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Has photography always been something that you want to... “do”? And I use some heavy quotation marks there, in reference to, perhaps, a career goal. STUART: I’ve realized over the last year that it’s something I really want to do. I’m a finance major at SMU, and I worked at a bank for six weeks, and I quit ‘cause I couldn’t take—I just hated it. I’m really happy when I’m photographing. Not only do you have to be a good photographer, but you have to be good at marketing yourself. A lot of the most successful photographers aren’t even the best photographers visually, but they get their name out. They market themselves. They make contacts. Whether it’s with journalism or fine art or travel—yeah, I’d like to try and be able to do this as my fulltime thing.

How long have you been taking pictures? Sophomore year of high school. Started with the usual stuff, taking pictures of flowers and all that… crap. I’ve been to a lot of places, met a lot of great people. I’ve got a long way to go; it’s still the very beginning.

How would you describe your photographic style? How’s it changed?

Since I’m only 21, it’s really constantly changing. I’m trying different kinds of techniques, lenses, shooting different times of day, etc. It really takes photographers decades to develop a definitive style. Ansel Adams, he was born at the turn of the century, and it wasn’t until almost World War II until he developed his style of high-contrast, detailed images. I

think it’s gonna take a long time. A lot of the photography I’ve done of abandoned places tends to be shot with a very wideangle lens, you know, with a lot of sky, I like clouds, big, puffy… I’m definitely not a minimalist.

Light is so unique! Every couple seconds, it’s gonna be different. Let’s say you’re right at northern New Mexico; you’re at the Gorge; it’s, like, a 600-foot drop; you’ve got storm clouds; the sun’s going down; the way light comes over the edge of the horizon, through the atmosphere, hitting the clouds at the end of the day. You just get the most unique reds, violets, oranges; it’s like... the sky is on fire.


I’ll sometimes get people ticked off asking me, “Why are you taking pictures of this? Why are you taking pictures of that?” It’s unfortunate because the common conception is What law exists that gives you the right to take pictures? but the conception should be What law exists that prevents you from taking pictures? A lot of people are afraid of cameras because they figure, “This person’s going to get a picture of me doing something, or sue me.” Especially with abandoned buildings, building owners don’t like it because they think it’s a liability either being in the building or taking a picture of the building. In Texas, there’s a stand-yourground law, which basically boils down to: someone can see me on their property and shoot me.

Earlier you brought up a lot about the legality of photography. What about making art from art? There’s this guy who took pictures of the Marlboro Man, cut out the copy, and called that art. To me, that’s not enough. Anything can be art.

Are you saying there’s a difference between art and photography? … That’s a very good question. I mean, art can almost be anything. I could run up and down the street clucking like a chicken for two hours and call that an artistic display. Or I can take a picture of somebody’s picture and call that art. Now, that’s the great thing about the freedom of expression: I can call whatever I want art. I have the inherent right to believe something is art. But just as much as I have that right, people have the right to disagree with me and say, “You’re an a****** if you’re stealing other people’s work.” And I tend to err on the second side because, really, those people are not creative enough to think of their own things.

What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you while taking photos? I was going to go take pictures in the Back Bay, and I got jumped by methheads, spent a couple days in the hospital, had to get reconstructive surgery on my nose, ‘cause the doctor said the blunt force trauma was like getting hit by a baseball bat. Woah.

Digital or film… It’s like having a 2010 Ferrari or a Ferrari from the ‘70s. They’re both amazing tools to do what you want, but they’re very different. The color and dynamic range, the range of lights and darks, the way film renders color, I feel are a lot better than digital. Films like Fuji Velvia are a landscape photographer’s standard. I mean, film’s always going to have a place, but especially for journalism, turnaround time with digital is so much faster, much more practical.


Do you find the people and places photography takes you to make photography worth it for you, or is it the practice of taking pictures? Photography’s a whole experience. Even if I wasn’t a photographer, I would love to travel and go to new places, but photography adds another layer – you’re always looking at things in a visual manner, looking at the way the light hits things, people’s facials expressions and whatnot. Susan Sontag, she wrote On Photography, she’s this photo critic, and she faults photographers for, when they travel, being so concerned about getting the photo that they forget to kind of get in the place and enjoy the place for what it is. One thing I really try and do when I’m out shooting is—sometimes I won’t even take photos and I’ll just try and enjoy.

All photographs Š Stuart Palley 2010 Interview & Layout, BF Bifocals

Bf Bifocals Museum Presents: Stuart Palley  

Abandoned Rodeo Landscapes

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