Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on May 9th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 10

Steven Lewis' photography exhibit at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery highlights his passion for small details


The photos on the wall at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery tell a quiet story.

The story could be about a mysterious world preserved in an almost ancient landscape. Or it could be about the commonplace nature of the outside world.

Retired photography instructor Steven Lewis returns to Allan Hancock College with a new exhibit at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery. The exhibit runs through May 18.

But the tale the pictures really tell is the story of Steven Lewis, the renowned photographer behind them. Based in Santa Maria, Lewis takes an introspective examination of the relationship between subject and viewer that challenges assumptions about what is considered ordinary or beautiful. His work is currently featured in a solo exhibit titled At the Water's Edge in the Ann Foxworthy Gallery at Allan Hancock College, which runs through May 18.

Lewis taught for 34 years at Hancock, effectively establishing the school's photography program from its early beginnings. He's now retired, and the gallery show is a fitting return for the artist/educator who helped shape not just the academic photography program at the school but the conversation about photography in the community.

In 1973, Lewis earned his Master of Fine Arts at MIT, eventually going on to receive a National Endowment of the Arts award and later writing a book, Photography: Source and Resource. Lewis was also awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for a series of oral history interviews with established fine arts photographers.

Lewis studied history for his undergraduate degree, which he said was what taught him to pay intense attention to detail. He learned to be patient, reading and observing as he went along. One of Lewis' educational highlights was studying under legendary photographer Minor White at MIT.

Steven Lewis’ photography highlights the beauty of the mundane found in natural settings.

"I was in a small study group with him at MIT as a grad student," Lewis told the Sun. "If [White] was about anything, he was about teaching students to be sensitive to letting the subject matter to reveal itself. He wasn't teaching you what to take pictures of or how to technically present it. There was a meditative or Zen quality to what he was teaching."

The ideas White presented resonated with Lewis for the rest of his life. In 1974, Lewis and his growing family settled in Santa Maria, which is where he first began his relationship with Hancock. Lewis said at the time he started, the photography program was in its infancy, with limited resources available for interested students.

"When I came to [Hancock] in 1974, there really wasn't a program in photography," Lewis said. "There were really no dedicated darkroom spaces. The intro photo class was being taught in a small photo lab behind the old physics classroom. ... It was a lab set aside for the physics class. We didn't have a dedicated classroom for lecture either."

The budding photography program eventually became the first applied design media program in the California Community College system as Lewis helped shape and guide it over 34 years. He said the reason he stayed on so long is that the college was a supportive working place for him as a photographer.

The Ann Foxworthy Gallery hosts At the Water’s Edge, a photography exhibit that highlights former Allan Hancock College instructor Steven Lewis’ trips to Door County, Wisconsin.

"I liked teaching at Hancock because it was an environment where there was a lot of contact between colleagues," he said. "The art department at the time was relatively small. We interacted a lot."

Much of Lewis' photography chronicles his time at his family vacation home in Door County, Wisconsin, which stretches from Green Bay to Lake Michigan. His work captures much of the serenity and natural beauty of the region, but he doesn't necessarily create landscapes or traditional nature photography. Lewis said he is fascinated with the exploration of everyday subject matter, things that are seen repeatedly by the human eye, but with an ever changing context.

Lewis' artwork is imbued with a graceful simplicity that adheres to one one of the most basic principles of photography: Less is more.

The exhibit demonstrates Lewis' keen ability to notice beauty and detail in the most mundane of subjects. It's never just a rock on the ground or a puddle after a rainstorm—it's the perfect alignment of positive and negative space, the surreal texture of abstract surfaces, the richly nuanced lighting, or the gravitas of the emptiness of the space itself.

Steven Lewis’ At the Water’s Edge photography show runs through May 18 at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery at Allan Hancock College. The gallery is located in room L102 near the Academic Resource Center, building L-South, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria. Parking passes are $2 per vehicle and are required on campus. For more information, contact (805) 922-6966, Ext. 3465.

"I am patient and observant, trying to see things as they slowly reveal themselves," he said. "They often come together as momentary intersections, meetings of light, time, space, and other factors that challenge me to record them with my camera in an effort to document their ephemeral existence." 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is into the details. Contact her at

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