Arts & Culture News

The Second Life of Leonard Volk, the 84-Year-Old Dallas Photographer with a New Show

See also: Jennifer Moreman, a Tyler Artist Who Made Her Name Painting Longhorns, Has Gone Global

Leonard Volk's upcoming exhibition at Samuel Lynne Galleries is not his first -- in fact, he's shown publicly in one other solo exhibition at Brookhaven College back in 2005 -- but it is a rare occasion to see the artist's work in the physical.

Raised in Dallas, Volk purchased his first camera, a Leica IIIc, on January 3, 1950 during a gap year in Europe, and over the next 62 years he amassed a collection of small pleasures, many of them found right in our backyard.

For the bulk of his life, photography has been a hobby -- "personal photography," he calls it, considering it more the documentation of personal experience. It always took a backseat to his long and successful career as an architect. When he retired from architecture in 1989 and from volunteering as an adviser on neighborhood improvement and affordable housing in 1995, Volk embarked on a third career as full-time photographer, though he is careful to specific that his work is passion, not business.

In order to restore color slides from the '50s and '60s which had oxidized with age, he learned to use Photoshop in 1996, and about ten years later had fully and enthusiastically transitioned to digital shooting, editing and storage. "I would never go back," he says about more traditional technology. "For me [digital] is the way."

With new time and energy to direct to his photography, but little experience in exhibiting, Volk has penned a book, everyday, which he considers his most significant "exhibition" to date. Combining essays on the art of photography, as well as memoirs of his international travels and life in Dallas, everyday is, in Volk's own words, "an open letter to beginning and casual photographers, challenging them to try for more than a snapshot."

The challenge, he says, is to create their own inspiration, to photograph things that only they know are important in a way that only they can see matters. The challenge of visually and emotionally moving photography is finding that for which only the individual photographer knows to look.

This has played out numerous times in Volk's own work, particularly in 2007 when he brought back more than 1,400 digital images from a 12,000 mile round trip vacation in Japan. Two days later and merely 12 feet from his door, he found 10 "keeper" images of an oak leaf at the end of the drive. The leaf cast shadows that enticed and enchanted the imagination, significant "off the frame" stories with dancing animal shapes and mythological analogues.

For Volk, photography is a poem, capturing the imagination and allowing a viewer to construct a narrative built on layers of personal experience. Like with architecture -- which he considers photography's cousin -- one must "get the bones right, then enjoy the textures, contrasts, key details, and relationships among the parts. Make the unseen count by awareness, study, and understanding."

But everyday lends more than mere nuggets of theory or design advice. Volk's essays tell not only the story of an artist, but that of a lifelong seeker and seer. Volk is, after all, the former owner of a 1930 LaSalle limousine once belonging to Prince Carl of Sweden, which Volk in turn christened "Boris" and drove 10,000 kilmoteres across Europe in what he calls a "one car parade." For Volk, there is absolutely nothing ordinary in the "everyday."

Leonard Volk's everyday opens with a book signing on August 14 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Samuel Lynne Galleries. Visit for more details.

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Brentney Hamilton