Stephen Barnwell photographer
Stephen Barnwell photographer


I became a photographer at a very early age. By the time I was 9 years old, there was always a camera in my hand. My first published photograph was in the local newspaper when I was only 13; it was a hard news story about a teachers' strike. With money saved from my paper routes, I bought my first 35mm SLR, and by the age of 15 I had built a darkroom and was processing film and printing my own prints. I was on my way.

After a year at Syracuse University as a computer major, I left to take a year off. In that time, I got my first job in photography, working as an assistant at Lewis Studios in Fairfield, NJ. Lewis was a large studio that filled a warehouse, with six to eight photographers on staff, a perfect studio to receive my primary training. I quickly moved up to Junior Photographer before I returned to school at Bard College as a photography major, studying under Doug Baz and Steven Shore. I was also the manager of the college's darkroom, and my work-study job was shooting for the Admissions Dept. publications. For all three years at Bard, I returned to Lewis every summer and January, gaining experience and training, so that when I graduated, I had a job waiting for me at Lewis, but was poached by the Photo Director at Nobart Studios in NYC. What 23 year old could resist being a photographer in a big Manhattan studio? So, I left to shoot in New York, much to the dismay of the kind folks at Lewis.

After a few short years at Nobart, I turned freelance, working at many of the major studios in New York, including Vogue-Wright, Mayo, Metel, Graphics 55, and back at Nobart. I decided to come in out of the cold and take a staff job at the A&S Department Store in-house photo studio in Brooklyn. I stayed there 6 years, rising to the position of Studio Manager. Federated Department Stores bought Macy's in 1996, and decided to liquidate the A&S brand. This forced the layoff of the entire 650 person advertising department. A few people were offered positions in the new Macy's studio, and I was offered the position of Director of the Macy's Studio, but I turned it down. Frankly, I was tired of catalog photography and wanted out. It turned out to be the best decision of my life.

Happily unemployed with a generous severence package, I landed a large freelance illustration assignment doing a collectible card game called Heresy, Kingdom Come, hoping that this was my transition to being a full-time artist. While working on this job, I got involved in an entertainment start-up called CyberSapien Entertainment. I wound up working with this company for several years, and lost a LOT of money. A word of advice: when payroll runs out, leave! After CyberSapien crashed and burned, I was very unemployed, doing all kinds of day-work -- even stagehand work, schlepping pipes and heavy cables. Finally, in 1999, a tip from a friend got me a job at the famous R/Greenberg & Associates. I was thrilled!

Working at this famous SFX and post house was a dream come true. I started there as the Video Engineer, keeping the broadcast video equipment up and running. Within a year, however, Bob Greenberg shut down the broadcast dept. (we called it Digital Post) and morphed the company into a fledgeling ad agency and digital design firm. Spared in yet another massive layoff, I stayed on to become the video editor at the new company, R/GA. (On a side note, it was my sad duty to dismantle the heart of R/Greenberg: I disassembled and sold two online edit suites, the AVID and Flame suites, and much of the machine room.) I was in the right place at the right time, however, and as R/GA evolved into a full-blown ad agency, I became not only the company shooter, both in video and photography, but also the manager of the new production studio, built in 2007.

Over the course of 18 years, R/GA grew from around 100 employees to over 2,000 worldwide. Every day was a challenge to solve creative and technical problems in a bleeding-edge company filled with brilliant, type-A overachievers! My experience in photography, video, film editing, illustration, and design were all put to the test, and it was a very satisfying job. I supervised the construction of two soundstages for R/GA, and had almost complete autonomy in the design and workflow of the stages. About a year after R/GA moved into its new global headquarters on 31st St., the time came for me to move on. Now I am a full-time artist and growing a small press, publishing fine art books and prints.

copyright © 2018 stephen barnwell