Monday, January 10, 2011

Bruce Schlein: Capturing the Essence

Fall Scenes 5

I first met Bruce Schlein in the mid-1970's. My husband and I were living in Greenville, SC and we met and became friends with Bruce and his wife Alice Schlein. They are people who know who they are, love their family, community and friends and are dedicated to the pursuit of making art.

Just a few years ago Bruce left his successful practice as a pathologist which has allowed him more time for his photography. While he has always been very productive in his photography, he now is working with his art everyday and sharing what he sees through exhibitions and classes.

One of the aspects of Bruce's work I have always enjoyed is the clarity of his vision. Whether he is photographing store fronts, people or nature, I know that I am sharing an experience with Bruce. His compositional skills and his "eye" supports the selection of just what he wants you to see. The camera is a tool for the expression of his creativity and his images are clear and strong. Recently Bruce has been shooting closeups of architectural details and flowers. He says, " Every subject a photographer sees has a special feel or sense to it. If I can catch that "essence", the photograph is fun for me".

At this time Bruce is working with color as well as black and white images, all executed digitally. Generally the work is archivally printed 8" x 10" to 11" x 14" and framed. (Be sure to see the Bonus Images at the end of this article!)

Shoot with Al around Gray Court

Interview with Bruce Schlein

Terry: How did you become interested in photography and how did that interest develop into your art?

Bruce: I started photographing when I was in college. I went to Europe with my dad's Argus C3. When I got back I bought a more user-friendly camera and have been doing photography ever since. As I got more involved with taking pictures I realized my goal was to see and hopefully capture the "essence" of the things I see. Everything has its own inner thing that I try to understand and capture in my photographs. I owe a great debt to the photographer, John Menapace, who encouraged me to be thoughtful about how I presented the images on paper such that the essence would come through.

Terry: How do you work?

Bruce: I start by wandering around with my camera. The wander can be in and around my house, downtown or really far-afield. I look at things until something catches my eye and emotions. I try to shoot into subject until I have isolated the exact thing that originally caught my attention. I work every day on my photographs. This is a process of constant refinement of my vision and technique. Eventually, I occasionally boil an image down to its essence which I then let loose on the world. The teaching part of my photographic life is based on a desire to share what I have learned and learn from my students. I always uncover new ways to do things in Photoshop as well as discover new things from my students.

Wood Siding

Terry: The digital revolution has impacted your art practice as it has all photographers. How has this impacted your artwork? Do you miss the processes of the darkroom?

Bruce: Digital image management has helped in several areas. If I properly name and file the image it is much easier to find. The global and local control over how the image looks is much easier for me digitally than it was in the darkroom. I can adjust contrast, color, etc. to match what I saw and felt about the subject of the photograph. Some people are a bit paranoid that the digital photographer is going to cheat. That is a non-issue, since we all cheat whenever we look at things. You see what you are looking for by picking and choosing the things that interest you well before you even start to do photography. The grosser types of "cut and paste" have been done since the beginning of photography. I do not miss my darkroom with its perfumes and ability to ruin my clothes.

Fence Composition

Terry: I recall that much of your earlier work was printed in black and white. Was that due to the technical issues of printing in color or an aesthetic choice? Now that is is much simpler to photograph and print color images (you may not feel this is true), do you ever work in black and white?

Bruce: When I started in photography color printing was something you left to the experts or the totally committed. When Cibachrome became available I started color printing from slides with beautiful results but requiring a lot of work. Kodak's RA-4 process for color negative printing was a great improvement and I did a lot of my work in that medium. It was easier on my clothing as well as being fairly easy to do. At some point I realized that some of the things I see are about color and others about image structure and actual story content. Color frequently is a distraction for me in those sorts of images. In a word, with digital I can see both approaches immediately and pick the one I like. If pressed I cannot really tell you how I choose, I can just tell you stories (confabulations).

Shoot with Al around Gray Court

Terry: How much time do you spend working on your photography during an average week? Of this, how is the time used? Study, shooting, processing, teaching, etc.

Bruce: It is too scarey to think about how many hours I spend. I think I probably spend 30 hours/week. I suspect it boils down to 5-6 hours shooting, 15 hours in the "darkroom", 4 hours studying and 4-6 hours teaching, including prep time.

Leaves and Sky 19

Terry: I am aware that you love classical music. Is there any crossover between the music and the art? If so, tell us about that.

Bruce: I guess there is some crossover in so far as both have structure, color and hopefully elicit an emotion in the listener and viewer. I think JS Bach's music is beautifully made, like a great photograph. I like to think that the photographs I make are well-constructed and show what I feel about my subjects. I think that one can match photography and music by finding parallels in types of music and types of photographs. That is not really something I do. I listen to music for its own joys and do photography for its own joys.

Leaves and Sky 20

Terry: What is your biggest ambition in regards to your photography and your life as an artist?

Bruce: I enjoy doing the photography and it is mainly for my own pleasure. I do share with friends, students and on the Web but I am not doing it for "fame and fortune". In a way, I do it because when I do not do it I don't feel right. My ambition as a photographer/artist is to insidiously get other people to start looking around them and respond to what they are seeing. Photography has certainly caused me to do that. When I started I was hoping to be "famous" but for a photographer fame is frequently posthumous, so I can forego that for as long as possible.

Center of Flower

Terry: What are you currently reading?

Bruce: I just finished Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory". I will probably start "Moby Dick" again. For some reason I read that every few years. I just started "Saint-Exupery" by Stacey Schiff, a unique look into the life of the aviator and author. I might take aother run at Proust's novels. When all else fails I read the funny papers.

Self Portrait - Bruce Schlein

Bruce's work is currently on display at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC and his work will be on view at the Clark-Patterson-Lee office also in Greenville. Other locations to see his work include the Woodlands at Furman University and the LC Gallery in downtown Greenville.


A big thank you to Dr. Bruce Schlein for sharing his work.

Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for stopping by Studio 24-7.
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  1. Thank you. I always find something of value to take away from your blog. I enjoy reading it immensely. Jane

  2. Thank you Jane. I appreciate your visiting and reading the blog and for taking the time to comment!

  3. Thanks for the post Terry. Those are really great examples that Bruce used for the interview. Like a fine wine, he has improved with age. Some of them are as good as paintings.

  4. Bruce is going to kill you. For anyone reading this and who doesn't know, Tom is my husband, a painter and a longtime friend of Bruce. He's still going to kill you;-)

  5. Thanks so much for showing Bruce's work. Alice is an online pal but I had no idea how wonderful Bruce's work is.

  6. Thank you Connie. I think Bruce is doing the best work of his artistic life at this time and it was fun doing the article with him.

  7. I've known Bruce since childhood. We were in High School together.
    His father was my mother's doctor. e share our interest in photography.