Bekah S. McNeel

How has technology enhanced the fine arts?

For one answer to this debated question, treat yourself to an outing to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center where Kevin G. Saunders’s fine art photography studio heralds a new crop of commercial galleries in the arts complex. Leading voices in San Antonio’s artistic community insist that commercial galleries are necessary for the arts to flourish in a city, and Saunders has taken action in that direction.

Tucked away on the west side of the back row galleries, the studio’s unassuming exterior belies the technology at work inside. When we entered on a First Thursday, Saunders and his assistant were busy at work with a vanda crownfox velvet orchid hanging in front of a giant apparatus supporting a Digital View camera.

Studio, courtesy of Kevin G. Saunders

Surrounding the techy equipment were testaments to the art it produced, exquisitely detailed prints of orchids against purest black backgrounds achievable only through painstaking digital layering. The detail and clarity infused the studio with life and elegance, not unlike the effect of actual orchids.

Despite the extensive use of digital technology, Saunders does not use photoshop or studio trickery to perfect the flowers. When a dust mite showed up, only visible in the final 30-inch print, Saunders honored the stealth of the creature by allowing the mite to stay on the petal in the finished product.

Hawaiian Wizard Carmela Bloom Close, courtesy of Kevin G. Saunders

The secret isn’t photoshop, it’s the flowers themselves. When Saunders discovered E.D. Huntington’s Orchids+Tropicals, he recognized in the growers, Liz and Don O’Toole, a kindred spirit of care and attention to detail. They became his exclusive orchid suppliers.

“I could tell that the love they put into the plants would transfer into the images,” Saunders said.

This kind of devotion to excellence does not come cheap. Saunders hopes that the desire for quality will eventually temper the city’s unwavering devotion to economy at any cost. His own commitment is to perfection. Perfection in that meticulous, scientific way that many of us would never have the patience to achieve.

Hawaiian Wizard Carmela, courtesy of Kevin G. Saunders

Patience he must have in spades. His other favored subject, architecture, has taken him across the country and rendered noteworthy shots of many American icons. However he does it in unparalleled detail. A trophy print Cleveland’s Terminal Tower is a composite of 304 images.

Kevin G. Saunders
Kevin G. Saunders

Some of the dedication can be attributed to a lifetime of photography. Saunders was groomed for this sort of expertise. As a child his father would pause, survey the landscape and quiz him on how to photograph the scene. “What’s the F-stop? What’s the shutter speed?” he would say, and young Kevin learned the answers, laying the framework for technical mastery.

His father’s photography also bonded Kevin to San Antonio at an early age, bringing him to the city on a photo safari of Hemisfair in 1968. The city, in particular, still remains a muse, or at least a willing and photogenic model, for Saunders.

Detail-oriented Saunders went on to pursue a pre-med degree and a career in industrial design. Which brings us to the other endeavor benefitting from his perfectionist streak.

Photo courtesy of KGS Bikes.

KGS Bikes are bespoke bicycles that have earned accolades and mention all over the world. Saunders’s design viewpoint is that the way bicycles are made puts undue pressure on the human skeletal structure. Each KGS bike is produced after a three-hour studio fitting. Saunders then designs the bike using his patented BalancePoint ™ technology (riders will find that the seat is further back in almost every instance) and contracts with renown companies like Parlee and Passoni to build the frames.

The bikes are prohibitively expensive by most standards, but serious riders the world over have found them worth the pretty penny.

This kind of luxury and quality has gone largely unnoticed in San Antonio, and Saunders has experienced the strange hometown aversion that other artists have mentioned.

“It’s like to be taken seriously, an artist has to go out of town,” Saunders laments.

But Saunders, like others in San Antonio, hopes that this is changing. And he’s made the bold move to open a commercial gallery in good faith that San Antonio is ready to start buying from within the city limits, if the quality is truly world-class.

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and a regular contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.