Local lawyer collects iconic photographs

Isaac Barnett


Paul Paletti was working on his Master’s degree in photography at Central Washington University when he had an idea that would change his perspective on photography. 

“I was buying a lot of photography books, that’s how you found out what was going on during that time before the internet. One day, I had this brilliant idea that I could not buy four books, and buy one real photograph, so I bought a couple of photographs from famous photographers. About 15 years later, I picked up some auction catalogs and found out that what I bought was worth 10 times that I paid for it and this kind of permitted me to explore collecting even more,” Paletti said. 

Paul Paletti is a photographer, collector and attorney. His building on 713 East Market Street in downtown Louisville is home to the Paul Paletti Gallery and law firm Sturm, Paletti and Peter. After buying the building in January of 2001, Paletti started to decorate the walls of the building with photographs he owned before he had the idea to turn the building into a public gallery.

“The original idea was to show people what great black and white photography looked like. Because you can’t see it in a book and you can’t see it on a computer display screen. You have to see the thing itself,” Paletti said.

That said, his collection is very diverse, ranging from crisp black and white landscapes shot by Ansel Adams to fine art photography from 20th-century innovators like Imogen Cunningham to the colorful and striking portrait “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry. 

The gallery was officially named after Paul Paletti in late 2001 when he received a call from the Mayor’s office asking if the gallery wanted to participate in a gallery hop.

 “They had been talking with the other art galleries and everybody said that they should include the Paul Paletti Gallery, and they were calling to see if that was the name of the gallery. And I said, well, I guess it is now because I didn’t have a name. So I just, it became a gallery that way,” said Paletti. 

Paletti is also at the head of a non-profit organization called Louisville Photo Biennial and produces a bi-annual festival celebrating the medium of photography through exhibitions and workshops in Kentucky and Indiana. 

“I think that in 2001 there were only six galleries that participated in it and we were one of them. It’s wonderful what has grown into because, despite the pandemic, we have 53 venues this year and have held some terrific shows,” Paletti said. 

However, the expansion process has not been easy with minimal funding, a lack of full-time employees and shows to organize at over 50 different venues. 

“On the downside, it’s like herding cats to get everybody to do things, you know, at the right time or on deadline. There’s just a lot of effort that goes into it from myself and from a dedicated group of volunteers and people who are not paid much at all, who have made it all possible to do this for the past 20 years,” Paletti said.    

Paletti is not only a collector of photography but also a photographer himself. His difficulty pinpointing his love of photography to just one aspect is why he loves it so much. 

“It’s a combination of the process itself, the imagery and also the fact that it has so many facets. I mean, sometimes it’s just pure beauty expressed through a very unique medium and other times it could be about documenting human events and things that are going on both good and bad,” Paletti said.  

Some of his work is on display throughout the gallery, including two images he made with a friend from college, an artist named Myrna Burks. These photos are printed side-by-side in the back hallway of the gallery. One is a portrait of Burks looking into the camera with a soft expression and the other is a crisp close-up depicting her hand laying on a background of white sand.

 “The darkroom where I printed my photos was near her lithography studio and we quickly became good friends. This project is one of the most emotionally charged things I’ve ever done. The work is dear to me,” Paletti said. 

The Paul Paletti Gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and is available by appointment.