Say hello to Paul :
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I’m from a small town in the UK called Redditch. I studied in Lincoln and Stratford upon Avon, worked in France and Bosnia, and travelled around a few different countries in Europe. I’m currently residing in Birmingham!
What’s your favorite place in the world?
I’ve got to admit, my favourite place in the world is Birmingham. I love visiting other cities, New York being a close second favourite, but I found my career in Birmingham, as well as my fiancee and many of my best friends, so it holds a very special place in my heart.
How would you describe your visual style?
It’s a real mix to be honest, I’d say that my visual style is still developing. I studied film for most of my education, and fell into photography through the dual use of DSLRs, so a lot of my work, I see more cinematic framing in. The other main theme that I try and represent is the moments between the posed shots. I’m so much more interested by the person ‘in between’ the shots, whether it’s shooting a wedding (which I don’t do often) or shooting interviews for a documentary – what really interests me is the person between the takes.
How do you find your inspiration?
A lot of the time, it’s just looking at people, how they act, think, move, etc. Although saying that, a lot of my inspiration comes from films, art and the world (and people) that I see on a daily basis. Inspiration comes in many different forms – directly appreciating someone else’s artwork might spark an idea, a conversation, an issue that I’m particularly passionate about, or just seeing an interesting location or space.
Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?
Not as much as I used to. When you work as a photographer or filmmaker day to day, it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting the camera down between shoots. Recently, I’ve challenged myself to forget about work, and just do something that I love. So far, I’ve shot a music video for one of my favourite Hip Hop artists and I’m currently producing a series of self portraits to represent what art means to me.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I spent six years studying film and television production, so my real focus was to get into that industry, although I felt as though working up from runner or assistant just wasn’t for me. I’ve always loved being my own boss, and although it can be uncertain and difficult at times, the risk factor just gives me the adrenaline kick! I started out with a Canon 650d as a graduation present (thanks dad!) and asked every restaurant in the local area of my university if they’d like a free photography shoot. Out of 30-40 emails, 10 said ok. I shot the restaurants, gave them all one free photo and then sold them any additional ones. Following that, I used the money to buy a light, a small backdrop and a printer, and went to family fun days and dog shows to do portraits. Printed them and sold them on the day until I had enough money to afford a microphone and some extra bits. Once home, I did the odd bits for different people, partly through word of mouth, partly through cold calling, and it went from there. I also started working with an organisation in Birmingham called Beatfreeks, shooting videos and doing bits of freelance work with them. Eventually, I worked full time with them managing the media side of the business, before finally returning to a freelance career so I could concentrate on moving into documentary film and photography production.
You document many political events in the UK – what cause has particularly moved you? Any concerns for your personal safety, especially with protests?
I’m particularly moved by issues surrounding equality and fairness. Now, that’s quite a broad answer, but I find it difficult to understand in what context should a certain group of people be higher up the food chain (so to speak) than others. The work I did in Calais, at the refugee camp, was really to try and destroy the idea that the people there were sub-human, which was the impression given by a lot of mainstream media outlets, which then was embodied by some of the British population. The scariest moments came from documenting the far right hate groups, Britain First and EDL. Their supporters are often drunk, enraged and quite volatile. In one instance, a group of EDL supporters attacked an individual that disagreed with them, right next to me. In fact, one of the times I’ve felt safest was in the refugee camp in Calais, many people offered us food and shelter during the rain, we had good laughs and talked a lot with the people there. Although, when you put yourself in these situations, you have to always be on your guard. A good friend of mine that photographs in conflict zones across the world always told me to get out if something doesn’t feel right, and to always put your own safety before any of your kit, or your shot, so I always hear her voice when I’m in those kind of situations!
You seem to practice a diverse range of photography – what is your favorite genre?
To be honest, the reason it’s so diverse is because I can’t find a favourite! I love the adrenaline rush of being in front of 200,000 people at a protest, and I love the ability to slow down and get creative on more polished fashion shoots. My heart will always be in telling stories that matter, so I suppose documentary work takes the crown there.
What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?
Myself. Putting the camera down, not taking time to re-energise, rushing things that shouldn’t be rushed. I’ve always been my biggest barrier, but now I’m much more aware of this, and that’s really helped me focus this year.
Of the photos you’ve taken, which three are your favorite?
Difficult to pick, because I really like the aesthetic in my more polished, fashion work, but the story and context of what the documentary photography represents is much more important to me to showcase. Firstly, I’d probably go with this one – this really summed up the frustrations of the refugee crisis. Here you have a solid wall of authority on the right hand side, stone cold faces with seemingly no compassion, and on the left hand side, a young brother and sister desperately trying to make some sort of an impact on them, to no avail.
The second would be this one, of the two men with black umbrellas. It was a horrible rainy day and me and my friend were talking after a very short street photography walk around. I spotted the guy on the street sitting down, with the umbrella to the side as if no care for getting wet. Just as I raised my camera, the other guy walked past, same umbrella, completely different lifestyle. For me, it sums up some of the social issues Birmingham as a city faces, currently struggling with a large population of homeless men and women, whilst money is still being invested into large businesses and in the more ‘elite’ areas.
The final picture is a little bit different, it’s a photograph of my daughter. She’s our first little one, so she’s an incredibly well documented child! Although I do love the composition and the colours, for me, I totally see her personality all the way through the image. It’s my desktop image so whenever I struggle to motivate myself to get working, I hear Homer Simpson’s infamous words “ Do it for her.”
Photography is competitive. How do you stand out?
There’s always going to be someone that’s better than you at something, and photography is so subjective anyway, there’s no point in trying to ‘be the best’ as such, because everyone sees things differently. I try to be the best person I can be. Be kind, be humble, be responsive, be accountable and be yourself. I love to talk to people and get to know them, I’m a human before I’m a photographer, and that’s really important to me. From a more technical point of view, I try to always learn something new on every shoot, and talking to people and accepting advice and criticism is a great way to find out the areas you can develop.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Shoot as much as you can. Shoot everything and anything you enjoy, you’ll constantly develop your technique. Be good to people, genuinely, I’d probably say that in most cases, that’s one of the most important things. You could be the best photographer (subjectively!) in the world, but who wants to work with someone that’s not a nice person?
How do you express yourself through your photography?
Subject matter mainly, especially with street photography and the documentary work. A lot of it is a reflection of how I perceive the world, and the bits of it that I feel are important to share.
Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?
Currently working on a new production company part time called Rebels Without A Pause – although we haven’t updated in awhile, we’re currently working on a feature film, so that’s exciting!
What is your most life-changing event?
Meeting my Fiancee and having our wonderful little girl.
What will you be doing five years from now?
Full time documentary filmmaking, with a healthy dose of weird and wonderful photography exploits!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I remember climbing a building structure of an apartment block with my friend at his university and watching the sunrise – there weren’t any walls in place, just bare structure, stairs and floors. That was pretty crazy!
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?
Travel the world. I’ve been to quite a few places, so I’ve got a few countries under my belt, but I’d love to just take a few months off somewhere on the other side of the globe. Something that me and my little family are planning to do over the next few years!
For anyone who wants to get in touch with Paul, here’s some contact information:
Paul, thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Also, remember to download the FStop app for iPhone here!