Q&A: Breaking the Rules with Photographer Paley Fairman

Every so often there’s an artist that goes against the grain, swapping the current trend for experimental composure, coloring and a curated sense of detail. Photographer Paley Fairman has been just that. While every other photographer produced washed out images, Fairman created colorful imagery with outstanding angles, fun props, and unique compositions— all while keeping a slight sense of surrealism. Below, we chat with the photographer about her background, the pros and cons of being a perfectionist and her inspiration sources.

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LA CANVAS: Tell us a little bit about your history with photography? 

Paley Fairman: I sort of fell into photography. I’ve always been visually oriented, and loved creating, but I couldn’t quite find the right outlet until I took a basic intro to an analog photography course during my final semester in college. I fell in love with it, and when I finished school, my grandmother sent me a box of all my grandpa’s old photo equipment. I became obsessed and was shooting all the time. Over time people started asking me to shoot things and I realized I wanted to turn it into a career.tumblr_nb37jjfyuh1qcxqcio1_1280

LAC: How was it teaching yourself? When did you become comfortable with what you were producing?

PF: I never had a formal photography education, so I was forced to be resourceful. I have an affinity for acquiring new knowledge and have spent a lot of time reading and researching. I Google everything. I’ve also been fortunate to have some photographer friends along the way who were willing to show me tricks. More than anything though, I’ve learned by experience and just trying things. Often I would do something and hate the results, but I’d just keep going and try it a different way. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel “comfortable” where I’m at because I always want to continue learning and growing. Insatiable perfectionism keeps me from ever being fully satisfied, for better or worse.

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LAC: In the age of Instagram, where everyone thinks they are a photographer (thanks, VSCO), your work stands out. You tend to capture a mood and there’s a slight sense of eerie darkness reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Who inspired you and how did you create your own style?

PF: When I first began shooting I was really inspired by several surrealist filmmakers and artists like Man Ray and Francesca Woodman. I’ve always been drawn to the juxtaposition of darkness with something more quirky and playful. But in a way, I think I actually found my style by continually attempting to stray from it and finding that the same elements kept creeping in. That’s when I started to embrace my work. I get a lot of inspiration from things I encounter in daily life. Places in my neighborhood, objects, the way the light will hit a certain wall. Mundane things inspires me as much, if not more, than my favorite artists. It fascinates me to try and see unexceptional moments in an exceptional way.

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LAC: You’re usually between Downtown and Frogtown, right? What places inspire you from those specific neighborhoods?

PF: Yes, I live in Frogtown now, and have a studio space near the Fashion District in Downtown. The wholesale produce market is right there, and I’m always inspired by the repetition of a product en masse like that. I gravitate more towards the open, industrial areas and prefer places that have a little bit of ugliness in them to ones that are perfectly pristine.

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LAC: You have a lot of film cameras too. Does your equipment help define your style in any way?

PF: I wouldn’t say any specific equipment really defines my style. I find that I approach taking a photo a little differently when shooting on film, but this is more so related to the medium than the equipment itself.

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LAC: You usually shoot fashion editorials and musicians, yet we had you capture landscapes and animals for The Travel Issue (LOL). What did you learn from this experience?

PF: I’m often taking snapshots of landscapes and animals (mainly my dog) for my personal documentation, so this wasn’t completely foreign. I was able to learn a lot about the region we travelled to, which was beautiful. I also learned that the way I tend to take road trips is pretty spontaneous and haphazard. I have a hard time sticking to formal travel schedules and love the freedom of being able to pull over at any time if I see something I want to look at or photograph. There are very few people who don’t get annoyed by this, after five stops in ten miles, so my travel companions are very special to me. I also love wandering alone. Things I stumble upon between destinations are sometimes the most interesting to me.

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*This article has been modified for web and first appeared in Issue 34, “The Travel Issue.”