Albert Paley is known as an international man of steel. From Rochester to Los Angeles, to Toronto, Canada, to Monterrey, Mexico, the metal sculptor’s commissioned works are permanent fixtures in cities across the United States and around the globe.
Paley, who holds the Charlotte Fredericks Mowris Professorship in Contemporary Arts in RIT’s School for American Crafts, channels his creative inspiration at his studio and office space on North Washington Street in Rochester. After 25 years, Paley’s entire operation—from the cranes to his sketches to the office chairs—are moving into a new space on Lyell Avenue—the site of the former Valeo plant. As a result, Paley’s floor space will triple in size.
Before pulling up stakes at the end of May, Paley wanted to document the North Washington Street space and reached out to RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.
“Albert has been in this space for so many years,” says Jennifer Laemlein, studio director, Paley Studios. “The early photos showed empty walls and floors, but over time the visual space he’s created has built up. We wanted to capture the spirit of the studio, which can be defined in so many different ways. Bringing in 10 sets of fresh eyes, with each person bringing their own point of view to the project, was great. Pairing with RIT was a natural fit.”
A team of 10 people—seven students and three professors from the photography school—visited Paley Studios at least once a week for several months to shoot images. Time-lapse cameras also captured the building’s contents as they emptied out.
“The most rewarding parts of the project for me was getting the chance to work with a world-renowned artist and the chance to be published and get my work out there to be seen,” says Gabriel Eljdid, a fourth-year visual media student.
Each member of the photo team approached the project from a different perspective. Some photographed Paley and the workers on the studio floor, others focused on detail images of the equipment and the tools, and some students chose to document the office staff.
“I enjoyed talking to Albert and seeing the way he interacted with his employees, and how they interacted with him,” says Jared Rube, first-year photojournalism student. “He’s a very interesting man. His view on life and the way he works reminds me of my father, who is an artist. Albert, like my father, thinks big and about the future.”
Elizabeth Cameron, Paley Studios archivist, says she told the students, “Shoot what inspires you.”
For Kimberley Dixon, a fourth-year visual media student, it was the people who inspired her.
“The studio would be another empty building if it weren’t for the people,” says Dixon. “They bring the studio to life and they also help bring life to the artwork. I watch them pour themselves into each piece like it was their own and when you see the finished piece, while it’s a Paley design, it exists too because of the workers. It was an awesome experience.”
The RIT images are now part of Paley’s archives.
“The images are valuable to our archive,” says Cameron. “Museum and gallery curators and publications are constantly looking for images. For Albert, he has a specific aesthetic that he looks for in the images of his sculptures. If someone captures that, he will remember it and go back to the image time and time again.”
“It has been a pleasure to have the interface of working with the students and professors in the documentation arena,” says Albert Paley. “Their personal vision and insights afford a fresh view and perspective to the studio activities. I feel this offers the viewer of the captured image a rare and unique insight to the process of art and related disciplines.”
The above images are currently part of the exhibit “Albert Paley in the 21st Century” at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. The exhibit brings together 37 of Paley’s sculptures and models and 16 drawings spanning from 2000 to 2010. The exhibit runs through June 27.