Paul Crowther is a freelance photographer who works under the name, Revolver Photo, a reference to his favourite album by the Beatles. This title is an apt insight into his story, an inspiring one, chock-full of quirk, the dazzle of pop-culture and the buzz of limitless creative energy. Paul’s journey from school to seeing his first set of inspiring images on the covers of his dad’s vinyl collection to photographing famous faces such as Pete Doherty in his signature no-frills style is bursting with references to things that have inspired him. By sharing his stories with us, Paul’s literal race to the top, as a runner of marathons with natural flair behind the lens of a camera, stands as a source of inspiration for aspiring creatives who have chosen the same path and are in the process of cutting their teeth in the business of image-making.
Tell us about the path to photography; what drew you to the medium and where did your creative interest begin?
I was born in 1977, the year Star Wars was released in cinemas. From an early age my Dad always had the camera out taking pictures of our family. In fact, my Dad hunched over the viewfinder of his Roliflex camera is one of the earliest memories I have. It most certainly gave me an appreciation of photography and for the value of capturing life’s beautiful moments. I left school with poor GCSE grades. The decent grades that I did get were in English, PE and Art, which I guess are still prominent skills in my life now, given my love of Kerouac and Bukowski, running marathons and taking pictures.
In my teens, I can remember lying on my bed listening to my Dad’s vinyl whilst looking at these incredible album covers. He had albums by Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Rolling Stones, not a big collection but it was just enough for me to want to explore my own musical tastes. There was one album that hit me like a bomb. I am not just talking about the sound of the album, which in itself is also amazing, I was captivated by the images on the album cover. A collection of images by Anton Corbijn graced the cover of Achtung Baby by U2. The day I looked at that album cover was the day that I thought to myself: being a photographer would be a pretty cool thing to do.
I had a couple of jobs after leaving school and then went away backpacking with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, with the constant thought of being a photographer in the back of my mind. Upon arriving back in the UK, with the encouragement of my wife, I enrolled on a photography course at college and began to pursue my dream. I worked with and assisted a number of photographers after college, which included a week’s ‘work experience’ in London with the celebrity photographer Rankin.
Working with Rankin, if only for a week, gave me valuable experience of working with one of my photographic heros and high profile people. I can tell you now he most certainly won’t remember me – I tried to blend into the background of the cool, uber-trendy world of a showbiz photographer – but I remember my time with him. I had heard all sorts of stories about him, but for the short time I was there, he was happy to chat with me and was a top, top geezer.
Tell us about your greatest influences and inspirations?
I’ve got to mention the film Star Wars because it grabbed me. I was intoxicated by it and the film had a huge impact on my youth. The ingredients connected with me; a simple, well-structured tale of good versus bad. As a young kid it was mind blowing! Another cultural influence was music. My mum always had the radio on and when I say always, I mean always. I listen to certain songs now and get a nostalgic feeling of being back in my parents living room or coming back home from a day at high-school with not a worry in the world. To me music is incredibly powerful and something that I can’t live without.
Another strong influence was my interest in Britain during the swinging sixties: the youthful feel of the decade, the imagery, the fashion and the sounds. What made it even more interesting was the characters that made their name in that decade such as David Bailey, Mary Quant, Andrew Loog Oldham, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Caine and Jean Shrimpton. My imagery is also influenced by the photographers that came out of that era. Particularly the style of Bailey, Donovan and Duffy. Their work to me has a simplicity to it which gives it an essence of purity, but also, they had confidence and bags of attitude and that part of their personality comes across in their work. If only I had a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor, I would go back in time camera-in-hand to the 1960’s!
Tell us about your present-day inspirations and what it means to you to be a photographer.
There are some great feelings in my life such as having a chilled Coke on a hot day whilst wondering around a beautiful city, blasting out the tunes and dancing with my three gorgeous girls in our kitchen, or running so hard that I can almost feel my heart pound out of my chest. Maybe discovering a piece of literature by Charles Bukowski in a second hand book store, but one feeling that ranks right up there is when someone sits for their portrait and looks at me through the lens of my camera. It is an incredibly powerful experience, a special moment, a moment in time that is frozen by the click of the camera but also a very personal one between me and the sitter. This is the moment when I feel grateful for the medium of photography.
I always search for simplicity in my imagery, no gimmicks, as I want it to be about the person in front of my lens. Even with gig photography and the commercial work that I do, I am always searching for simplicity within the composition of the image. No strange angles or complicated backdrops just the person, a simple setting, me and the camera. I am very lucky to have photographed some wonderful characters. Some of them are more well-known than others but each one of them gave me the same exciting buzz. People are what inspire me!
How do you find working as a freelancer? What kind of limitations do you face and how do you balance your workload?
For me, being self-employed seems to offer no emotional middle-ground. I am either buzzing with excitement at the thought of a new job or project, or I get worried about whether my work is good, where the next project is going to come from and whether I am doing the right thing.
Something else that I find hard to deal with is getting on a run of photographic projects, I never want it to end. I want to photograph everyone and everything and the reality is that it will never happen like that and sometimes I need a reality check. That is when having two kids, wrapping them up warm and taking them on their scooters to the park helps me to put some perspective on things. Getting out with the kids or going for a run helps keep the mind as well as the body healthy. In my industry, when it can sometimes be a bit ‘cut throat’, I realise the importance of having a release and keeping fit.
How do you prepare for a new project?
Prior to a photoshoot I try to bombard my senses with imagery. My collection of coffee table books is pretty impressive and I get on the internet to get my creative juices flowing, then go to bed and sleep lightly but soundly, feeling confident that there are a few ideas floating around in my subconscious. Sometimes when I turn up to photograph someone I am so excited that it feels like I am going to burst. It sometimes feels like the equivalent of running a marathon, I am not saying this lightly but that feeling is addictive, very addictive. I mean, once I get the likes of Jarvis Cocker in front of my camera it makes me want more. More, more, more!
When I am out and about on a job I make the most of every opportunity. I thrive on meeting new people and it is suprising how many people tell me their life story in the space of the time I am photographing them. I treat this as a perk of my job. It’s a wonderful feeling setting off on a job before the sun comes up, travelling to the destination wondering what is in store, meeting someone new, setting up and taking pictures.
In your opinion, why does being a creative beat any other career?
When I am on a run of projects I feel that I have the best job in the world. Sometimes I punish myself, I think I don’t deserve it because both my parents were proper grafters. They worked really hard at what I call ‘proper jobs’ to put food on our plates. They would start work at silly o’clock, working all hours so that my brothers and I didn’t go without. Sometimes I have to pause and ask myself, ‘is that what I should be doing?’ Don’t get me wrong, on some photoshoots I feel like I have climbed mountains with all the gear I have to carry upstairs and set up, and what with always having to be ‘on the ball’ creatively. Working in the creative industry is fantastic but I don’t class myself as an artist or anything like that. I think you need to be prolific, give out through your work idea after idea and connect with a mass audience. Me? I am trying to find an audience.
Tell us little about your processes and the gear that you use?
I work fully digital, using Canon cameras. I try to have simple lighting set-ups. At most maybe three lights in operation, but more often than not, because I don’t have long with a sitter, I make the most of using one light. Prior to a shot, I photograph myself using the camera’s timer to meter the light. People sometimes ask me about the camera’s technical capabilities but I always reply that it’s not about the camera but the photos that you take with it.
If you’re able to pick one, what has been your favourite project to date?
I have had a few. A few years ago I had a commission for a travel company, for which I travelled around Europe for three weeks, which was obviously amazing, I worked on a rugby league campaign to promote equality in the sport which was great, and recently, I worked on a job in Brixton and Stockwell, photographing carers and social workers, the real un-sung heroes of our society, which was quite simply superb. Of the well known faces that I photographed, Uri Geller was memorable, David Soul was fun and Jarvis lived up to expectations but the one person I felt truly honoured to photograph was a lady called Christina Noble. She set up the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation in Vietnam and I urge anyone who doesn’t know about this lady to read her book. She is a true angel in every sense of the word and a film about her life is due out in 2014.
Who would you most like to photograph?
Bono, David Bowie, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney.
What are you working on at the moment?
As well as having paid commissions I always set myself personal projects. For example, I went down to my local boxing gym and photographed some of the boxers. The other day I asked a couple of Harley Davidson riders if I could photograph them and they very kindly obliged. Wonderful, amazing everyday characters that, if I wasn’t a photographer, it would have been harder to connect with.
Do you have anything exciting planned for this year?
I’ll probably run a couple of marathons, read some more Bukowski, people watch in cafes, watch Star Wars a couple more times, entertain the wife and kids with my bad dancing in the kitchen and also look to feed that feeling, that ‘buzz’ that I have talked about when photographing people. So, if you see a bald-headed Yorkshire chap asking to take your portrait, then it will probably be me!
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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth