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Stephen Willard was a true artist who did not shun other methods or mediums to describe the wonders and unusual moods of the natural world.   His art is not a concession between the world of commercial and fine art photography, rather a lifelong pursuit to capture what he felt when he stood before the majesty of the landscape, and to share that feeling with others through the use of two simple tools - a camera and a paintbrush. 
Willard’s work in black and white photographs which he printed in Gelatin-Silver of California’s deserts and mountains were recognized as some of the finest done by any western photographer in the period.  Through his experimental work in textured screen processes, he transformed the reality of the western landscape into an expression of deeply artistic and spiritual pictorial images.
However, Willard saw in a world in color, at a time where only black and white photography existed.  This limit inspired him to achieve a level of artistry that was truly unique, as he took the widely used concept of hand tinting photographs to a new height, with his use of oil paints over his specially enlarged grayscale images.  This became a lifetime pursuit which developed over time, as he worked with Kodak to develop new papers which would have enough “tooth” to hold the amount of paint that he needed to apply.  In the end, he was able to share the world through a combination of the Realism of a camera, and the Impressionism of a paintbrush.  He could then depict the world a way that he as an artist actually saw and felt it - both visually and spiritually.
His talent and artistry brought him huge commercial success and recognition from an early age, but he refused to limit himself to simply document the world with his camera.  Instead, Stephen Willard pursued and a lifelong quest to express himself as a truly fine artist.  He achieved his pursuit of The Purple Shadow through bold experimentation of techniques and mediums without fear of criticism from his colleagues, clients, or the buying public. 
This is the freedom which is necessary in the creative process to allow truly great art to be created.
Millions of talented artists have existed before Stephen Willard, and most are forgotten in the dust-bowl of history.  We are proud on the celebration of the 50th year since his passing in 1966, to be able to share with you not only the story of his life, but his artistic vision as well.

Robert  L. Joki

A book about Willard’s Life and Artistry
Richard Westman

Available from the Historic Willard Studio $24.95




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