Stepping Into the Light

Antone Dolezal, a 2006 College of Santa Fe graduate, credits his father and his alma mater for putting him on the track to become a successful photographer

April 2016—The vinegar smell, the sensation of dredging blank paper through a chemical bath and watching as an image of a high school quarterback or a town hall meeting springs to life—these moments in the darkroom with his father, a newspaper photographer, sparked in a young Antone Dolezal a love of images. These experiences set him on a course that eventually led him to launch a career as a photographer.

“Photography gives you a certain access to worlds you wouldn’t see otherwise,” he shares. “You get to experience other lives. It’s opened up my eyes to the world.”

Raised on the Eastern plains of Oklahoma, Dolezal loved the moments in the darkroom and the way the photographs could transport him, but he didn’t always think he’d follow in his father’s footsteps. When he enrolled at the College of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe University of Art and Design), Dolezal focused on creative writing. But a photography class with adjunct professor Wendy Young reminded him of how much he loved visual arts.

“I felt really comfortable using photography as a language to explore my ideas,” Dolezal says. “Professor Young seemed to realize that and helped me to grow and make connections.”

After graduating from Santa Fe in 2006, he worked for adjunct professor Edward Ranney, whose landscape photography has received international recognition since the 1970s. “I lived on his ranch for two years, helping him out,” Dolezal says. “There were always a number of curators and photographers staying there who I got to meet and be around. I forged great friendships and became a part of the photography community in Santa Fe.”

From there he worked at the New Mexico History Museum archives, and later at photo-eye Gallery in Santa Fe before deciding it was time to focus on his own projects. “I started my own business, a studio and printing facility,” he says. “It freed me up to travel and work on my own projects.”

With photographer Lara Shipley, Dolezal put together a project called “Devil’s Promenade,” which focuses on a legend in the Missouri Ozarks about a mysterious glow in the woods that locals call a “spook light.” The photos were exhibited across the country, including Filter Space in Chicago, Workspace Gallery in Nebraska, Artspace at Kansas City Art Institute, 555 Gallery in Boston, and photo-eye in Santa Fe. It was also highlighted in magazines and by news stations, including NPR.

Another of Dolezal’s—“Ghost Town,” about lonely and dying communities in the High Plains of Oklahoma—was displayed in 2013 at the Marion Center for the Photographic Arts at SFUAD.

Though he’s now a fellow in the Master of Fine Arts program at Syracuse University, where he’s studying photography in the hopes of becoming a professor, Dolezal maintains a close connection to his alma mater.

“The school has showed my work, I’ve given lectures, and spoken to classes,” he says. “I’m reaching out to the people who gave me so much when I was younger and developing my practice. That’s been reciprocated over the years and it’s helped make me who I am today.” —Christine Van Dusen