I was stunned by his beautiful photography, tenacity, and mission to impact the world through his art.Kipton Cronkite
Early in 2019, I was introduced to Clayton Woodley and was moved by his beautiful photography, tenacity, and mission to impact the world through his art. During the summer, I began to explore the diversity of his work and as I was creating the theme for ‘Conscious Shift’, I asked him to exhibit some of his photography. After I returned from Indonesia, we sat down to catch up, began a deeper dive into the motivation behind his work, and in the process, uncovered some incredible stories.
Born and raised in Columbus, IN, Woodley’s first exposure to photography came at an early age when he would visit his dad in Australia and use a point-and-shoot film camera to capture his experiences. Later in high school, he honed in on his visual talents expanding to digital cinematography, video editing, and digital photography. At 18 he moved to Southern California where he used his talents in the action sports scene and later transitioned into a few year stint documenting various award-winning musicians. After a life-changing accident in 2014, while learning to walk again, he began to research unique surreal-like landscapes around the world. Later that year he embarked on a spiritual and creative world journey leading him to discover his true calling as a fine-art photographer and visual artist. At the age of 29, Woodley had his debut solo exhibition “Dreams to Awaken” at Shim Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. After his second show in Manhattan the following year he moved back to Los Angeles and founded his own online gallery in late 2018. His vibrant work features large-scale original light-boxes and limited edition prints which have been collected and admired throughout the world.
Clayton Woodley (American, b.1987) is a multi-disciplinary creator and contemporary photographer. Known for his exotic locations, Woodley’s work features female figures juxtaposed in unique and interesting ways that often blur the line between subject and foreground, a distinction the artist highlights “as a way to reclaim our human identity as nature”. Woodley’s main body of work was created on a nomadic journey across the world from 2014-2016, which he says was guided, by spiritual intuition and happenstance. The resulting photographs depict human forms flowering out of landscapes including the Namibian desert in “Dreams to Awaken”, bright contrasting sculpturesque contortionists in Bali, and even nude figures in hard-to-reach and sometimes-controversial locations such in particular the salt flats of Bolivia and the alien-like landscapes of Socotra, Yemen.
1) Tell me about the works included for ‘Conscious Shift’ and how each of these speaks to you around the topics of mindfulness, consciousness, and nature.
The works I’ve included for ‘Conscious Shift’ come from my debut series “Dreams to Awaken”. From conception, the body of work stems from exactly these three topics. The idea was to travel to the most surreal landscapes in nature around the world and capture these impromptu interactions between the universal female figure, the chiffon, and the land. The conceptual framework is that we are nature. The same intelligent code that grows a seedling into a tree is the one that grew us into full form from the first cell division. When we deeply know this intrinsic connection old paradigms will crumble in the wake of a symbiotic relationship with mother earth. This nomadic quest I was on was part spiritual and part creative, which lead to my own consciousness shift when I discovered the inherent link between the two. The resulting photographs were created in the Mindfulness space. With limited context, I invite the viewer to become fully present while observing the artwork and drop into that powerful frequency.
2) You and Kipton met in LA earlier this year. How has your work evolved since traveling abroad to Indonesia and Romania (and other countries) the past few months?
Shortly after Kipton and I met I left the states on what was supposed to be a 1-month creative journey that turned into five! Two additional series were created during my initial travels for “Dreams to Awaken” and this trip was focused on continuing them as well as a 4th series that was birthed earlier this year. The work invariably explores the same initial themes through different context. In one series I’m exploring the nude figure discovering themselves as nature in expansive landscapes and the other is a sculpture-like study of form and juxtaposition using twin contortionists in nature.
3) Explain the inspiration around the lady on the salt flats in Bolivia. How long did it take you to get that shot?
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. When I saw the infinity mirror effect of the plain during the rainy season I knew I had to go and create there. In 99% of my shoots, I have only one-day to get “the shot”. Scouting is done virtually and we show up to a location once and either walk away with photographic gold or nothing. This location was unique since during our weeklong off-roading Bolivian adventure it was planned that we would stop here on the way down to the border of the country and once again on our return up north. I always trust that the weather and lighting conditions are beyond my control but always what they need to be. During the first shoot, we had this amazing cloud cover that lent itself to a very dreamy photo unlike any other from that location. On the second shoot (where this photo comes from) we had a mostly clear sky which afforded a completely different look to the first image. Using a longer lens and larger aperture I was able to create this surreal image where the horizon disappears and the woman appears to be floating in the sky. We probably shot close to 200 frames before the movement of the chiffon evoked the emotion I was looking to capture.
4) Your travels and exotic locations are incredibly inspiring! Can you share one of your more daring shoots and the lengths you went through to capture the ‘perfect’ shot?
The most daring shoot was 2 years in the making, a location that everyone told me was impossible to go to; Socotra, Yemen. In 2015 I had plans to go to Socotra, however during that time the Yemeni Civil War started and made travel to the island impossible by air (my canceled flight out of Dubai actually lead to meet the contortionists I would start creating with but we’ll save that story for another time). Rather than give up I asked the small travel agency to figure out a way to get me there. One year later they emailed me on my birthday with a precarious plan; fly to Salalah, Oman, be on call to board a small 70ft wooden supply boat coming from India (with no set schedule), journey 50hrs across the sea through Somali pirate water with no facilities or guide, arrive on the island and shoot within a few days to then make it off the island before the imminent monsoon season that would make the pass impossible for months. It’s worth mentioning that we had to shoot the “Dreams to Awaken” photo (shown in ‘Conscious Shift’) at a time when the local goat herders would not be in the area given the semi-nudity of the shot. We heard that they threw stones at the tourist photographers who were there a couple of years before, I can only imagine what would happen if they saw us. We actually had to ditch our driver one day to get the privacy needed to shoot the nude photo for the “Awakening” series. This was all being created while just 240 miles to the north, on the mainland of Yemen, American civilians were being taken as hostages by Houthi rebels. Knowing this you can now imagine how unnerving it was when we found out all the Indian/Omani boats had left the island leaving us to trust (and pay an exorbitant price) a group of Yemeni fisherman to take us back to Oman on an even smaller boat. Upon arrival, after making it through a monsoon-like storm, the Omani border patrol denied our boat to dock. One of our cell phones miraculously worked and we were able to contact the US embassy in Oman. The 16hr ordeal (after the 50hr boat ride back) concluded when they successfully extracted another $2,000 for an “official” boat to bring us back to shore. Add this to the cost of rebooking the 5 flights we missed and it becomes apparent that this was the most financially, physically, mentally, and creatively challenging shoots of the whole series. Whether all that resulted in “the perfect shot” is subjective, but if a guy from smalltown Indiana can shoot the first fine-art nudes in Yemen…anything is possible.
5) Your works have aspects of nature and subtle sexuality but each exudes light and positivity. Is there a reason why you only shoot women and not men in your shots?
There is really only one aspect, in regards to sexuality, which I wanted to convey. The commonality of the biological function for beauty, in both flowers and human beings, is one that attracts a pollinator or mate and ensures the survival of the respective species. In this regard, the woman figure makes the most sense visually. I also want the universal appreciation of the female form to extend to the greater “Mother Earth” that we all depend on. I have shot some male friends through my travels; maybe they’ll make the cut in my next show.
6) Is there a location you haven’t captured and plan to visit within the next 12 months?
I hope to create in quite a few locations over the next year. I have a vision board of stunning destinations that are organized by the season of when to travel for best weather/lighting/flora blooming. I’d like to go back to Japan in the fall and then Madagascar and Zambia/Zimbabwe in the winter to shoot an aerial photo from a helicopter at “Devils pool” in Victoria Falls before the rainy season begins.