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Bedford man recognized for digital art

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By John Barnhart

    A change of career direction is getting Bedford resident Jerome Sturm attention in the art world.

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     His work is one of 33 submissions, all from Virginia, to be accepted at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. The display, which opened on Jan. 25, features sculpture, painting, mixed media, video and photography. Sturm, who is working on a master’s in fine arts at Radford University, is a photographer.
    His specialty is digital photography that combines the High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique with digital painting.
    HDR allows him to combine three to five photos into one. These are all photos of the same object and consist of at least one deliberate under exposure, one proper exposure, and one deliberate over exposure. This allows him to capture both highlight detail and shadow detail in one photo, something that the best camera can’t do. But the human eye, which has five times the tonal range of the best digital camera, can do it.
    Once these images are blended together, Sturm outputs this from Photoshop as a TIFF file. He then brings this TIFF back into Photoshop and paints in colors.
    “I like this because it allows me to be creative,” he said.
    He also does work in which he creates layers in Photoshop. He prints these and then uses a gel to lift the pigment off the paper. He transfers these layers onto glass and puts them together in a frame, which he builds himself. One of these is going on display in the Kiernan Gallery in Lexington. The gallery received 500 entries, some of them international, for its display. Sturm’s work was one of 30 that was selected.
    A Staunton native, Sturm graduated from James Madison University with a degree in communications. He later picked up an associate degree in photography and went to work as a photojournalist. It was during these years that he got involved in digital photography. While working for the Times-News in Burlington, N.C., he began the process of taking the newspaper’s photography digital in 1994. The digital camera the paper had consisted of Kodak digital camera technology connected to a Nikon body.
    “It had removable hard drives that actually spun,” he said.
    It cost $15,000 and “had the resolution of your cell phone camera,” Sturm added.
    Nevertheless, it made a big difference. Sturm did a lot of sports photography for the newspaper — he especially liked basketball. Before he went digital, he would be covering a basketball game and have to leave at half-time in order to get his film developed and have everything ready to get in the next day’s paper. This meant that he could miss a very dramatic shot that happened during the second half, after he already left. A digital camera allowed him to transmit photos taken during the first half, and then stick around for the rest of the game.
    Eventually, he went to work for a small university that wanted a tech-savvy person who could also do photography.
    “I was the third person hired full time to do Web content,” he said.
    He also set up a digital asset management system that allowed people to find any image in the university’s archive.
    That brought him to Liberty University in 2008. Sturm said that LU was reorganizing its public relations department and wanted somebody experienced with digital asset management. He also served as the university’s photographer and took over archiving 500,000 prints, slides and negatives. He had three assistants working for him on that project.
    “That’s still an ongoing process,” he said.
    Later he left Liberty to work on his master’s in fine arts degree, which he expects to finish in May.
    “It’s the first time in my career I can go out and photograph what I want to photograph,” Sturm said.
    In addition to Kiernan and the Museum of Contemporary Art, two of his pieces have been accepted by the Nelson Gallery, in Lexington, for a juried art show on Feb. 1. The show received entries from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.
    “I was one of seven accepted,” he said. “They accepted two pieces of mine.”
    One of his photos has also been printed in Creative Quarterly. Sturm likes abandoned places and one is the interior of an abandoned singlewide that he found off Va. 122. It shows a table and two chairs set in place as if the residents had just left, although you can tell by looking at them that the trailer has long been abandoned. Sturm added color through digital painting.
    “I waited about a year to get a picture of that trailer,” he said.
    Sturm always gets permission before entering an abandoned property. In the first place, he doesn’t want to trespass. In the second. he doesn’t want to injure himself and asking permission gives him a chance to find out if going in will be dangerous.