Coffee + Art + Friends : Carol Sternkopf



Photographer • Spy • Expert Babysitter • Happy Traveler


My husband’s gone this week, helping his parents. And so is my daughter. And somebody called and said “Are you bored? Are you lonely? Do you want to do something?” I texted back, “I’ve never been lonely in my life.”

It was weird to tell someone that. I didn’t want to say I was busy, so I just told her the truth. I’ve never been lonely or bored in my life. I have things to look at. I have things to digest! I really do. Call it ADD. Call it what you want.

I’m the person when the plane is delayed,  I’m great. Everyone else is so panicked and I’m like, “This is so great! I get to sit here for another three hours and not have any accountability whatsoever.”  I think that is what I love! I love no accountability. That’s the best thing.

My favorite thing about Art is that there is absolutely no accountability. You can do whatever you want in 10 minutes or three hours or five weeks. You’ll have created something or made something you had no clue what you were getting into.  For me anyway, that’s how I work. I have no plan. I just show up.

It was a whole lifetime of experiences that allowed me to do that (become an artist). It was just a need. I think I grew up in a unique time, in a unique place. I just really allowed myself as a kid to sit and watch things. As a kid, I was a hyperactive observer, almost.

Photography is engaging so much before you get to see what you did. It’s an experience and you have no idea what is going to happen. That is what is so exciting for me. Whether it’s scheduled or not scheduled. What’s going to happen?  There is something about me that loves that. A lot of people, they want to know whats going to happen in their day or in their job, but I really thrive on not knowing and seeing what happens. It’s like christmas morning every second. That’s what it is! It’s like “Wow! Where did that come from?”

Even a portrait session can be like that.  I don’t know when someone is going to open up for me, or if they’re going to at all. Even if it’s a scheduled portrait— maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But even the cover-up is interesting. Even the cover-up is showing up, in a weird way. Usually there is a moment where people expose themselves. It’s just a waiting game and then it does happen and you clap to yourself. And then you go home and you see it.

The archival process was what I was trained in and that was a beautiful process. When I look back though, it was a very chemical process and time consuming process. I’m happy now to give it up, but at the time (when transitioning to digital), that was the process I knew. It was painful. This new digital process— I was not young and I knew that I had to enter it. I had to invest in it, financially and in a time wise / learning way. It was very difficult for me. I held onto film for a long time. More than most photographers. I was still shooting film when most people were in digital. I was using a big Hasselblad, shooting 12 frames. “Oh excuse me, I have to change my film now.”  So, it changed the way I work, because it changed the tool. When you change the tool it changes things.

Physically to walk around with a big, medium format camera is interesting. Its very physical. “I’m here. I’m here with a camera.” I was sort of bigger in the room. The digital kind turned me more into a spy. The camera was lighter, faster, quieter. I realized, “Oh, I’m not so present anymore.”

That was sort of weird. It changed physically how I worked. Now, of course, years and years later as cameras have shrunk, lots of journalist are using these small little hybrids and I am still using the biggest camera made in the digital world. I just bought a new camera and some of the bad reviews online were “It’s really loud!” All the professionals were saying, “This is the loudest camera out there. How obnoxious.” And I’m thinking, “Sign me up!” I want the loudest camera out there, so I bought it. And sure enough, it’s super loud. So, it’s nice for me, yes— its heavy and loud. It’s back to what like, what I know. This is a real camera. It feels right to me.

I think I really benefit from being my age. I learned in the darkroom process. I know what a print should look like, even in digital. I don’t just accept certain things. I push the tools to do it right.

The one thing I do feel about the digital world is that everyone owns a camera. Right? There’s one in your purse. There’s one on your phone. Part of me thinks its really great. It’s opened up this bridge for people to speak with which I think is phenomenal. It’s my childhood dreams come true– let’s talk in pictures! Its a great way to communicate. I think thats incredible and I think thats what the whole digital age has done. But for professionals, it’s also in a way we have to say, yet, we still stand out. You still hire us because we can do something that you can’t do with your phone. That’s becoming an interesting process.

When I’m getting the most beautifull thing, I say– and I try to do it in a quiet voice– I say “Oh my God, Oh my God.” And really what is happening, is that I am seeing that this person is allowing me to see them.

I really think that’s the most beautiful thing— to step into a job and you don’t know what people are about. You don’t know them, and yet they might bring it to the table. And they might bring it to a portrait.

I’m really addicted to shooting the backstage at the rodeos around here. And I remember after one shoot, I was like “My god, these kids are just pure grit.” You know?  They grew up on a ranch. They come home, they feed animals, they care for animals. They learn to love animals. They learn to lose animals. It’s a different childhood. There is something I love about being around these kids. They are the real deal. I’m addicted to that subject. Something I know nothing about. I’m afraid of horses. But I’ve been shooting it for four years. I love it because it is so authentic. They’re not concerned with me or any other camera. There are large animals, there are real dangers. There is a show to produce. It’s so amazingly beautiful to me, that slice of humanity.

I really think that is what I am interested in— whether it’s a portrait or another subject matter. I’m really interested in that little slice of humanity that I see or that just presents itself. That’s why I think I do what I do. I’m just so interested.

It’s the same reason I don’t care if a plane is delayed. Fine, I get to watch these people for three more hours? That’s a gift to me.

Jackson’s Corner • June 15, 2016 • Bend, Oregon


2 thoughts on “Coffee + Art + Friends : Carol Sternkopf

    1. teafly says:

      It would be the best way to be delayed at an airport, for sure.

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