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Dan Stensland

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Dan Stensland

I was born in Eugene, OR, then family bounced to MN, and Canada. I was pretty much raised up there, then moved on my own to California in 1988, and became a resident of Laguna in 1998. After graduating CSUF with a business degree, I followed a different path-keeping a forever-held restaurant job, and going back to school to study photography. I’d always had interest in art, some ability there, but growing up in small towns left me with the idea that anything art-related wasn’t really an option. Seeing so many options in California had really changed that perception for me.

Even within photography, I bounced around with different ideas, first thinking I wanted to shoot fashion (of course) and then moving into wedding work. I followed a model of enjoying doing the work that will get you paid so that you can shoot what you really like on the side. “What I really like” encompasses many things, but I like to say that life is a beautiful adventure, and I shoot different things that encompass that. 

I find beauty in the obvious, like landscapes, and the old-world glamor of Europe for example, but also recognize that far greater photographers than I have already gone there and beautifully photographed many of those places. With that in mind, I try to find something different in the scene, introducing emotion or something slightly abstract. I also find beauty in the not-so-obvious, like urban decay, old military plane graveyards, off-list not recommended travel destinations that are listed as ‘maybe a bit of danger’, yet full of beautiful people. I even enjoy photographing slightly depressing things, such as cemeteries.

Back in ’07, one of my best childhood friends presented me a unique photo job. He’d become a quite successful no-supplemental oxygen mountain climber, and was part of a team attempting a dangerous summit of K2 in Pakistan. He asked if he could hire me to document the journey into basecamp, at about 17,000’. The team was successful with a K2 summit on this trip, and it really pushed me into a new love for adventure travel photography. I also found out after this trip that we had stopped for lunch in Abottobad, which turned out to be just a half mile away from the now-infamous former compound of Osama bin Laden.

I’ve done several of these trips now, and usually book extra time on these so that I can shoot my own work after the main focus of the trip is complete.  Most recently this past January, I traveled to Tanzania, (it was open) where I went on a short safari to photograph the Serengeti (bucket list) as well as summited Mt Kilimanjaro- a unique accomplishment but of course nothing close to what climbers do on peaks like K2.

Throughout all these years of photography, I’ve had this great and typical achilles heal of being a self-loathing artist. I never, ever wanted to put my personal work on public display. At best, I floated it on typical social media sites, but most of my work just sat on hard drives or in folders full of negatives. I’ve had several wonderful family friends over the years who’ve always believed in me far more than I did, and always supported and encouraged me to do something with my work, but I refused to get over that hump until finally I kicked myself into showing at the Sawdust Festival here in Laguna. 

I’d of course been to the Sawdust many times in the past, but actually exhibiting there was simply a fantastic experience. It really is something of a magical group of people and their art who form this great community artists and staff. One of the longtime artists there, Cici, one day remarked “you’re family now,” and that really puts a nice spin on the reality of the experience. Technically, I did the pandemic summer show a year ago as my first experience, but this year’s show was what most sawdust veterans remark was the real deal. 

So, I learned a lot, realized that there are people who truly enjoy my work enough to take it home for display-and that is an honor-and I kinda sorta got over that hump of being a self-loathing artist. Almost. It’s a work in progress, but I definitely appreciate the community I’ve experienced that has led to a work in  growth. Looking forward to the up-coming winter show.