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Queens Chronicle

Boro photog shoots it like he sees it

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Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:00 am

Greg Stowell’s future is open-ended, but he is certain of one thing. “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing five years from now,” he says. “But I’ll still be shooting, I guarantee it.”

No need to worry, folks — Stowell’s talking about his lifelong love of photography, not firearms.

Now living in Jackson Heights after eight years in Woodside, Stowell has moved around a lot. Born in the small city of Olathe, Kan. in 1958, he soon relocated to an even smaller town in Missouri, where his family operated an RV campground.

Introduced to the camera in a junior high school photography class, he’s been taking pictures ever since.

Attending college in nearby Rolla, Mo., Stowell worked towards bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, which helped him refine his craft. “I understand the mechanics of the camera,” he says. “It’s like another eye for me.”

Stowell’s mechanical engineering background also influences his choice in photographic subjects.

As a young man in the Midwest, he focused on buildings and structures. When he moved to New York, he decided to incorporate people into his photography so that his pictures would tell more of a story.

Instead of hiring models, he followed the lead of master painters Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh, using himself as the model, playing with elements of shadow and reflection.

Today in the mellow light of his middle age, Stowell focuses on street scenes — unpolished and unposed. He usually creates black and white prints, giving his streetscapes a timeless feeling.

He works only with film, never digital, and does not crop or manipulate his pictures in any way. In short, Stowell shoots it like he sees it. “The camera always goes around with me,” he says. “The streets of Queens, the streets of Manhattan, wherever I go.”

One could say it’s the camera that follows Stowell, traveling with him to diverse locales over land and sea. After finishing his studies, he went to Italy to do field work. As soon as came home to the U.S., he started driving up and down the Eastern Seaboard, living for a time in Philadelphia and Princeton, N.J. before finally settling down in Queens.

Though the Missouri transplant is far-removed from his Midwest upbringing, one of his biggest influences is the late Gordon Parks, a groundbreaking photographer, novelist and film director who grew up in Fort Scott, Kan. — 70 miles from Stowell’s birthplace. “He’s one of my heroes,” Stowell says. “I found out after he passed away that he was from Kansas too.”

Although he doesn’t make much money from his photography — Stowell says he pays the bills by working in retail — he’s built up an impressive list of venues that have displayed his work over the past 13 years.

Some 33 coffee shops, cafes, schools, banks, galleries, museums and diners have shown his photos, including Topaz Art Gallery in Woodside, Cedarhouse Cafe in Maspeth and Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows.

Aptly summing up his life since that fateful photography class so many years ago, Stowell’s advice for aspiring shutterbugs is simply this: “Keep shooting.”

Stowell’s photography can be found on display at Art-O-Mat, 46-46 Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City. Works by the photographer will also be shown as part of Winter: Coney Island, a group exhibition showing until Feb. 20 at New York Law School, 47 Worth St. in downtown Manhattan.

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