I’m like a lot of people when it comes to art. I can’t tell you much about it, except that I know what I like. I immediately connected to the photographs by Caleb Stein. The first time I came across his work was when scrolling through the Huffington Post where his Down by the Hudson series was showcased. The images from the series focused on the City of Poughkeepsie, her inhabitants, and various locals and structures that if you’re a local, you’ll probably recognize. Coming from the Mid-Hudson Valley (my first solo apartment was on Carrol Street in fact), I felt instantly connected to the images because they perfectly captured the Poughkeepsie I knew and felt oddly protective of once I moved away.
For the life of me, I can no longer find the article that highlighted the young photographer for his keen eye or way of framing the ordinary into something striking, but I was able to track down articles in PetaPixel, Huck, The Heavy Collective, and other publications that also hailed Stein’s ability to show the beauty of spaces and people that are often overlooked. He was a runner-up for the Burn Emerging Photographer Fund, as well as a nominee for the Photogrvphy Grant in 2017. He was gracious enough to allow me to interview him and to share his upcoming project which is centered around Agent Orange and its impact in Vietnam and the United States.
The Upstate Edit: How did you become interested in photography?
Caleb Stein: I fell in love with [it] when I was in high school. My photo teacher-a really great guy called Andrew Stole-showed me all these amazing photographers and taught me how to print in a darkroom. I was never very good in a darkroom, but I spent most of my free time in the last two years of high school making silver gelatin prints. He was so nice that he even let me stay after school ended. Sometimes I stayed until 7pm or 8pm before I realized I needed to get out of there and do some homework.
When did you come to New York? I read in Lenscratch that you were born in London.
CS: I went back and forth a lot as a kid because my mother lived in NYC and my father lived in London. I first moved to New York a couple of days before 9/11.
Whoa! What brought you to Hudson Valley?
CS: I came to Poughkeepsie to study at Vassar in 2013. I ended up working for Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden who lives in Beacon.
Let’s talk about your series ‘Down by the Hudson’. It generated a lot of buzz and praise. Can you tell readers more about that project and why you started it?
CS: I began [the] project as a way of learning more about Poughkeepsie and its Main Street. I’d spent most of my life in large cities and had never spent much time in small American towns and I had this idea that it would be like something out of a Norman Rockwell illustration. I ended up making friends with a lot of people and walking the same strip of Main Street hundreds of times over a two-year period. In that time I graduated from Vassar, got a job as a waiter, moved to Poughkeepsie’s downtown area, and started working as Bruce’s studio assistant part-time. In all my free time I photographed and walked and talked. The whole thing was really about opening up and seeing how my initial conceptions of a small American town can be complicated by actually living and working there.
The first time I saw the series, it was being featured in the Huffington Post and I was struck by how gritty but intimate the images were. Were all your subjects open to being filmed and how you go about establishing relationships with them?
CS: All the people in my photographs wanted to be photographed and many of the photographs are the product of a relationship. Some were taken after only a brief interaction, others after knowing the person for a long time. In either case, the whole things is done out of love.
The Hudson Valley is often pictured as this destination spot. You know, a place to have weddings or to “escape” the city? One of things about the series I found most compelling was that you managed to capture this very real aspect of the area that many don’t want to acknowledge. Can you speak a little to why you chose to highlight certain areas and people and maybe even to how the area is portrayed versus how it is in reality?
CS: I photographed what I was interested in. I’m not doing a touristic, comprehensive overview of a place. I’m meeting people and photographing and opening up and looking at my own views and thinking about the things right in front of me. Ultimately, I’m interested in continuing to photograph in small American towns because I think they’re very interesting places with a lot of fascinating people. These towns are a big part of this country.
You’re currently preparing for a new project, right? Tell me more about it.
CS: My wife and I are working on a long-term project about the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the United States. The project includes photographs, interviews with veterans and descendants living with Agent Orange, and self-portrait paintings made by descendants living with Agent Orange from an ongoing class we’re teaching in Hanoi. We’re also expanding the project to include a U.S. perspective on the war and its aftermath.
And you’re selling some of the pieces from Down by the Hudson to fund this?
CS: Yes, I’m selling prints for the rest of the month to fund the project. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find me on Instagram at @cjbstein and send me a DM or you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. My website is: caleb-stein.squarespace.com.
Where can readers go to see more of your work? Are you planning any gallery appearances for 2019?
CS: I’m not planning exhibitions right now but hopefully something in the next couple years.
When you’re not working on a project, where can people find you?
CS:When I’m in Poughkeepsie, my favorite place is the watering hole, behind the Overlook Drive-In right off 55. It’s Eden on earth.
To see more of Caleb Stein’s work or to purchase, visit his website.
Hudson Valley based writer.