Learning Curve

Tinytypes and valuable lessons from MSU Associate Professor of Art Ryan Stander

Ashton Gerard/MDN Minot State University Associate Professor of Art Ryan Stander poses with one of his wet collodion self portraits at the Hartnett Hall Gallery Tuesday. Stander’s exhibition Learning Curve will be on display in the gallery until Sept. 27.

Sepia toned photos sit lined up against the stark, industrial white walls and concrete floors of the new Hartnell Hall Gallery at Minot State University. Associate Professor of Art Ryan Stander spent the summer going through the trials and errors of the wet plate collodion photo process to present “Learning Curve: Failure is Not Fatal” to begin the school year.

Learning Curve opened in the new gallery space Tuesday and will be on display through Sept. 27.

“The wet plate collodion process is something I’ve known about for a long time,” Stander explained.

He got his first exposure to the process from Bismarck photographer Shane Balkowitsch who visited Minot State University in 2014 for a show and live demo of the process. Then, a former professor invited Stander to UND for a class on the process.

“Once I started doing it, it was really amazing,” Stander said. After the class, Stander bought the equipment to work on the process on his own.

“I went on vacation to Canada for 10 days, spent time with my wife, my wife’s family and over the 10 days that’s all I did every day,” Stander said. “I just made pictures.”

Out of the 99 photos Stander has made so far, 10 were made in Minot while the rest were from his family vacation and art discovery time in Canada.

“I started making the work and it’s a lot of failures, as you’ll see,” Stander explained. “But then there’s the ones that have held up and are just stunning. Failure doesn’t bother me. Sure it’s frustrating, but it doesn’t make me want to quit because of it.”

Stander carries a view on failure as something that artists and people can look at, learn and grow from. It’s not something that should discourage the journey.

“The idea of the learning curve is that while there’s success and we focus on the success, there’s always failure,” Stander said. “I’ve heard photographers say that if they shoot a roll of 36 pictures, they might get one good one, one that rises way above the others.”

While the Learning Curve could be a good lesson for everyone, Stander thinks is an especially good lesson to incoming freshman at Minot State University.

“We all need to learn about failure, but I think it’s a good message for incoming freshmen to say you’re going to make some bad work in your growth time here and that’s okay as long as you think about why it’s bad and grow from it,” Stander said. “Use that as a stepping stone to make your next piece better.”

Learning Curve in the Hartnett Hall Gallery is free and open to the public. An opening reception will be held today in the gallery from 4-5:30 p.m.

Growing up, Stander always enjoyed drawing but grew to have a fascination for cameras. His dad had a camera he bought in Germany while he was stationed there in the 1950s and his brother bought a camera while he was in college.

“I was just fascinated by the technology of it and got my first real camera in high school when I took my first dark room class,” Stander said. “It’s just become the primary way of expression for me.”

Out of a lack of ideas about what to photograph, Stander threw himself into the west plate collodion process and has been trying to master one of the earliest forms of photography.

“Play is so essential to artists, you don’t know where ideas are going to come from,” Stander said. “You just start playing.”

While photography is Stander’s playground, he lives to teach his students the art of photography and how to help them harness their potential and love of art.

“One of the joys of teaching for me is exposing (students) to the gamut of what’s out there,” Stander said. “We need to know the possibilities of the medium and I enjoy sharing that.”

To learn more about Stander and to see his portfolio, visit his website: https://www.ryanstander.com/.