Local News

June 4, 2014

‘Unafraid to go for it’

Chatsworth youth’s photos garnering attention

When Samuel Pankey got his hands on his first camera at age 6, he fell in love with capturing the world around him.

Starting with a small Vivitar digital camera, Samuel began taking pictures seriously at age 9, snapping shots until he developed his own method. Now, at 13, Samuel has built an impressive portfolio, earning him local acclaim and the honor of being featured in the Murray Arts Council’s Gallery 121 in Chatsworth, his hometown, during the month of April.

From a young age, Samuel drew his inspiration from his surroundings. And for a young Boy Scout, that meant anything outdoors.

“Initially, much of what he took pictures of were toys and things in his room,” said Jim Pankey, Samuel’s father. “He tried to take pictures of flowers and trees — our pets and us, too. I have hundreds of pictures of Lego blocks, Mr. Potato Head and every sort of stuffed animal and action figure.”

“At first he was just playing around with the camera,” Jim Pankey continued. “Then we took a closer look and said, ‘Hey, we could print and frame some of these.’”

As it turned out, young Samuel was on to something. At the age of 10, he decided to submit his photographs to a local competition called “My Murray.” Samuel’s work received the third place spot for his age group, and was displayed in Chatsworth’s Little Rome restaurant.

“That competition was what really sparked my interest, what really helped me along and gave me courage,” said Samuel.

Samuel continued to take photos wherever he went, including of family gatherings, music festivals (his father is a musician) and trips to Fort Mountain, Washington, D.C., the Grand Canyon and St. Louis.

“One of my favorite photos of his is a shot of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis,” said Jim Pankey. “It was so simple, but the angle that he looked at it was so unique and the composition was so wonderful.”

Samuel said he’s never been afraid to use unconventional methods to get that perfect shot.

“I laid down in front of the Arch to get that picture,” he laughed. “I just get up in people’s way. Sometimes to get the right angle, you have to be unafraid to go for it.”

Another one of his favorite places to shoot is at a music festival. Jim Pankey often brings Samuel with him to festivals and encourages him to capture shots from the music scene.

“I shoot a lot of musicians because I have a lot of opportunities to catch people jamming and that makes for a good shot,” said Samuel.

He was chosen by Murray Arts Council officials to be featured in their monthly showcase for April. Each month, the council chooses a local artist or artists and allows them to show their work in Gallery 121, next to the Backstage Coffee Shop & Deli on Market Street in downtown Chatsworth. Some of Samuel’s work was also displayed at the deli.

“When we began looking for artists to showcase, Samuel was a perfect example of our desire to create, nurture and support the arts in Murray County,” said Dave Robinson, council president. “We had seen Samuel’s work at an exhibit at another event and were greatly impressed with talent from such a young man.”

“Samuel’s photography is extremely popular with our patrons. He has sold numerous works and we as the Murray Arts Council are proud to provide an opportunity for one of Murray County’s most talented youths,” Robinson said.

Bruce West, general manager of Backstage Coffee Shop & Deli, also praised Samuel’s work, noting, “The photos are vivid, the angles are unique, and I can tell he just sees things in a different way. We haven’t had anybody his age that’s had their work displayed here. Everybody that comes in here is shocked that the photos came from someone so young. It makes them that much more excited about them.”

As a rising freshman at Murray County High School, Samuel hopes to help with some of the school’s photography.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of the photos being taken there are by students, and I’d like to be able to do some of that and share what I’ve learned with other student photographers,” he said.

Though he has had no formal training, Samuel has found a method for taking photographs that works well for him.

“It’s trial and error, point and shoot,” he said. “I do everything manually, so it’s finding that perfect combination of settings on the camera, lighting and using the right angle.”

He uses a handful of different cameras, but mainly carries his Sony Alpha 57 SLR.

Jim Pankey is continuously baffled by his son’s natural abilities.

“I am self-taught, but I shoot by the rules,” he said. “There’s no art to what I do, it’s mostly science. He’s the one who makes it an art.”

“Once, we stood in the road and took a picture of a barn,” Jim Pankey said. “We both stood in the same spot, took the same picture of the barn, with the same camera, with the same settings, and his was better than mine.”

Samuel said that though he isn’t quite sure if he’ll pursue photography as a career, it’s definitely a possibility. He encourages other young photographers to seek out that perfect shot by adopting his tried and true process: carry your camera everywhere.

“Take a camera and go look around,” Samuel said. “Don’t ever try to look for something specific, just be ready when something catches your eye. Take your camera wherever you go, and just keep your eyes open.”

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