Creative control is a vision like a hunt for an elusive image, moving, hiding in a puff of smoke, straining inside your guts trying to get free. There are moments over and over that appear to be sublime that are not. The lens is a brush freely moving in my mind. Its raw kinetic energy runs away with my dream. I’ll never stop the search for the moment you reveal yourself.
For many observers, the meaning of the work of Richard H Stamps defies description, possibly a better word is it defies direction. Other artists such as Ansell Adams, Edward Burtynsky, Richard Avedon, Milton Rogovin and many others have had accomplished artistic careers in photography pursuing a specific narrative. Stamps on the other hand has not pursued a specific subject or theme. He’s been criticized for this by curators, art dealers, collectors and sometimes other photographers. Many have struggled with Stamps’ work suggesting it’s quirky, eccentric, all over the place.
Being able to reflect on an artist’s intent is more easily done by experiencing the artist’s body of work when it focuses on a specific genera, theme or process. It is easier for critics to derive or at less speculate on meaning by having a context provided by individual works that resonate with each other. Sometimes children playing in the street scene, an upside-down portrait of a woman’s face, yet another of a stream of blurred color shot of a passing truck; a reverberating context cannot be found, unless it is the artist himself.
I have observed Richard Stamps’ practice for one and a half decades and have struggled to find a central theme or interconnecting technique. I realized I was looking in the wrong place.
What binds Stamps’ various themes which include characters, light, and rural and urban scenes, is the artists engagement with the world around wherever he may be. In a recent body of work resulting from a visit to Las Vegas 2016, Stamps reveals his fascination and his interaction with the world of disparate experiences. Visiting these images, one may conclude they are the work and interests of many artists having little common connection. We are programmed to find meaning at patterns and themes. Finding none, many move on.
The lamp set askew in a hotel room, a grinning chauffeur looking from inside his car, and the night traffic around the Hoover Dam are Stamps pauses to reflect on the inconsequential, the overt, the common place, the grand.
As a curator and director of three art museums in Canada and US, I would frequently review the work of artists. I was used to selecting key images, formulating a hypothesis with regard to the works meaning and the intention of the artist in organizing exhibitions or convince acquisition committees of the vision of the artist. For many years I tried to apply this to Stamps’ work. Now I understand the nuance connecting the many dissimilar scenes and techniques.
Stamps like many artists intends to understand the world through the lens of the camera. One can say that many artists do this concentrating on the landscape, famous personalities, or the state of the human condition. What we learn from Stamps is that the real world reveals itself in subtle and overt ways. It is sometimes beautiful and other times grotesque. It is sometimes funny and other times frightening. Stamps interaction with the world is an intense examination of the things and people before him. All of us are travelers in this world experiencing something second to second trying to make sense of it or ignoring it. R H Stamps is also a traveler and his photographs are reflections on his personal encounters with people and places. The images are “aw ha” moments like a child’s fascination in their discovery of what a light switch does.
Stamps’ photographs are the evidence of an engagement with life, and an intense desire to understand our meaning here.
Ted Pietrzak, Director, Burchfield Penney Art Center 1998-2010, retired
The title of the exhibition; Inside My Big Fat Head, gives us a clue as to what this exhibition of photographic works by Richard Stamps is about. Not shy about voicing his opinion about a wide range of topics, the artist is giving us a glimpse on what he sees in the world that attracts him; attracts him as in draws his wonder.
Stamps is a little like Valentine Michael Smith, not that the artist was born on Mars and raised by Martians, as presented in Stranger in a Strange Land, a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. Smith in the novel, who was born away, is unfamiliar with the culture and customs of earth, and when he returns, sees and experiences everything in a fresh and un-prescribed way, at least un-prescribed as earthlings would have it.
Stamps like Smith, the person brought up by Martians, is largely comfortable with the strangeness of the world. The artist and his camera capture the surprising, the ambiguous, and the foreign. Some artists intend to convey a message, sometimes political, sometimes social; aimed at drawing us into emotional or physical or intellectual engagement. It is the belief of this writer that this is not Stamps’ intent. Richard is simply on a trip, a road trip that is. There is no question that the images in this exhibition selected from hundreds, maybe thousands, elicit a response in the viewer; sometimes trying to figure out what is going on, and in others, discomfort, because what is going on is too clear. Dissembling the word "Disease" into two words, "Dis Ease" best captures my experiences of many of Stamps’ images.
The images range from the upside down portrait of Eyes Wide Open, to the back-lite figure with a top-hat, Carnivale II. Nose Candy aligns a term connected with cocaine sniffing with the awkwardly portrayed figures on a parade float. What is the nose up to? The stalwart trombone player in Split Personality waits while red and blue lights illuminate each side of her face; a young Dominican woman stares at you from the other side of a barbed-wire barrier, apparently with an expression of contentedness; two young girls look down, faces illuminated most likely from their smart phones. We are left, many times wanting more. Asking ourselves, "What’s going on here? Can someone give me a context? Why is the photographer presenting me with this image?" If I put myself into Stamps head, "yes, that "Big Fat Head," I would say back, "This is what I happened upon that day and that’s all you get." We are lucky we don’t get more. If we are comfortable with our "Dis Ease", we are able to revel in a world of strange people, strange landscapes and strange activities. We are fortunate that Stamps is a stranger in a strange land because it is through his images that we too see things anew, also as strangers in a strange land.
Looking over the edge of a cliff is dangerous. Fear and beauty can sometimes coexist. RH’s photographs are meant to show the translucent human condition. Richard Stamps’ work reminds us that Art, like life, is subjective. It is our life experiences that either draws us into a photograph or repulses us. Either way it makes us think.