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Meet Duane Sauro, the owner and photographer of a unique portrait and wedding studio, Sauro Photographic Art. Duane’s business is a proud Northside Business Partnership member. Read on to get a professional photographer’s perspective on selfies, advice for aspiring artists, and more.
Q: Your website says that Sauro Photographic Art is a second generation business. Did you grow up around cameras and photography?
Duane: Yes, I did. In particular, starting with the lab-work, we did a lot of film processing, which is of course an obsolete technology at the moment, but that’s what was normal at the time. Picture taking as well, but I began most of my exposure with lab-work probably around 12 . . .The business was on Salina Street, a little south of the business district back in the 60s. The business was actually started in ’45, right after World War 2, with my dad. As you say, second generation. Then for decades it was right across the street from the newspaper on North Salina Street, then we moved to this location here on Pearl Street in the late 80s.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to go into the arts as a career?
Duane: No, when I was in college, I actually majored in math and philosophy. I always was interested and loved the arts, but I didn’t know for sure at that point in time that I would come into the family business and take it over. I always found the lab-work to be almost magical, the way you see an image appear from nowhere. So when the technology changed into a digital format, although I loved lab-work, it actually was an enticement for me to further my commitment because of the increased creative avenues that were available for digital photography. I was always interested in sculpting, painting, and other art forms, so I always found that photography in its pure form when it was in a film format was more limiting to me than what I really wanted. I found myself often oil painting on top of photographs, doing extensive dark room where you’re using 3, 4, up to 9 different negatives to get a creative result. So when it went to digital, of course, the avenues were much more expedient as well as reusable.
“…this actually would have been a very pale looking photograph, in its original inception. But the oil painting on top did several things…I was able to add several elements that weren’t there, I could increase mood by making it more vibrant, I could make it more somber, but also it increased the longevity and stability of the product, which now wouldn’t fade at the rate of a regular color photograph.”
Q: So you’ve already begun to answer my next question, which is that your aesthetic seems to involve non-traditional post-production techniques. What drew you into this way of working? So it seems like it was in large part due to the change in technology.
Duane: Before the technology actually did change, I was an extensive lecturer on creative portraiture, but often times the avenue that was being used was multi-media. So it was oil paint embellishments that were on top of portrait photography. An example would be this here (figure 1). So this actually would have been a very pale looking photograph, in its original inception. But the oil painting on top did several things. One, I was able to add several elements that weren’t there, I could increase mood by making it more vibrant, I could make it more somber, but also it increased the longevity and stability of the product, which now wouldn’t fade at the rate of a regular color photograph. So the ultraviolet rays would no longer penetrate through the oil paint, the ultraviolet rays being the element that causes photographs to fade over time. As technology became more sophisticated, the longevity of the color photograph certainly did increase gradually over decades. But with the oil paint put on top of the photographs, it was a much greater permanent archival product than what any photography even today is able to accomplish.
Q: As a photographer, how do you feel about the culture of cell phones and “selfies”?
Duane: Oh, I think it all has its place. I think that all forms of self-expression have their place. People taking pictures with their phones? Selfies? I think it’s great because it shows the animation of the moment and that’s the sole intention of it. But they’re not going to be able to print it and archive it in any way because regardless of what all the places tell you that the high quality, large pixel size cameras are cable of, in my opinion, they typically are not. The quality is mostly intended to be viewed on the screen resolution of that equipment. Once you try to download that and try to make something to put on the wall from it, I doubt that you’re going to have much of the quality that you’re expecting . . . But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a tremendous value to what you said. You’re there at the moment, you’re on a beach somewhere, you’re with a good friend, you’re with a lover, whoever. You want to take pictures to document a moment. It does do that. It does have a value.
Q: If you could make a portrait of anyone, who would it be and why?
Duane: I think at this point in time, I think I would be interested in a portrait of my dad because he is in a nursing home and approaching some of the emotional struggles with the loss of part of who he is now, and the immediate emotional interest in preserving the way that we used to know him yesterday. But in general, if I was to do a “portrait” outside of this particular emotional moment, it wouldn’t be what you’re asking, it wouldn’t be a rendering necessarily of that person. It would be a rendering of my perception of the sense of that person. It would almost invariably be an exaggeration—it would not be literal. It might be a combination of black and white and color, it might be a combination of images, it might be an elongation of body parts. Because once again, what would have a lasting value to me would be its aesthetic-emotional statement. Not its literal accurate rendering. So, at the moment, Dad. After the moment, probably nobody in terms of what you’re asking.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring creative types and artists?
Duane: I would say that it depends on what you’re looking for the art to give you. If you’re looking for it as merely self-expression or if you’re looking for it as a career. That’s a really very key point. Many people go into careers because they have a love for the art, but more often than not they are completely different realms. If you’re going to make money as a successful business, the likelihood is that you’re going to need to gear your imagery towards what somebody is going to purchase. You’re also going to need to have exposure in a lot of areas that have nothing to do with your self-gratification, if it’s aesthetic. For instance, business sense. So you’re going to need to engage understanding of promoting, of book keeping, of managing people if you’re going to expand. All of those are things that typically the creative type are uninterested in. It has to do with left-brain, right brain. You’re either going to be a qualitative or a quantitative thinker, or feeler, however you want to look at it.
If you’re looking at the arts on the other hand, as merely self-expression, well then it’s an entirely different direction. You don’t need any of those courses in business. What I would say is frequent museums, try to focus on what forms of the diverse art expressions you see that appeal to you the most. Try to answer to yourself, what about that appeals to you? Is it the accuracy of the literal? Or is it the emotional expression of the illustrative? Is it the complexity of the surreal? In some way, you’ve got to ask what’s drawing you to that area.
“This is an image that was in a couple of Kodak’s publications and promotings over the years. As you can see, it’s surreal. You don’t really have those tones in a body. It’s also an elongation. You have the emotional statement of protrusion with the face up and above; you’re making a statement that goes beyond the literal.”