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MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Caving in to fascination

After a variety of careers, Jan Steinman gives photography his undivided attention

Jan Steinman displays some of his favorite work, including photos from Crater Lake, in the foyer of his West Linn home. PHOTO: KATHRYN OSLER/THE OREGONIAN

Jan Steinman's first brush with photography came when he was a youngster in Monroe, Mich., where his father, a house painter, moonlighted as a wedding photographer.

"As soon as I was old enough to get my hands over the counter, I was working with him, developing film," Steinman said. I had a view camera before I was even 10 years old."

Throughout his life, Steinman, 45, of West Linn has kept his camera gear close at hand. Now, after holding jobs as a bicycle messenger, a cross-country ski instructor, a software engineer and, most recently, a computer consultant, he has turned to photography to make a living.

At home: The foyer of Steinman's home is lined with poster-size photographs, many of them depicting scenes he shot during a muchs-savored week in September,1999 at Crater Lake National Park in Southern Oregon. There's a close-up of penstemon wildflowers, a lake-level view of an island called Phantom Ship, a panoramic sunrise over the lake and a forest of ice crystals.

In his living room, the floor-to-ceiling windows hold a dozen or more translucent prints, adding a stained-gass-like beauty to the room.

A home studio downstairs is where Steinman produces his art. There, with a view of Mount Hood as a backdrop, he takes his art digitally from color negative to colorful print.

At work: A former software engineer for Tektronix, Steinman quit to become a consultant but soon found consulting a thankless task. He said he wearied of feeling as if his advice, though sought after, was frequently ignored in favor of a quicker solution.

"I wanted to do something under my control, which is why I bought all of this equipment," he said, gesturing to the computers, scanner, laser printer and fine-art printer that compete for space.

Calling all artists: This fall Steinman was one of two West Linn artists to participate in Portland Open Studios. For two weekends, he opened his living room gallery and his dowstairs studio to visitors. Though only two dozen dropped by, Steinman considers the experience a sucess.

In fact, he'd like to generate excitement about open studio weekends among West Linn's artists. With about 40 artists working in various media based in West Linn, he thinks the idea has real merit.

"My goal is to have a dozen artists working as a cluster so that we can do cooperative marketing and studio sales on the same weekends," he said.

"Organizing artists is kind of like herding cats," he added, lauughing. "But I do think artists need to organize."

Shooting for excellence: Steinman brings an analytical approach to his craft. He estimates that he spends 2 percent of his time actually taking photos.

The rest of his time is spent adjusting the color and clarity of the images on the computer, making prints and marketing his photos.

"I realized that if I were to go out and take pictures for 50 weeks of the year, or even for 26 weeks of the year, there would be no way I could market them the way I want to," he said. So he limits his shooting so that he can do justice to each print he selects.

That said, there are still days when he just has to get out of the house to shoot. Often those days find him headed for Silver Fails State Park, outside Silverton.

"In winter, there are not so many people there, the leaves are down, and the water's up," he said. "It's great."

Creating success: Although he spent two years planning and researching his full-time leap into photography, Steinman has been marketing his work full time only since April.

Already, he said, he can "see the way to success" with arts and craft shows where he and Carol Wagner, his domestic partner, set up a booth to sell her jewelry as well as prints and cards bearing his images.

As winter sets in, he is focused on pulling together a summer travel schedule for arts and crafts shows next year. He's also planning for the digital and nature photography courses he'll teach this winter through West Linn-Wilsonville Community Education and Canby Community Schools.

He admits that he is not yet profitable as a photographer. Yet he seems to have no regrets about his decision.

"I considered doing (photography) and continuing to do the computer consulting," he said. "I thought it out and decided it wouldn't work. So I went cold turkey.

"It was the right decision, I'm sure. There's more to life than a paycheck."

You can reach Nelle Nix at 503-294-5114 or by e-mail at

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