Step into Sam Stevens Silverton photography studio and you get more than you bargained for.
Sandwiched between a busy Old West-style portrait studio and an even busier public restroom, the heavy log walls of the restored miners cabin hold not just otherworldly photos but also, excuse the hyperbole, dreams and secrets.
You wont find sepia-toned images of little Johnny dressed up as Billy the Kid in here. No Caution: Pomeranian Crossing street signs crowd the time-stained logs.
What you will find is a bookcase holding stacks of tomes with curious titles for a photography studio: Dr. Suess Oh, the Places Youll Go flush with Carl Jungs Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Youll also notice the foot-thick row of spiral-bound notebooks, their warped and well-worn nature indicating utility, not display.
The walls of the spartan studio hold a handful of arrestingly distinctive images created using nothing more than a run-of-the-mill Canon SLR and a lot of face-time with Photoshop.
Three years ago, the now 20-year-old Sam Stevens had a dream. Like something straight out of a Carl Sagan novel, he dreamt of a sunrise-pink world of ice and snow, a vision of symmetrical fractals floating before him, forming a pattern. Upon waking, he was sitting at his desk, holding a piece of paper upon which was scrawled, in sleep-walking script, a mathematical theory.
It took me a week to translate it and three years to work out the details, said Stevens in the tone of one who believes what hes saying but suspects everyone else probably wont.
That theory, now tattooed on his left hand, forms the basis for his striking photographs. Each image is the composite of 400 separate shots and has the look of an extremely detailed fisheye lens, without the distortion of the widening angle at the edges. Before its over, each creation will have taken a month to compile into one digital image tipping the scales at 15 gigabytes.
Imagine standing in the middle of a snow-covered mountain cirque, looking up at the sky. Now rotate your head to every degree on the compass, logging each image into memory; the blue bowl of sky in the center, snowcapped peaks and evergreen trees at the edges of the circle, until your entire field of view is covered. Think IMAX on steroids.
The idea itself is very basic, Stevens said, but the complexity is in the intricacies of putting it all together.
Through his work, Stevens seeks to re-create not only this physical image of a place, but the essence of it, that of being there.
Despite the location of his studio in one of the most touristy towns in Colorado, his work, first and foremost, is directed at Alzheimer patients as a form of art therapy. Hence the decidedly no-nonsense texts such as Sensory Integration and Learning Disorders weighing his bookshelf down.
I believe I understand what could be the key to memory, Stevens said in a serious voice, which is electric with assured and barely subdued excitement.
This is how it works: Stevens visits a patient known to be afflicted with memory loss. In the hopes of triggering a specific memory, he shows that patient a series of photographs. After a number of photos with no response, said Stevens, a specific image can trigger something inside that patient.
Ill pull up the right picture, and all the sudden theyll go from not being able to answer something to rambling off five memories all jumbled into one sentence. If its not the right picture, it wont do that.
He tells the story of a woman whose trigger image was clouds. On each visit, she would remain passive until a cloud popped up, and then would come alive with vivid recollections. She wouldnt let him leave with the photos, and now they cover the walls of her room in a sprawling mosaic.
The studio, the art therapy, the signing of LP-sized copies at foo-foo art festivals thats just the tip of the iceberg.
Waving an arm over his tiny studio, Stevens said, Technically this is the smallest detail of the business, but no one realizes it.
Enter the notebooks. Each is filled cover to cover with the psychology notes and machinations of his dream-delivered theory. Not only is this theory a cool tattoo, it also, said Stevens, forms the framework for a sort of virtual reality device that he refers to only as The Invention.
In hushed tones, he explains that The Invention is, like, the 100 percent real thing that has yet to be released.
The patent process currently is under way for what essentially will be a sort of personal theater. It will be a theater of the memory, designed to draw out buried remembrances to enhance cognitive thinking. The images adorning the walls of his studios and the rooms of the patients he sees would be projected on the interior of a globe, inside which the subject sits, re-creating a memory through visual stimuli.
Stevens offers a metaphor: If you put on a song you listened to all during junior year of high school, it gives you a feeling of being back there. Its like reenacting déjà vu.
Super techy, space-aged devices aside, at the core of his research are the photographs hanging in a century-old log cabin on Blair Street in Silverton. That déjà vu experience can happen at any time to anyone, says Stevens.
The coolest thing is that the whole personalized art therapy thing totally applies here, he said.
As if on cue, a customers eyes light up as she points out an image on the wall. Ill take three! she exclaims.
Anna Riling is a geologist and writer who has yet to write about rocks. Reach her through www.AnnaRiling.com.