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Artist Corner
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 @ 15:25:09 CST by barry

By Katie Richardson | Arts Editor

John Sfondilias graduated from the University of Illinois with a doctorate in instructional design and computer-based education. His "past life" activities include working as a systems engineer for IBM, a consultant for the U.S. Air Force Space Command, and a designer and developer of technology-based educational programs. His work in technology explains some of his current direction in photography. John acquired his first professional SLR camera more than 20 years ago, but it wasn't until the advent of the digital camera that John's photography really took off. In the last year-and-a-half or so, John estimates he has taken over 4,500 digital photographs. His work is on display until Jan. 31 at the Aroma Cafe in downtown Champaign (see for the online version of the exhibit).

Why did you make the switch to digital photography?
It seemed a natural fit for me. I like taking as many photographs as I wish without worrying about wasting film or incurring processing costs. I also like the instant feedback of downloading and seeing the results of a day's photo shoot immediately. And, as the mega-pixels in digital cameras increase, it only gets better. The only drawback I can see is that I'm ending up with so many images I'm forgetting what I've got.

Why did you choose the piece you're featuring?
The primary reason is that it looks good in black and white. I've concentrated on color photography, so I had to search for an image that would look good in the Buzz. "Stairway to Heaven" is also a photograph with an interesting story. It was taken in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe (N.M.) In the 1800s, the "Sisters of Loretto" were asked to leave Kentucky and begin a girl's school in Santa Fe. After enduring enormous hardships, they made a go of the school. When their chapel required a special staircase, legend has it that a man showed up on a donkey, built an "engineering marvel" of a staircase (with two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support), then disappeared without asking for thanks or payment (For more detail, see

Where are you headed with your photography?
I am currently involved in two nearly completely separate endeavors. One is local exhibits and shows involving my framed photography. The other is commercial stock photography, which is posted and sold via stock photo agency Web sites. I've heard it said that one needs to head to either the East or West Coast to make it as an artist. I'm here for now, so the stock photography hedges my bets a little bit. What I really envision myself as doing someday is settling in some wonderful little town in Colorado and opening a gallery. Well, one can imagine.

What is your source of inspiration in your photography?
For me, there is an inner component and an external one. Externally, I find photography (and inspiration) easy when in a wonderful environment. There is no end to inspiration in a place like the Aegean Sea or a beautiful canyon in the Southwest. However, to avoid simply snapping pictures, one has to have some kind of internal vision or put some kind of "voice" into the work. I often see photographs in places that leave other people wondering why I'm stopping and what in the world I'm doing. If this inner voice isn't "speaking," my photography doesn't seem to amount to much. What I really hope to accomplish is to create a "window of interpretation" that the viewer can appreciate. When this actually works, the viewer has a connection to the original subject matter, one that combines both the photographer's interpretation as well as the viewer's.

Who has influenced you in your photography?
Of course, there are the master photographers. Closer to home, there was a former Presbyterian minister who ran a photography workshop more than 20 years ago. He taught me to establish a relationship with my photographic subjects, especially as applied to human subjects. It's just too easy "to steal" a photograph with today's ultra-zoom lenses. I've thought of his point of view often. Then, there is the advice I heard from a more current photographer, which was that the only bad photograph was the one not taken. These two viewpoints can come into conflict on occasion. It makes it interesting when one begins to debate ethical photographic conduct when in the middle of a photo shoot.


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