Stephen Bartels: Uniquely Doing What He Loves

This is a guest post by Bob Callway, who has his own production company Nilsfilmwhich produces corporate promos and documentaries. Most, recently, he has been producing/directing for DisneyXD.

As one of the first photographers to be invited to contribute to the Leica blog/Facebook page, I have been fortunate enough to communicate and become “friends” with many other like-minded Leica users. One of these friends is Stephen Bartels, a real Leica enthusiast, who has taken his passion to the next level. The Stephen Bartels Gallery uniquely displays photographs on HD screens rather than as traditional prints and specializes on exhibiting photographs made by Leica cameras and lenses. Stephen was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions.

Q: What attracted you to buying a Leica camera?

A: I had been getting serious with photography for a while and was conscious of two things: life can be short so if you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability and with the best equipment you can afford. I had done research into a number of camera and lens systems and more and more what I was discovering was not only that Leica lenses were the best in the world, but also that using a Leica had an influence on the way you made a photograph. I was intrigued by this and a few years ago bought a Leica M7 with just a 50mm lens to see if I could figure out what it all meant.

Q: How did the gallery come about?

A: A few years ago I was thinking about how the photography world is set up right now and whether it was serving as many interests as it could. Most photographers have individual websites or they upload to online galleries and social media sites such as Flickr and Facebook. The problem with doing this is that there are simply millions of other photographers competing in that space for views, clicks and followers. I remember looking into how many photographs were on Flickr and it was something like 6 billion – and that was a couple of years ago so one can only imagine how many there are now.

How do you stand out as a photographer in that scenario? So I concluded that relying on online exposure alone just was not practical. I then looked at the traditional gallery market and for emerging photographers this is extremely challenging and to get an exhibition at a well positioned and reputable gallery in a place like London is difficult and can be very expensive. This is when I came up with the idea of the gallery in its current form located in Central London.

Q:…and you pretty much “jacked in your job” to run your very own gallery!? What has been the reaction of family and friends?

A: Very supportive. My family has always been about following your dreams and so when I told them about it they were behind me 100%. Friends have been the same, they loved the idea and are very keen to see it become a success.

Q: There are lots of great photos taken with other cameras…why choose only to exhibit photographs taken with Leica camera/lenses?

A: That is a true point – that great photographs have been taken with other cameras too. The reason we only exhibit Leica photographs is because that is really what I know and love and the advice I have been given time and time again is do what you love, don’t do what you think someone else will love. I love my Leica, I love shooting with it and I love talking to people about my and their photographic experience with it. That is why it made sense to me to make the gallery all about Leica – it’s what I love.

Q: Why did you start using HD screens rather than exhibiting prints?

A: The idea for the screens actually came about when I was visiting my brother, Andrew, in the US and I was watching his giant TV screen. He came into the room and said that he had Apple TV and could stream the photographs I had on Flickr through the big screen. When he showed me I was blown away. I had never seen my photographs that big. I started seeing parts of the photograph that I had never seen before – it was an eye opening experience. It was actually at that time that I thought a digital gallery would be amazing.

The reason is that exhibiting prints while amazing can also limiting and part of the reason why so many talented photographers are not getting exhibitions. Prints are expensive to produce, there are logistical issues in getting them to the gallery (especially if you are a foreign based photographer) and finally, they take up space so ultimately you run out of space very quickly once you exhibit more than a few photographers which means you can only exhibit a few photographers at a time which again means you have to turn away a number of photographers. With the HD screen exhibitions we can have up to 150 member photographers at any given time which simply would not be possible if we were only print based.

Q: How do you choose membership and who is it open to?

A: There is an invitation process where we contact photographers that we have noticed online and invite them to be members. We also deal with a lot of inquiries from photographers who would like to be members and we simply ask them to submit a selection of their work and if we like it and think it would work in the gallery then we extend an invitation of membership to them. The only strict requirement is that they must use a Leica system. If there are talented Leica photographers out there that would like to join, we are more than happy to hear from them.

Q: So quite exclusive yet inclusive at the same time?

A: Yes, part of the reason for setting up the gallery was to address the issue of galleries being too exclusive and so we want photographers to feel here is a place where they can get on to the London gallery ladder. It is a much more democratic approach. The current members come from Sweden, Germany, Belgium, England and New Zealand/USA. This is one of the trump cards of the gallery due to its digital nature. We can have a member from anywhere in the world sign up today and he or she can be exhibiting work from tomorrow. Not many physical galleries can provide that. In terms of work, there is a lot of different types of photography being done by the members. We have portraits, landscapes, reportage, seascape and much more. Visitors are really spoiled for choice when viewing the work.

Q: What do you have in store for the future? Any plans or events?

A: Going forward the plan is to keep building membership and building awareness of the gallery through events and talks. Ultimately the goal of the gallery is to raise the profile of the member photographers so we are always looking at new ways to do this. My dream is to one day have similar galleries all over the world.

Thank you for your time, Stephen!

- Leica Internet Team

For more on Stephen’s Gallery visit his website. Click here to see the full list of members.
For more of Bob’s work, visit his websites www.nilsfoto.com and www.nilsfilm.com.