I believe creativity is in each of us. Moreover, as we self-explore, we discover mediums of art that capture our interests whilst nurturing our inner most talents. It’s great when others are able to see this and admire the results. One person who illustrates the ability to develop an artistic skill is Paul Fletcher. I had the pleasure of befriending Paul during our work with the Royal Institute of British Architects and been friends ever since. He’s always been creative but now I’ve witnessed his transformation into a very talented but humble photographer. It’s been a privilege to have him answer a few questions regarding his wonderful work and what’s next on the horizon.
I see you as an artist but I recall your hesitancy in describing yourself as one. Why was that and how would you describe yourself now?
I remain unable to refer to myself as an artist, I struggled for sometime to even consider myself as a photographer. This because I know that simply owning a camera does not make someone a photographer. Equally as I’m entirely self taught it also seemed somewhat of an exaggeration to call myself ‘photographer’.
However, having now commissions to work as a photographer and even having a few pieces hang in a gallery it would be false modesty to not accept that I am a photographer. I still cannot consider myself an artist however.
How did you get into photography?
In winter 2014 I bought my first camera, a secondhand analogue rangefinder. I bought this because my son, who was studying A-level photography and was due to stay with me for Christmas. I thought it would be a great idea to learn how to shoot over that holiday with my son, a good bonding activity. Unfortunately my son did not come to stay. However I did start a stumbling journey to teach myself how to use a camera and more so begin the journey of learning how to make a photograph. During 2015 I shot infrequently and inconsistently, probably no more than 20 rolls of film in the whole year. Early in 2016 I traded my film camera for a digital camera (primarily so I could shoot more often and see the results more immediately).
All artists find their chosen medium therapeutic but how has photography helped you?
This is very real for me. Coincidently at about the same time as buying my first camera I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, type 2 bipolar disorder. During 2015 I experienced a period of deep and prolonged depression (6 months). During this period I shot very infrequently. In an up period early 2016 I traded the film camera for a digital one. I shot much more frequently for several months. But what I shot was clumsy and not very good, I now consider what I was doing then as forced and was very much about taking. I was trying too hard to be a photographer. In the summer of that year I again fell into a very deep period of depression, I became trapped alone at home losing my interest in photography and even living at the darkest times. This caused concern for my friends and one suggested to get me out of the house and engaging with others I should reawaken my interest to photography and join some groups.
After some persuasion I did this and by late July I was shooting again, with groups who would meet a few times a month. In late August 2016 I entered a ‘Street Photography’ competition, intending to learn. Much too my surprise I won a couple of the categories and was even acknowledged for one of the best shots of the competition. However my period of depression continued, I was learning that it was not circumstantial but a disorder in my head over which I had very little control. Friends insisted that I keep shooting as 2016 closed and 2017 began I was shooting almost everyday. I was also finding such practice therapeutic. Unknowingly I was shooting from my heart, not my head. This allowed a new form of expression and creativity to begin to emerge. Even more significantly it offered me a new way to interact with people. In August 2016 I was capturing people in candid ways, almost in stealth. By January 2017 I was making as many permissive captures as candid ones. Through these real world interactions and what I was beginning to post on social media people started to show interest in my photography.
In February 2017 when the depressed period lifted the interested seemed to grow somewhat exponentially. I was hanging a few pieces in a gallery exhibition and I was getting paid commissions for fashion and portraiture shoots. However this initial ‘success’ was derailed by yet another period of depression in late July. At this point I reverted to my default of walking about London, making photographs of what I found and using the camera to give me some form of respite from the chronic illness I battle. This period was different though. It was less intense and as it happened briefer, about three months. That I believe is likely because of a combination of factors; finding medication that I can tolerate, my acceptance and growing understanding of the illness and what I now know to be very true – that photography is good for me, possibly essential to my wellbeing. Today I am comfortable referring to my photography as ‘my work’ and I endeavour that everything I do is more ‘make’ than ‘take’. It is not an exaggeration to say that photography has saved my life.
As you develop your photography, are there any areas or particular themes you’d like to explore?
My interest remains with people, especially people in the urban environment. Candid capture and permissive making of photographs. I consider how I’m developing as something I call ‘Urban Anthropology’ as that is what I’m doing – studying humans in the city as they live their day to day lives. I am particularly interested developing stories about those who are increasingly forgotten by society; the elderly, the homeless and those with mental illness (a very personal thing for me). My commercial work has moved away from fashion as I soon found it to be disrespectful and demeaning of models, especially girls and exploitative of photographers and other creatives. My interest in portraiture is growing and this is the area in which I am looking to develop commissioned work. I am also occasionally exploring a form of photography that could be considered ‘fine art’ and may look to hang work in a gallery in the future. But I remain adamant that I am definitely not an artist!
We’ll have to disagree on that! Are there any photographers you are particularly influenced by and why?
There are two types of photographer that fit this, those whose work inspires me and those who I am fortunate to have got to know personally. Of the ones that inspire I would particularly Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Helmut Newton, Joel Meyerowitz and John Gay.
Colour or black and white photography- which do you prefer?
For my personal work it would seem that it is black and white. I self taught with black and white film, although when I switched to digital I did shoot colour predominantly for a period, today I have returned to black and white. In fact the digital camera I use now only captures luminance and no hue! I also have a film camera again, which is almost always loaded with black and white film.
I’ve known you for a while now, particularly in your former capacity as an architect. I know you have always worked passionately to improve society’s appreciation of civic space. Is this something your photography also captures or contribute towards?
No. I’m more interested in people that the constructs that contain them, whether that be civic space or buildings. You are correct that I strived to create the best spaces for people whilst an architect, however when I realised some years ago that all spaces and buildings, as the product of the property industry, are nothing more than commodity traded for financial return. People simply do not matter, regardless of the rhetoric. At this point my trajectory out of that industry had begun. Formally surrendering my professional status as an architect in 2016 was made as protest against architects being merely ‘building stylists’ with next to no influence over the role of the built environment to enhance society. I could not pretend any longer.
What projects are you currently working on?
Hmmm, nothing specific. I am exploring where ‘Urban Anthropology’ might lead and recently have found myself making landscape photographs, who knows where it might lead? All I know is that I must remain to be led by heart and not head.
I wish Paul continued success and look forward to seeing more of his excellent work. For further information on Paul, please visit his official website.