Matthew Turley: An artist who makes the world his studio

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Commercial photographer Matt Turley loosened his seatbelt to get a better angle, desiring a better aerial shot of the Tasman Sea.

The majestic view of waves crushing against the cliffs in Antarctica was just one scene that Turley had the privilege to photograph.

“It was an amazing experience, flying only a hundred feet or so over the water and watching and photographing the enormous waves coming in across the Tasman Sea from stormy Antarctica,” he said. “I also had a brief moment of excitement when I turned to swap out cameras and accidentally knocked the seatbelt latch open, leaving me completely untethered for a few seconds, standing outside the airplane above a surging sea.”

The BYU graduate is based in Sandy and periodically lectures on campus.

After coming back from his LDS mission, Turley was going to follow his family’s footstep and go into a medical field, but a month before taking the Medical College Admissions Test, he knew that was not what he wanted to do in his life. Turley took a leap of faith to follow his passion. He became a photographer.

“I just knew I liked it,” he said.

When Turley turned 14, he and his father went to a community photography class and printed his first pictures in the darkroom.

“It was like magic,” he said. “But I made a lot of really terrible pictures.”

Turley and his parents moved to Guatemala when he turned 16, and that’s when he started to discover his passion for photography. He went to a small private school and had only five classmates. The owner’s daughter married to a man who majored in photography at BYU. The first thing he did was to install the darkroom. Turley spent hours and hours in the darkroom. He didn’t think he had any gifts at that point, but he was very passionate about it. 

He thoroughly enjoyed his classes at BYU.

Val Brinkerhoff, associate professor of photography at BYU, took Turley to Machu Picchu and Mexico while mentoring and using his Spanish speaking skills.

“Matt was a very talented and motivated student,” he said. “Today, Matt is known for his use of personalized and expressive color, often in outdoor settings. Part of his unique look comes from his use of large format film. Matt is talented, energetic and fun to be around. I enjoyed working with him. I believe clients do as well. He has become a very successful professional.”

Turley receives inspiration from many sources: a documentary film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi;”  a novel “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak; traveling and outdoor activities.

Daniel Mortensen, a senior from Boise, Idaho, majoring in photography, met Turley in 2004. Mortensen still remembers hearing stories from other professors about Turley waking up early to go skiing and to take pictures before class started.

“I was very impressed with his work,” Mortensen said. “He was able to capture the beauty of the mountain and get the right lighting. He has his own style, how he approaches the color and contrasts of darks and lights.”

Upon completing an internship in Los Angeles, Turley found another opportunity in Idaho. Andy Anderson, an Idaho-based photographer, hired Turley after Anderson’s previous assistant quit.

“Andy Anderson made the world my studio,” Turley said. “Working with him, I realized that I didn’t have to live in a big city. He always told me you could be a photographer anywhere you had the Internet, FedEx and an airport. Every job is unique. I never know where I’ll be traveling to next or what I’ll be photographing, which I find incredibly exciting.”

Turley said one’s perspective of the world is the most important contributor to photography.

“You’ve got to be yourself,” he said. “You’ve got to find your own vision, which can only come from your own explorations and experiences — it can’t come from anyone else. Being a photographer is so much more than simply owning and operating a camera.”

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