The “Aha!” moment came a few years later when Steciw found herself among a network of photo alums—hailing from Parsons, Cooper Union, RISD—all with retouching day jobs. Working 10-to-12-hour days on other people’s photos, the group began to email composite images back and forth (think your friend’s face on Governor Pataki’s body). “There’s something to this play,” Steciw had mused. But it wasn’t until her father passed away in 2009 that she began to evolve this banter into fine art. “I thought, if I’m spending all of my time messing with these images and getting so much joy from it, maybe I should really do it. If he’s gone, I’m next in line.”
From there, Steciw parted ways with processing film and gave herself over to what she had: some eight billion jpegs. Nostalgic for those photo-filled shoeboxes once tucked beneath our beds, Steciw feels strongly that digital archives demand further action—“otherwise, they’re in the ether somewhere”—a credo brought to life in her solo exhibition at New York’s Primary Photographic Gallery in 2011. Tapping into her personal archive, the work gave digital files a physical presence; among them, photographs she’d taken of a swimmer were printed on floor mats that scaled the gallery walls.