Upon entering The Gallery of Huntsville on the downtown square, I was greeted at the door by the beautiful and charming Fantasia, who took me straight to owner Paul Olle, the focus of our article today. Paul and Fantasia (“Fanny”) led me to the workroom to see her litter of seven cute and pudgy English Springer Spaniels who are watched over daily by Fanny, Beatrice (“Bitty”), their Great Aunt, assistant Shirley Jackson, and Paul. Already, you can see that this is more than a framing and photography business! Let’s get acquainted with the adventurous and artistic Paul Olle as we “view” some snapshots of his life. “Paul Olle, you’re on!”
I was born and raised in Houston. I could see the skyline of Houston from my bedroom window. After a few years, we moved out to the country on an acre of land, then added two more acres in what is now Spring Branch. In fact, we used to hunt rabbits where Memorial City is now. From early on, I loved horses and always had the fastest stick horse in my neighborhood! I got my first real horse at age 11, and for several years we showed horses. I still have horses to this day, as well as chickens, cats, and miniature donkeys. My two English Springer Spaniels and Fanny’s seven babies spend the day in my photography studio on the Huntsville Square.
I got hooked on photography at age 16 when I took a picture, and someone said, “Hey, that’s nice.” A pat on the back is always great encouragement. I enjoyed photography, but did not get involved in it professionally until the age of 19, when I worked for a commercial studio in Houston. At Studers, we sold cameras, greeting cards, and film, and took portraits in the back studio, which was a storeroom.
Then I came to Huntsville in 1969 to attend Sam Houston State University which, at that time, was rated as one of the top three photography schools in the country. Our photography professors were first class photographers. One of my professors was Madison Wolfe, who had served as General Douglas MacArthur’s personal photographer during World War II. He was also one of the first three people to go into Hiroshima after it was declared safe to be photographed. For those who know Marjean Kreager, he was her father.
I left Huntsville in 1972 to serve as a medic with the Army Reserves. They found out I was a photographer and, from that time forward, I accompanied the officers who were judging other reserve units. I lucked out on that! I came back to Huntsville, graduated from SHSU in 1975, and went to work for MD Anderson in Houston.
While serving as a photographer in the Communications Department at MD Anderson, I feel like my whole personality changed. The atmosphere was always somber, and you had to continuously keep your emotions in check. The Communications Department employed approximately 180 people, and I served in many capacities of photography throughout the hospital. My job was not in the medical division, but was classified as General and Scientific. MD Anderson is a University of Texas teaching institution, and we documented everything from lectures to products that they developed. I actually photographed
Lady Bird Johnson when she was there for a procedure. The job didn’t pay a flip, but it was very educational.
After my job with MD Anderson and after working construction for a while, I went to work for a company named Porta Kamp. This company produced and set up remote living facilities for ten- thousand-man work camps. I photographed assembled camps to provide commercial images for their brochures. One camp I photographed was near the Jonestown area during the Jim Jones tragedy. We flew over the area and, although we didn’t see the carnage, it certainly affected me just the same.
I also did freelance work for El Paso Marine. I always joke that “As a photographer, I have been inside everything from a human body to a supertanker.” El Paso Marine had purchased an L&G supertanker; these ships are 1,000 feet in length and include 6 tanks on board. It took us three days to set it up for photographing, and 15 minutes to photograph! It ended up being more of a construction job to prepare it for the photography work. I have one picture of a guy at the bottom of a ladder in one of the tanks, and it looks like he is in a giant waffle machine! I also did some photography work at the Port of Houston and in Corpus Christi. At the ship channel, we were flown around in a helicopter to take images of ships in the Channel. Fantastic fun!
Another commercial job in the Houston area was to provide images for advertising the first gambling ship in Houston, the Pride of Mississippi. Driving down I-45 one day, I was amazed to see my work on a 48 foot long billboard! I had to turn around and go back for a second look. This same advertisement was on billboards in the Galleria area and 1488 @ I-45. Pretty exciting to see your work on this large a scale!
I enjoyed a 45-day pleasure trip in Africa which took me from Cape Town to Cairo. This lengthy journey, being before the digital age of photography, resulted in 132 rolls of exposed film. I was very happy to have access to a One-Hour photo lab!
On another occasion, I was hired by a hunter and his wife to travel with them to Zimbabwe on a 20-day hunt in order to document their expedition. I photographed some amazing sights and encountered some hair-raising situations while there. We were charged by an elephant who, when he got right up to us, merely stopped, lifted his trunk, and gave us the sniff test. The hunter apparently knew this elephant and calmly photographed the scene! I did not calmly photograph this scene.
I acquired The Franer Gallery in 1986. I have an assistant, Shirley Jackson, who has been here at The Gallery for approximately seven years, and we do framing, restorations, and reproductions of old photographs, and reproductions of custom artworks, as well as portraits in the studio and portraits on location. One painting which we recently reproduced through the giclee process is a painting of Old Main by local artist Lee Jamison. We have also reproduced works by John Knox and other local artists onto smaller canvases to make them accessible to more people. Some of the original works are quite large and therefore won’t fit just any wall. The smaller reproductions, just as beautiful and of a very high quality, are more compatible for most home and office venues. The giclee process uses a very high quality professional inkjet printer and archival quality inks.
I still do commercial work, and clients have included the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, the American Quarter Horse Journal, other medical and hospital publications, a pool and spa company, and automobile advertising brochures. One job was for a trailer hitch company in Cut-n-Shoot. I photographed images for their brochure, and by the time I finished that job, the studio was full of trailer hitch balls. When my business was in the building which now houses the City Hall Café, I had a huge studio and was able to roll cars inside to photograph for a conversion van company. I never lacked a new and creative project to work on!
Then, there is my photographic work using drones. I love this avenue of photography. It gives me my flying “fix!” I got my pilot’s license at age 17 and have always enjoyed flying, but don’t get to do so as much as I used to. To operate a drone legally for commercial use, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that an operator must have a sport pilot license, so I’ve got that easily covered. There are a multitude of situations in which a drone can be used, including commercial and real estate applications. Wedding photographers are making great use of them as well. One project that I would like to do is a video essay of Huntsville using drones for a majority of the work. I saw this video in Nacogdoches and was very impressed with the results.
I still do some wedding photography, and enjoy portrait work. When digital came out, it was developed for photojournalists, and the quality was mediocre. I stayed with film photography for about seven years. Once the software programs for digital photography reached a professional level, I made the switch and was hooked, but still love black and white photography! I’ve been able to turn some photographs into very creative pieces. Someday, I would love to get an RV and take a trip from the east coast to the west coast, shooting images all along the way. But for now, every day here at the studio is something different. I love it and love what I do!
Go visit Paul at The Gallery to see his remarkable work! You can view some very unique images, including an image of the original building that existed on the present site. This old two-story building from the late 1800s housed a photography studio on the second floor. In light of this, Paul states regarding his own studio, “It was meant to be!”
See more of Paul’s work: www.galleryhuntsville.com