Randal Stegmeyer: Exposing the Past


The Exhibition

This exhibition was co-curated by Randal Stegmeyer and Terry Wilfong, as a culmination of their work together over the years. Stegmeyer’s photographs of Kelsey Museum artifacts, with their extraordinary ability to bring out details and capture the essence of an ancient object, have been central to Wilfong’s recent research and publications. They have also figured prominently in the work of many other scholars and have shaped the Kelsey’s presentation of its collections and buildings. This exhibition celebrates the full range of Stegmeyer’s work — his images for the Kelsey Museum and for other cultural institutions, as well as his wide-ranging personal projects.

The online exhibition opens May 1, 2020. We look forward to welcoming you to visit the exhibition in person when it is possible to reopen our galleries to the public. View the exhibition booklet (PDF).


Photo essays “Wellnitz Farm” and “Occupy Wall Street.”

Photo essays “Trumbull Ave.” and “Detroit Institute of Arts.”

The Artist

Given the constraints of my professional work, it is not surprising that my personal photographic journey has led in different directions. One aspect of my craft that I find most interesting is the way that photography utilizes time and space. With the push of a button, in a fraction of a second, we can take a slice out of space-time, freeze a moment, and preserve a space. Whereas my professional work is primarily concerned with the space in front of the camera, off the clock it is when the shutter release is pressed and how long the shutter is open that engages me fully. Here photography is much more of a participatory act. Heraclitus was wrong — we can step in the same river twice. As I observe the river of time through my lens, I choose the moments to capture within my frame. Moments that are preserved yet removed from context. A single page from the flip-book of life revealing secrets that pass too quickly with only our eyes to see. Photography is most powerful when many images of a particular place, event, or person are displayed together, telling a story or asking a question. The photo essay reveals context while at the same time inviting the viewer’s participation and interpretation. With a series of related images we can not only step in the same river twice, we can wade in and drink from places far away and moments long past.

— Randal Stegmeyer

Interview with Randal Stegmeyer

Question: What have been your favorite photography projects?

Answer: What really excites me about what I do is being able to handle and explore in great detail the amazing objects in the U-M collections. The handwritten letter by Galileo, a 3,000-year-old scroll of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Civil War diary of a Michigan soldier, the Djehutymose coffin — these all take my breath away. To be granted access to these rarities and be entrusted to create an accurate visual description of each has been the great honor and privilege of my career.

Question: How did you discover your passion for photography and how did it develop? How did you originally connect with the Kelsey Museum?

Answer: I think I’m hardwired to be a visual artist. When I was 13 years old, my dad gave me my first camera, his old Argus C3, and something just clicked. From that moment, I’ve made photographs as a way to explore the world. Later in life, when I found myself in a dead-end job and needing to choose a different direction, I happened upon a newspaper article about the profession of medical photographer. Having a keen interest in photography and being a science nerd as well, this led me to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where I earned a BFA in applied photography with a major in the medical track. I worked in the medical field for a few years, but then that door closed as another one opened, and I found myself working at the Detroit Institute of Arts, learning the ins and outs of cultural heritage photography. After leaving the DIA, I started my own business, Spectrum Imaging. I did a lot of work for UMMA, who then referred the Kelsey to me when they were casting about for a new photographer for their collection. Soon after gaining the Kelsey as a client, a new position in the University Library was created and the rest, as they say, is history.

Interview continued on the Kelsey Museum website.


This is the only time that my photographs have hung on a gallery wall since my 1989 senior show at the College for Creative Studies. I want to thank the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and its staff not only for the opportunity to show my work, but also for the many years of collaboration, always carried out with congeniality, good humor, and the highest level of professionalism. You have given me access to your treasures and allowed me to expose these wonders from our past to our community and the world. Thank you.