Born in Brooklyn, New York, Stellar was educated at Parsons School of Design where he focused on graphic design and photography. His professional career has produced innumerable book designs, editorial design, and art direction for magazines and publishing houses, as well as many gallery shows of his art photography in the U.S. and in Europe. His photography has been presented and discussed in over a dozen anthologies and has been on the covers of 26 international magazines. One of the seminal photographers of the early period of gay liberation, many of his images from that time have become icons of that period. He lives and works in New York City.
Why are you a photographer?
I'm a photographer because I know how to see, and feel, and communicate, and I feel compelled to do so. I'm addicted to seeing. It's what I have done for most of my life. Being a photographer is what I desire, it's what I know.
I started taking photographs at around eleven or twelve years old. As a child, seeing the photographic image was magic for me.
When I was young, I lived the life of a lonely, isolated queer boy. I was invisible, and alone in high school. All I could do was look out at a middle class Brooklyn world that was happening, but wasn't mine. I had no friends. Images became friends I could play with and a place to go for refuge. When I went to Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, everything changed. Parsons trained me to become a very sophisticated visual dude.
I came out in the sixties and found myself for the first time in my life in intimate visual situations — in rooms with men with and without our clothes on — being able to freely and honestly look at each other as men and experience each other physically. But at that time there was almost no meaningful recorded imagery of us, or the physical culture and style of who men are, here in my New York City world. I was moved to record it for myself, and for all of us.
When I was an editorial art director in the ’70s, I used to think I wanted to design other people’s photographs graphically. Possess them in that way. Then in 1976 it became clear to me that I wanted to take my own images of what I had never freely seen, of who and what I was hungry to see, to record my existence through my individual vision of it.
What catches your eye?
A combination of masculinity, detail, individuality, and human vulnerability. Men who are at home within themselves, alive in their ability to share some spark of their humanity with me. Men who have an inner life, and an inner light that I recognize within me, within both of us.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
I start by just chilling, sitting and talking with the man I'm about to photograph. I'm very laid back, and I enjoy that time when I get to just look at them, look in their eyes, let them look in my eyes in return, so that we can both see and feel aspects of each other, in each other.
How do you choose your subjects?
Mostly, I used to talk to people I met while walking down the street, I used to be really cool at that. I've found models on the subway. I have stood in the middle of the sidewalk with my camera waiting and watching the men who walk into me, or walk away from me. Feeling the vibe. Knowing who will respond to me, and who won't. Before the internet I placed ads in papers. Right now it's mostly men I meet casually in my everyday New York City life, or online.
How do you describe your work?
I am a portrait photographer. I think I shoot hot/cool, masculine, soulful, and honest portraits of men based on what I see as each man’s individual visual strengths and poetry of body and gesture through my design and human vision. I try to make transcendent images of contemporary men.
What makes a good photograph to you?
I like it when someone takes a photograph that goes deeper than the surface. Something with a spark of life that is not a cliché. Strong photographs that truly come from a meaningful and individual place in the photographer, that turn me on and show me something, a way of visually letting me into seeing someone in a way that I haven't seen before.
I'm a visually articulate person. My memory holds much of the visual history of the second half of the 20th century. I've seen a lot of fine art, art history, painting, illustration, advertising images, anthropological photography, film, history of contemporary photography, posters, graphics, editorial magazine imagery, television, record covers, culture, style, porn, fashion, icons, logos, billboards, post cards, tattoos, typography, street life.
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Mike Disfarmer, Al Urban, Danny Lyon, Larry Clark, Irving Penn, Henry Dodger, WeeGee, Eadweard Muybridge, Henri Matisse, and of course Peter Hujar. Their photographs touch me because they hold onto that beautiful moment in time and space and the magic of life, and love.
Upcoming at the Leslie/Lohman Art Foundation: Stanley Stellar: A Photographer, May 18 - July 2, 2011, curated by Peter Weiermair. Opening reception and book launch of The Beauty of All Men, Tuesday, May 17, 6 - 8 p.m.