Cambrian: Arts & Events

Official Hearst Castle photographer shows commercial art isn’t ‘selling out’

Castle in the Clouds.
Castle in the Clouds. Hearst Castle/California State Parks

I am an artist and I’ve been working…

Why don’t commercial artists receive the same observations and legitimizing support as non-commercial artists? Disapproving remarks about “selling out” are common, but isn’t it proof of one’s artistic skills and merit to be successful in a commercial setting?

Or is it fait accompli to be relegated to a basement, creating in obscurity? This dichotomy will likely never be relieved, but some artists have transcended the perceived conflict and found success.

Meet Victoria Garagliano, the senior photographer at Hearst Castle. For 25 years, she has quietly, methodically and artistically documented the art, artifacts, architecture and land of one of America’s most iconic residence-turned-museums with stunning results.

Victoria collaborated with historian Victoria Kastner to produce a lavish tome, “Hearst’s San Simeon — the Gardens and the Land” in 2009, which remains the definitive compendium of the property.

Victoria Garagliano

A graduate of Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Garagliano’s path to recognition was circuitous and ambitious with stints in the film industry and as an independent photographer. Garagliano grew up in the Bay Area in a supportive home, but when she graduated high school her father insisted that she take steps to make a career for herself. At that time, and as long as she can remember, her ONLY passion was to be a photographer. A testament to her father’s trust is that he indulged this ambition at great cost and sent her off to Brooks, but it was an experience commensurate with life lessons.

Brooks was “brutal,” in Garagliano’s words. They expected each student to be devoted, have exceptional results and have commercial application as their goal.

After graduating, Garagliano moved to Los Angeles and worked as a location scout for studios while knowing little about L.A. In 1979, she rented a garage in North Hollywood and lived in Pacific Palisades, relishing the environment and experience.

Becoming frustrated with a lack of continuous work, Garagliano landed a job with a photography studio and stayed for five years honing her skills. After her employer decided to go into real estate, he left the business to Garagliano. This began another test of determination. While working at a brisk pace, she built her portfolio, got out of debt and found time to engage a personal passion while remaining committed to her career. She moved to Yosemite to climb mountains, took a job as a film runner and simultaneously began mounting a clear path to success.

A serendipitous stay in Santa Barbara prompted a propitious opportunity. Garagliano was urged to take an exam for the state of California to become the official Hearst Castle photographer. Three years of countless interviews and the state process tested her determination but paid off.

Neptune Pool at dusk. Victoria Garagliano Hearst Castle/California State Parks

While interviewing Garagliano, it was evident that some discrimination about her commercial path as an artist left lingering effects. She is modest about her skills and reluctant to share her expertise. But within this quiet chronicler lies the heart and soul of a true artist.

“When I look through the lens I’m completely present in that moment,” she said. “I feel the breeze on the back of my neck and hear the sounds of my environment. All my senses are open.”

Garagliano is realistic about her position and often credits others with her success, such as “the book.”

“Photo shoots are a team effort. Working with Vicki Kastner on the Hearst Castle book was a big part of why I stayed at Hearst Castle. Vicki went ‘all in’ on the project and it was completely engrossing and satisfying,” she said.

I asked Garagliano whether she has ever considered mentoring aspiring photographers. She was somewhat recalcitrant and admitted this had never occurred to her because of being particularly conscious of artist’s sensitivities and the pressures inherent along the commercial path.

When asked about personal photographic expeditions, Garagliano had another surprising response: “After taking photos for others for so long, I no longer do it for myself. Why? Because I prefer to climb!”

These are the words from a determined, optimistic and hardworking person who is realistic; a rare quality among artists. Victoria has climbed the rigorous path to artistic success and in metaphoric symmetry manages to indulge her love of the climb as well.

Upcoming Events

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Allied Arts Association

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“Flora and Fauna” a group show of ceramic artists from the Dancing Dog Clayworks Studio.

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San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

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“A Roomful of Ghosts” works by David Limrite

Patrick Dennis is an artist living in Cambria. He owns Working Artist Studio/Patrick Gallery in the West Village and a very large dog named Bella. For more information, visit his website at