 25 pictures in every second of video. And each flicker that you see in my music videos…each little flash you see, it takes at least five seconds to do that effect. And there’s 25 of those little pictures in each second.” For one of his most recent works, “Adi Boyz,” (created for R0ach rapper Cheechy), that’s about 3,725 frames in the 2 1/2-minute video. “It can take me five to 15 minutes, even 30 minutes, on that one frame.” A hand-drawn video component that lasts three seconds amounts to 75 drawings.

Fortunately for a budding young artist who has yet to obtain his own studio, Sukstorf says DoSpace at 72nd and Dodge offers free access to all the digital tools one could need. Sukstorf often spends hours and days there editing his videos to perfection.

Despite a constant stream of new project offers coming in, Sukstorf doesn’t want to rush his learning process. “I could get better,” he says. “You know, I’m learning this all by myself.” He compares starting and growing his business to another big passion—skateboarding. “Once you start a business, you can keep failing,” he says. “But that skateboarder in me is like, ‘come on, you’re like that close to landing that trick.’ ”

Along with the high demand for music videos come decisions for the beginning business owner. Sukstorf intends to expand in his work within the local hip-hop scene and is learning the art of graphic design for album covers. “I’m open to anything,” he says. “It’s really a
visual business.”

Visit facebook.com/daxvisuals for more information.

This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Encounter.

 

In the Moment

November 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Amateur philosophers have long wondered if a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear, does it still makes a sound? Cody Spicer might not be able to answer that age-old question, but he can tell you that trees, time, and other natural elements have certainly had their way with many of the abandoned structures he’s photographed.

“You’d be surprised how crisp and colorful an abandoned space can be if you light it up, because you’ve got rust and nature taking over. I [took one picture] where the trees are growing through the window of a second-story bathroom, and you see this greenery and these branches coming out of the window,” Spicer says. “What drives me to do abandoned photography is that it looks like something from a Resident Evil video game—like, apocalyptic—and it blows me away what people leave behind.”

Spicer considers himself a “content creator” due to his varied mixed-media dabbling, which includes video, photography, design, and fine art. The 30-year-old Wichita, Kansas, native has always been into art, but things got serious when he was 15 and fell in love with spray paint art—also known as street art and not to be confused with graffiti art. You may have seen him live painting down in the Old Market, surrounded by a crowd, creating masterpieces on the spot by layering multiple colors and manipulating still-wet spray paint to develop captivating artwork on 11-by-14-inch or 16-by-20-inch boards.

“I do a lot of pyramid paintings, a lot of spacescapes, fantasy landscapes…It’s like Bob Ross but the Pink Floyd version,” Spicer says. “When people buy a painting from me, it’s more of an experience, because you’re not just getting a piece of art that you bought at a gallery or online, you’re buying an experience and watching it being made, too.”

Spicer now works in tandem with artist Justin Hallberg, his former classmate at Omaha’s Creative Center College of Art & Design. While Spicer’s background is more in painting, Hallberg’s focus has been photography. The duo has established an informal creative exchange where they’ve mentored each other in their areas of expertise, ultimately electing to work together in many artistic pursuits.

For example, Spicer and Hallberg set up every Friday and Saturday night at 12th and Howard streets, where Spicer is teaching Hallberg the ways of street painting, and they also set out together for abandoned photography journeys. The pair has traveled extensively throughout the region documenting abandoned homes, warehouses, farms, and other structures.

“Every photo we take is 100 percent organic in terms of the setting, because we don’t touch or move anything, we don’t set up shots, we shoot it as is,” Spicer says. “And the things we find just blow our minds, like old family photos, shoes, toys, TV sets right where they’ve sat forever, pots with long-dead plants in them…You go into a home and you can feel the history there immediately. It feels like you’re stepping into a time capsule or going
back in time.”

And, while Spicer and Hallberg have discovered some pretty stunning destinations, Spicer says their journeys have become such an integral part of the story that they’re exploring the idea of creating a video blog, or vlog, detailing their various expeditions and the folks they meet
along the way.

“The idea of the vlog came about so we could show the story behind what it takes to get these photos,” Spicer says. “We meet so many interesting people along the way, landowners and people in small towns who are intrigued by these city slickers coming through, and something wild and unexpected tends to happen. We had our cooler attacked by a bear just outside of the car we were sleeping in one night in Colorado. We got locked out of the car in a windmill farm in Iowa, right outside of a graveyard. These are the kinds of things I think it would be interesting to share, because there are lots of funny stories.”

Spicer and Hallberg continue to learn along the way, whether that means beefing up safety with hazmat suits and gas masks so they “go in looking like the guys from E.T.” or casting a wider geographic net when researching abandoned properties. In order to travel more widely, they use donations made doing spray paint art to fund their abandoned photography trips, and Spicer finds an interesting juxtaposition between the two art forms.

“With street performing, it’s just the opposite of looking through a lens at someone else or a forgotten place in time like abandoned houses and such,” Spicer says. “When I’m painting, I’m center stage with people looking at me. I like getting people to stop their everyday activity and soak in the moment, because a lot of folks just walk by and everyone’s so busy with their everyday life, so when I’m performing and I do stop someone in their tracks, it’s very fulfilling for me to get them to stop, soak in the experience, and interact with us. I think maybe that’s also why I like the abandoned photography, because they’re these forgotten places that people just drive by and no one pays attention to, but we’re stopping to soak in and capture those moments.”

Visit codyspicer.com to see more of Spicer’s work.

This article printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

Eye Vibe

August 30, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Twenty-six-year-old Omaha native Michael Garrett isn’t simply a photographer—he’s a visual communicator. “I’m a photographer, graphic designer, content creator, and  overall creative,” he says.

The son of a hardworking single mother, the University of Nebraska-Omaha senior grew up around 18th and Pinkney streets and the now-defunct projects near 30th and Lake streets. Eventually, he transferred to South High School, where he experienced yet another segment of Omaha’s  diverse demographic. Despite his challenging circumstances, he managed to beat the odds and will soon be the first college graduate in his family.

As the founder of MGPhotog and co-founder of The Creative Genius collective, the burgeoning entrepreneur is clearly becoming a master of his own destiny, and he understands photography is more than meets the eye.

“Photography is oversaturated. I think it’s due to social media,” Garrett says. “Everyone feels they can do it. But in doing so, they don’t really know what it takes to be a photographer. The goal should be more than taking a picture. As a visual communicator, I treat it more like an experience. And what I’m trying to capture, it depends on the client, but I go in with a strong idea of what I want to do to communicate visually. When you see it, you should feel exactly what I want you to feel from the image.”

With a firm grasp on what it takes to set him apart from other photographers and graphic designers, Garrett takes the time to truly get to know his clients, which he believes is one of his defining characteristics.

“I kind of put me as a person first,” he says. “If I need to do work with a client, I meet with them and go into who I am, just so they’re a little more comfortable with me. To me, I’m building a relationship. I feel good communication is more effective and delivering the work becomes a little easier once you have that open communication with your clients.”

It all started the day he was fired from his job at a bank. Four years after he graduated from high school, Garrett was at a crossroads in his life and not quite sure what he wanted to do next. Getting fired, he says, was the best thing to happen to him. It was from that moment, he realized what he wanted to pursue.

Michael Garrett

“It was a random thing,” he says. “I got into an argument with my manager, and she wasn’t too fond of the things I said. The same day I lost my job, I went to the camera store at Nebraska Furniture Mart and bought a camera. I figured it would give me something to do and get my mind off of losing my job.”

It didn’t take him long to put his camera to use. He was a huge sneakers aficionado and  loved taking pictures of them. As an avid collector, he jumped on the Instagram trend of posting an array of specialty shoes online. Subsequently, owning a camera made perfect sense. His love affair with the lens had begun.

“Sneakers on Instagram took off,” he says. “That started it all. As far as my work, I model some of my work after some [photographers], but I’m very versatile. I can shoot a wedding, food, children, shoes—everything.”

In 2013, he was invited to a celebrity basketball game at the Mid-America Center. At the encouragement of a few of his predecessors, he quickly realized he could make a living out of his passion.

“I met a few other photographers at the tournament, and they took me under their wings. They said I should start charging for my work. From there, it took off.”

While he predominately grew up with his mom in a single-parent household, Garrett says it was difficult not having a male role model around.

“It affected me in a way, but I had to learn to be a man about things,” he says. “I had a bunch of mentors in school because I was active. I did journalism, basketball, track. I had male figures there, but they weren’t an authoritative figure outside of the sport. I could do what I want, but on the leadership side, it was good.”

His life circumstances forced him to grow up quickly, which undoubtedly led to his fierce work ethic. In addition to school, graphic design, and his photography business, he also works part-time at the Boys and Girls Club as he continues to garner more and more attention for his work. The sky is the limit, he says.

“For me, I’m more in love with the process of communication…I’m just living. I want to leave my plate open to the possibilities.”

Visit facebook.com/thecreativegeniuscollective for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

The Missing Piece and a Journey to Healing

August 22, 2017 by
Photography by Tim Guthrie

Tim Guthrie, an art professor at Creighton, produced the award-winning documentary Missing Piece. The documentary details Guthrie’s journey to find peace with the death of his wife, Beth, from complications of Parkinson’s disease and dystonia.


Sometimes I cant believe I can go on without her.

The loss feels too great, too heavy. We didn’t simply have each other as companions. We had each other to lean on when we needed one another—when I was struggling with work or my master’s degree, when she was devastated over a pregnancy that ended in an emergency room, or as her diseases put her through increasingly more pain.

Now she’s gone. She’s not here to lean on.

I’ve done everything I can to find ways to live without her, to find a way for life to be a little less difficult and painful. I spend a lot of time revisiting pleasant memories, working to get to a point where I can feel happy—to a point where those memories can overpower the persistent image of finding her that awful morning. I want to do anything to erase that vision from my memory bank. I wish for a willful and controlled amnesia.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

I made a film about, and for, her—my wife, Elizabeth Broderick.

Showing the film has been a challenge. I don’t attend most of the film festivals, but during the screenings of the few I have attended, I usually leave the theater before her film begins. The film is my love letter to Beth, but it’s also painful for me to watch.

Sometimes, I think the film, and the Missing Piece photos I took, are too personal for me to talk about. Mostly, though, everything from Beth’s death until now has been extraordinarily painful and personal to talk about, so why should the film or photos be any different?

I started a blog, “Traveling with Virtual Beth,” for family and friends who wanted to track some of what I have been doing, and where I’ve been going—especially for my parents, who wanted to follow my travels. I’ve openly shared both the physical and emotional journey. I’ve opened up on the blog. I’ve opened up on my Facebook page, as well. Most people are respectful. I don’t mean to make people uncomfortable. I don’t mean to make my grieving process seem worse than anyone else’s. I know I’m not unique in losing a loved one. It’s a pain that is unfortunately universal.

Original photo taken at Tim Guthrie’s apartment (early 1990s); revisited in their house (2017)

I’m aware that I’ve been grieving pretty publicly, which was an issue as I began to be approached by reporters. One by one, I turned all but one away. Everyone expected that I wanted to talk more about everything, but it has always been a struggle. It adds to the challenge when someone else who didn’t know her, or even me, wants to tell a story I’m still struggling with myself. I somehow still want to protect her, even in death.

One reporter, who assumed I’d want to talk more openly than I did, wanted to write about details I have never talked about online or in the film. When I pointed out that if that’s what she wanted to include in the story, I ultimately wasn’t interested, her response was, “I’m the reporter, I decide the story.”

And like that, I was done with the interview and never talked to her again. Granted, months later, another writer, Kim Carpenter with the Omaha World-Herald, gently got me to open up, finally, so a story was eventually written from someone’s perspective other than my own. Still, it was a challenge. It actually felt a bit as though she was my therapist over months of talking with her.

At Fontenelle Forest (early 1990s); revisited at Red Rocks Park in Vermont (2016)

I don’t talk about it often, but I actually saw a therapist. It was helpful for about a year, but I stopped going this past summer, mostly for financial reasons. I think spreading Beth’s ashes, revisiting places and taking photos, keeping the blog, and making the film probably helped more than a therapist could.

In the first six months of this journey, I kept arguing with people who insisted the photos were works of art. For me, they weren’t art, but a very personal process that was helping me deal with the loss. I initially loathed thinking about them as art. I never, ever, ever wanted to reduce Beth to an art project, and calling them art somehow felt insulting to her memory and shameful to me. Grief makes one say and think absurd things.

I’ve thought about ending the blog many times, and, even though I know I will ultimately bring it to a close by the end of the year, I find myself recalling comments I’ve received—like the many messages from people who have thanked me for sharing—comments that expressed gratitude because sharing my journey has helped others deal with their own grief. The comedian/writer/actor Patton Oswalt even sent me a message after his wife died, and after he discovered and read every post on the blog. It felt like an odd honor, but also like being part of a widowers’ club. Such messages have made the blog worthwhile, though. Knowing it has helped others is strangely comforting.

At Durham Museum (early 1990s); same location (2016)

It’s one thing for me to get through this myself, but the thought of it helping anyone else actually motivated me to continue for as long as I did. I thought I’d only continue the blog for a year. It will have been two years by the time I bring it to a close. When I imagine it has assuaged anyone else’s grief by sharing my own, it makes her death a little less difficult to bear. If anything good can come from her death, it eases my mind and soothes a broken heart to think she is helping others, even long after she’s gone. Yet, as I run out of photos and work to move forward, it feels like the right time to end it.

I know I can’t return to the person I was, but if I can get to a place where I can at least move forward again, and spend less time curled up alone, then maybe that’s something. To be honest, everything I’ve done to honor her these past couple of years has been worth it.

She may not be here to lean on in times when I need her most, but I’ll keep the good memories, which the photos help me recall.

I can’t move on without her, but maybe I can move forward with our shared memory, learning to carry it all with a little more ease. Hopefully the loss will someday be a little less heavy, more bearable.

The simple fact is, I miss her so damn much; that’s one thing I know I’ll carry until the day I die. 

Honeymoon at Dolwyddelan Castle, Wales (1994); same location (2016)

Visit virtualbeth.wordpress.com to view Tim Guthrie’s blog. A screening of the documentary, Missing Piece, is tentatively scheduled at Film Streams on Nov. 7 (7 p.m.). Photographs will be exhibited at Gallery 72 in November with an opening reception Nov. 9 (5-9 p.m.). A special preview at the gallery will follow the Nov. 7 screening.

 

 

 

Acclaim for Missing Piece

Missing Piece was accepted into several national and international festivals. Here is an abbreviated list of screenings and recognitions.

Omaha Film Fest

Best Short NE Documentary

Audience Award for Best Short Film

Global Independent Film Festival

Best Documentary Short Film

2017 Humanitarian Award Winner

Sydney Film Festival

Best Documentary Short Film

Canada World International

Film Festival

Best American Film

High Coast Film Festival, Sweden

Honorable Mention

Sweet As Film Festival

Honorable Mention

Hollywood International

Independent Awards Festival

Finalist

This essay was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Honeymoon at Llandanwg, Wales (1994); same location (2016)

Dream Team

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a dazzling, eye-catching photo that adorns the bare-bones brick wall inside the photography studio at 1820 Vinton St.

A lovely girl sits in a deep-blue cloud of a dress, highlighted by silver accents. In the background, the grayish sky is streaked with pink-gold clouds. It’s a striking image, and an excellent example of the kind of work one can expect from the gentlemen of Elite, a boutique photography studio based in the historic Vinton Street Business District in South Omaha.

Elite’s Bernardo Montoya and Eric Gutierrez are an impressive pair. Montoya is dressed impeccably in light, subdued colors and wearing a fedora, a signature look for him. Gutierrez, on the other hand, is wearing a simple black T-shirt with dark blue jeans and a rust-colored vest, his brown, gray-streaked hair pulled back from his face.

Despite their contrasting appearances, it’s clear these business partners have an inspiring, deep, mutual respect for one another.

The two met about six years ago at an Omaha Police Department holiday event Montoya organized. At the time, Gutierrez was working in construction, but had long been interested in taking pictures.

“Photography has been a hobby for—the last 20 years,” he says, somewhat questioningly, chuckling a little.

After discovering Gutierrez was an amateur photographer, Montoya asked if he would like to volunteer his services for some of the events Montoya put together. Eventually, they were getting asked to do so much side work, they decided they should try to really make a go of it and invest in themselves and their talent.

Initially, the two worked out of Gutierrez’s Elkhorn home, using his living room, dining room, and kitchen as studio space. But about two years ago, they started working on their brick-and-mortar studio on Vinton Street.

Montoya says when they moved into the space, it was in “awful” shape, so they immediately started renovating.

“Walls were demolished, the false ceiling was removed, original floors were salvaged, and a new bathroom was built,” he says. “Every day we want to continue making modifications.” He said their next project is the façade.

Renovations aside, the neighborhood itself seems like the perfect place for Elite Photography. The developing business fits right in with the community’s burgeoning art scene, and they couldn’t be happier with their location. Montoya says it’s a great neighborhood with incredible potential that he believes the city plans on developing.

Gutierrez agrees: “I think that this street opens a door to, not just the Hispanic community, but to the community in general.”

“I never imagined the possibility of having a photography business like this, because I am a graphic designer,” Montoya said. He previously worked as a reporter in Mexico and in the U.S., taking pictures for articles and other projects as a part of his job. “But this was not my priority,” he says. “I discovered my passion for photography talking with Eric.”

Though Gutierrez had initially chosen a more cautious path, the passion had been there since he was young.

“At some point, when I was going to college, I told my mom that I wanted to be a photographer. She said, ‘No, don’t do that. Just do it as a hobby.’ And that was a mistake,” he says. “I always talk with parents about that. I tell them, you know, you’ve got to encourage your kids to do whatever they want.”

Fortunately, Gutierrez and Montoya have many opportunities to speak with and encourage parents, thanks to a partnership with Omaha Public Schools and the many high school senior and quinceañera photos they do.

Montoya says his inspiration and motivation comes from the looks on peoples’ faces when they first see how they look in their photos.

“We are talking about dreams, the dreams of the people,” he says. “When they talk to you and say, ‘I want to take a beautiful picture…I want to see a picture where I feel beautiful,’ it’s more than taking a simple picture. It’s making a connection with a person—seeing what they want.”

Making those dreams come true is their goal. Which makes perfect sense, since that’s what they seem to have done for each other, something that is very clear when they talk about their life’s work.

“I always say Bernardo was like an angel for me,” Gutierrez says, “because I didn’t know if I was going to do this for a living.”

But while they’ve been fortunate to find each other and develop a successful business, Montoya and Gutierrez have faced plenty of challenges, including Montoya’s recent diagnosis of a rare form of cancer—stage 2 soft tissue sarcoma.

In his typical, always-moving-forward style, Montoya is not letting the disease slow him down.

“Now I can see life with a different color,” Montoya says. “Yes, I have cancer, but it’s like I have the flu. I’m OK right now. I don’t know what will happen with me tomorrow. But you never know what will happen tomorrow—or in a couple of weeks.”

Instead, he says he’s using the diagnosis as a reminder to enjoy life, and his family, friends, work, and the connections he makes with
new people.

“I don’t want to think any bad things,” Montoya says. “I have a future, a plan. I know what I want. I have dreams and I am working toward my dreams.” 

facebook.com/EliteStudioPhotography

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Art Rage

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Editor’s note: Cassils is a gender non-conforming trans-masculine visual artist. Cassils uses plural gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their) and asks that journalists do likewise when referring to them. This plurality reflects through language the position Cassils occupies as an artist. For more about gender non-conforming issues, go to: glad.org/reference/transgender 

Powerful art does not need to be explained, though for the uninitiated, sometimes it helps.

Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Cassils thrives on the power of art. The artist (who prefers to be referred to in plural, gender-neutral pronouns) launched their latest exhibit, Cassils: The Phantom Revenant—now on display at the Bemis Center— Feb. 2 with a thrilling live performance called Becoming An Image.

Cassils’ performance involved the transgender, body-building artist attacking a 2,000-pound block of clay using only their body, in complete darkness, with the occasional flash of a camera that illuminated both artist and object, burning the images into viewers retinas.

It was a blend of performance, photography, and sculpture. “I use all parts of my body—my fists, my knees, my elbows,” Cassils says. “I beat this clay to the best of my ability, blind, until I’m basically compromising my ability to hit it properly.”

At the performance, the only sounds were those of Cassils’ labored breathing, as the artist kicked, punched, and even jumped on the earthy clay, accompanied by the click of the camera as the photographer blindly tried to capture the “full-blown attack.”

Becoming An Image was originally conceived of and executed for ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, the oldest existing LGBT organization in the United States, which also happens to house one of the largest repositories of LGBT materials in the world.

“I was asked to make a piece in relationship to the missing gender-queer and trans representation in that archive, because like many archives in museums, it’s filled with the work of, in this case, dead, gay white guys. So rather than making an artwork that spoke to the one or two subjectivities that perhaps matched this description in the archives, I decided to make a piece about the troubling mechanisms of what makes it into the historical canon and what doesn’t.”

Cassils’ Powers That Be installation—on display through April 29—presents a six-channel video that is a simulation of violence, a staged fight that could be taking place between two, three, four, or five people. But in this fight, Cassils plays the role of both victim and perpetrator. “If you have two people doing stage combat, it looks really realistic, but if you take one person out, and the other person’s doing it well, it really looks as if they’re fighting a ghost, or a force.”

Cassils says “Any work is about responding to the socio-political circumstances that we’re living in …  Art doesn’t change things like laws do, but it generates discussion.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.