A Boy and His Camera: Anthony Stengel Tells Wyoming Stories Through His Lens
On a boy and his camera. He doesn't say much. He doesn't need to. He slowly guides the camera around his subject. The lighting is perfect. The ambience is exactly what it should be. Throughout the years, the subjects have changed, but the view from the other side of the camera has remained the same. It's always the boy, always with a smile, always with a look in his eye that showcases just how much he loves this gig. He's a man in all other aspects of his life. He is a husband, a father, a leader in his community. But when he's behind a camera, when he's taking pictures, when he's telling stories...
He's a boy enchanted.
A lot can happen in four years. Four years ago, Anthony Stengel was working for Wyoming Medical Center as a Cardiac Invasive Specialist. Stengel graduated from Casper College in 2008 with a degree in radiologic technology and began working in the Cardiac lab of WMC shortly thereafter.
"We would do procedures in your heart, things like that," Stengel stated. "Like, if there was a heart attack, we'd have to rush in and do X-Rays, stuff like that. So in a sense, which is kind of cool in hindsight, I've always been an 'O-Grapher.' I've always liked taking pictures or perfecting images, just in a different modality. I went down the filmmaking route once I got my drone license, and that was back in 2017."
Drones were a big fad a few years ago. In fact, they still are. But Stengel didn't just want to fly drones as a part-time hobby. He saw the limitless potential of video footage he could capture from the skies and, in that moment, Stengel began his second education.
"I knew I could figure out how to fly the drone," he stated. "Being from the Nintendo generation helped with that. But I quickly learned that I really needed to dial in on the video-specific settings [in order to get quality footage]. There's an art to it and I basically just learned by watching a lot of YouTube videos and failing about a million times."
And that, Stengel said, has been the key to the successes he has found. Failure. Stengel said he's learned more from his failures than he ever did his successes and, in 2017, he failed a lot.
But he also learned a lot. Especially when it came to drones.
"Honestly, getting your drone license is maybe a degree lower than getting your actual pilot license," Stengel laughed. "It really doesn't have a lot to do with operating the drone. It's more about familiarizing yourself with the FAA rules, with airspace, weather, things like that. I tell people all the time that a drone is like a flying chainsaw, and you should treat it as such."
Eventually, Stengel got his drone pilot license and somehow found himself working for MTV as he documented Casper's first Pride March.
"The first money I made with my drone was, I think I got like a hundred bucks to give some footage to MTV from the first Pride March," he remembered. "And I was so excited about it. It was just like, 'MTV, oh my gosh!' It just felt like a big deal to me on so many levels."
As Stengel's career in videography began to take shape, so too did Downtown Casper. The 2017 Eclipse brought thousands upon thousands of people to Casper and the city went to great lengths to ensure it was ready for the attention. New bars were built, old restaurants were renovated, community beacons were developed. There were so many new stories to tell, and Stengel knew that he wanted to be the one to tell them.
"I got some drone of the eclipse, I got some time-lapse of the eclipse and some people don't want to attribute the eclipse to Casper's growth, culturally, but I think it definitely helped," Stengel offered. "And I was just psyched to be able to capture it."
Stengel continued to study and he continued to learn. He bought a Sony video camera and began doing freelance work for local realtors.
"I have to thank Albon Shaw, who's a local realtor here in town," Stengel offered. "He came to me and wanted to do a different type of marketing real estate video that didn't actually have anything to do with homes. So we made a series called 'Wyo City Eats,' which just featured him going to different restaurants and talking to the owners."
Stengel credits that project with teaching him many of the fundamentals of filmmaking and story telling. But it was his next project that really cemented his fate as a filmmaker.
"I got this new motorized slider that would move the camera and you could do moving time-lapses or you could ease in and out of movements," Stengel said. "It just looks really slick and professional. I just needed some cool subjects to shoot. I grew up with Betsy Bower, and knew she did some cool shit. So I thought I could just reach out to some artists and just see if I could practice with them."
Stengel contacted several artists: Rugie, Connie, James, PNUT, and the aforementioned Bower.
"It didn't take long before I was like, 'Yeah, this is going to be more than just me practicing; like, I think there's a story here,'" Stengel said. "So that's where Make Art Wyoming was born."
Make Art Wyoming is a 15-minute documentary about various artists throughout the state. But these artists weren't just painters or sketchers or writers. They were neon artists, metal fabricators, tattoo artists, graffiti specialists, and more.
"It was just born out of me hanging out with creative people," Stengel said. "I talked to five different artists and I thought, 'I can make something out of this. There's a story here that at least people in Casper would think is cool."
People in Casper did think it was cool. But so did many, many other people.
Make Art Wyoming was an Official Selection of the British Documentary Film Festival, the Docs Without Borders Film Festival, the Depth of Field International Film Festival, and the 307 International Film Festival Wyoming. It won the Excellence in Cinematography award for the Depth of Field International Film Festival. It won the Award of Excellence in Editing with The Impact DOCS Awards, and so much more. This 15 minute documentary shined a light on the art coming out of Wyoming and it cemented Stengel as a force to be reckoned with in the world of filmmaking.
"I knew I wanted to relate it back to Casper and Wyoming and I knew I didn't want it to focus on the standard types of art that everybody has seen," Stengel said. "Make Art Wyoming was just a passion project that was completely funded by myself. I just did it because I thought it would be cool and I just hoped that it would pay off. It definitely has."
After producing Make Art Wyoming, Stengel was contacted by PBS Wyoming to produce more short film documentaries focusing on local artists. He also partnered with a director from Cody, Wyoming to produce a film focusing on missing indigenous women and girls.
"I was one of the Directors of Photography for a couple of different films," Stengel said. "One of them is called 'Somebody's Daughter' and the other is called 'Say Her Name.' We interviewed some of the survivors' family members, and we'd go through and highlight some of the law enforcement corruption and just really went into the crazy heavy discrepancy of missing indigenous women and girls. There was a lot of filming on reservations and on sacred lands to indigenous people and that was an incredible experience."
And shortly after that, the floodgates opened. Stengel's online portfolio highlights much of the work he has done in Wyoming and beyond. He has produced work for organizations like CASA, the Olivia Caldwell Foundation, United Way, the YMCA, and more. He's done work for the Nicolaysen Art Museum, David Street Station, Backwards Distilling Company, and the College National Finals Rodeo.
Each and every video Stengel has made tells a different story, but each of those stories shares a theme - that there is beauty in Wyoming. And that beauty isn't just the fall colors or the insides of fireworks on the 4th of July. The beauty that exists in Wyoming comes from the people who inhabit it.
"I grew up in Wyoming," Stengel offered. "I've lived here my whole life. And I definitely think that Wyoming has a lot of cool stories, a lot of cool people. And I just hope that maybe some of my work can help showcase those people and give them a platform. And I just want to do it in the most beautiful, most cinematic way possible."
Stengel said there is beauty to be found in failure, as well. As he stated, Stengel is no stranger to failure.
"I didn't always know what the path was to get to where I am now," he shared. "But I guess I took the right turns. But I have failed. And that's the biggest thing I've learned. Don't be afraid to fail. Failure is what made me what I am."
Stengel also said a big part of who and what he is comes from his wife and his children.
"I have the best, most supportive wife in the whole world," Stengel beamed. "She's my number one fan. She cheers me on. And when it comes to any of my crazy ideas, or the ridiculous amount of money I've spent on getting to where I am with camera gear - she's never even blinked. She just says 'This is what you're passionate about, this is your dream. I support you.' I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing if I didn't have such a supportive spouse."
But the success that Stengel has found isn't just attributed to a supportive spouse. It's not just attributed to talent, either (though obviously that's a big part). Much of Stengel's success comes from good old fashioned hard work. It comes from working all day at a hospital and then coming home, having dinner with his family, putting his kids to bed, and working through the night. It comes from editing on a laptop while his wife sat next to him on the couch watching Netflix, just so they could be near each other. It comes from so. many. nights. of writing, filming, editing, dubbing, editing again, wait did my computer freeze?, is this frame perfect?, did I get the right music beat?, are my children awake?, did I love my wife enough today?, my eyes hurt, my head hurts, did I charge that client too much or not enough? It comes from constant second guessing, head shaking, and leap taking. Most of all, it comes from believing in himself, knowing his worth, knowing his value, and believing these are the stories that only he can tell.
A lot has happened in four years. Some would even say that Stengel's life has completely changed. But whether he was taking X-Rays of a patient's heart, or taking video footage of a worldwide eclipse, he did his best. And he'll continue to do his best, with whatever the world offers him next.
"My main goals are to tell impactful stories that inspire people," Stengel stated. "And maybe not necessarily in, like, humanitarian ways, but I just want to create something that gets someone inspired to create. It's cool when you watch something and it gives you a feeling that you can't quite put your thumb on, you know? I guess I'm chasing that to whatever level it takes me to."
So, if 50 years from now, somebody were to come along and make a movie of Anthony Stengel's life, what would he want it to look like?
"People always ask, 'What do you regret?' And it's hard for me to say what regrets I have. Personally, in my life, I've messed up a lot of times. I've made a lot of mistakes, personally and professionally. But without that, it's just like failure, I wouldn't be where I am. So I would just want it to be real, you know? And I would hope that someone would see the good in it and be inspired by it. I don't know, is that a good ending?"