Bill Steber

Bill Steber 1997 exhibition postcard image

Outstanding in his field

It was a grueling day of grading papers. But I was rummaging about in one of the many boxes of “stuff” littered about my floor, and I stumbled on a postcard. It took a long route to get to me. My photographic mentor in California, Harry Wilson, sent it to me a few years ago after I talked about meeting Bill Steber in Helena, Arkansas. I’m terrible with names, and I hadn’t remembered it until found the postcard.

I walked into a bar in Helena during the King Biscuit Blues Festival in 1996 to find some truly outstanding work displayed on the walls. It was the first really significant (to me anyway) work I’d seen since I got here. I said something to the guy chopping barbeque behind the counter, and he said— “Do you want to meet him? Bill’s around here somewhere.” Bill and I ended up drinking together for a little while, and he was a really nice guy. Later, when I wandered off to photograph Cedell Davis, Bill was there too. I did my best to stay out of his way.

Today, searching around a bit I found that he has a web site displaying the work called Stones in My Pathway. The site is pretty amazing; it features real audio streams of Bill talking about the pictures— or if you click the note— music to go along with them. It’s well worth a visit, and an excellent example of worthwhile contemporary documentary work.

One of the issues Bill and I discussed was the problem of exploitation. He was going to photograph Rosetta Patton Brown, last surviving child of Charlie Patton, the next day and he talked about how difficult it was to get the trust of these people. He was conscious of the importance of giving something back. A percentage of the sale of his photographs goes to help surviving blues musicians. I think that is a wonderful thing. I wish I could afford to buy some of his prints, because they are truly gorgeous. The Blues Highway layout available elsewhere showcases some of the same photos, but also some different ones. Both sites are well worth a visit. Bill Steber is an outstanding photographer, and more than that, he has a conscience.