HomeBlog michaels Interview Sessions: Paul Jeffers
michaels Interview Sessions: Paul Jeffers
michaels ‘Friday Interview Sessions’ PART 5 - Paul Jeffers: News, Features and Portrait Photographer
Photo by Rajan Zaveri
Welcome to Part 5 in the michaels Interview Sessions! Today's interview shines a spotlight on Paul Jeffers, a photographer with a diverse and colourful photographic background.
Paul has worked in New York and London in recent years but is currently based in Melbourne. He is specialising in news and current affairs, multimedia features, corporate and portrait imagery. A highly accomplished photographer, Paul's editorial work has appeared in publications such as The Times London, The Sun, The Guardian, The Sunday Age, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
We get together to discuss his passion for photography and story telling, the importance of immersing oneself in the industry to both network and develop friendships, the impact of significant mentors in his journey, and tools Paul relies upon to get the job done.
Paul has provided us with images, displayed throughout the interview, where relevant to the assignments he is discussing. Enjoy!
Firstly Paul I’d like to thank you for taking some time out to answer some of our questions and have this talk today.
As I understand you actually started off photographing BMX riders for cycling magazines in Melbourne and only years later did you turn to social documentary photography and photojournalism. What changed your focus? Was it a matter of artistic ‘maturity’ or was there some defining moment?
Thanks Marc. I spent a lot of time photographing the boys on their bikes doing tricks at the local skate parks and bush trails. It became very repetitive and I realised that all the frames on the film I was shooting began to look the same. My focus tilted toward depicting the social interaction within the group, which revealed a more personal account into their daily life and activities. They couldn’t understand why I was more interested in taking pictures of them going about their day rather that doing a trick. Mind you, neither did I at the time.
I revisited the group years later when invited to photograph a party they were holding at a rental property in Ballarat. Subsequently, I returned a dozen or so times over the following six months to continue the story that eventually became Boys Backyard. The work had depth and purpose, which meant more to me.
Photographer: Paul Jeffers Images: Selection from 'Boys Backyard' series
Lounging about while drinking a few beers in the backyard is usually how the weekend would begin.
To celebrate a birthday in the group, the boys hired a surprise strip dancer to get the party started.
During your development you have been supported and mentored by Melbourne based photographers including Emmanuel Santos and Hwa Goh. What impact would you say they have had on both your technical abilities and creative outlook?
Emmanuel and Hwa are not only my mentors, but also great friends. Rather than talk about the technical aspects of photography, we discuss ideas and creative philosophy, exchange suggestions and plan the next step. I was lucky enough to have the chance to spend time with Ashley Gilbertson in New York who was also trained by Emmanuel. He taught me a surprising amount in such a short time, and also showed me some of the best bars in town.
Is it through your mentors and others in the photographic community, that you have gained the wealth of photographic knowledge you have now? Have you been through formal training and would you consider one more important than the other?
Formal training can be conservative and teaches you the very basics of photography, which in most cases, you can read about anyway. Developing friendships, networking and experience in the industry you wish to work in key to being a photographer.
What do you carry in your bag? Do you shoot digital, analogue or a combination depending on the project or assignment?
For typical news, two Canon 5dII bodies, 70-200mm and 24-70mm lenses. For self-assigned work I like to travel light with a Canon 5dII, 50mm and 28mm fixed lenses. I’ve also started using a 35mm. For corporate assignments I use portable Speedlights and studio lights depending on the brief.
I do shoot film from time to time but never combine with digital, using a Canon Eos 1n and Rolleiflex 2.8F.
What is your processing and editing software of choice?
Photoshop, Lightroom, Bridge, and PhotoMechanic. Adobe Premiere for video editing.
Is there any one story you have documented and followed which stands out in your mind? Something you are perhaps most proud of being a part of or something you regard as a considerable achievement in your career?
I was very pleased with a story I produced in the States last year called Bangor International Airport, which brought a lot of positive attention and landed me a final place in the Reportage International Projections competition. Most importantly, I got a close up look at a different aspect of the American wars.
The story is about an airport in the state of Maine, which is used primarily to host incoming and outgoing military flights to Afghanistan and Iraq. Bangor Airport is the last checkpoint before deployment and the first footstep on home soil upon return from battle. It was very interesting to talk to the soldiers while they waited in the terminal for their flight, and depict their emotional state by photographing what I saw.
Photographer: Paul Jeffers Images: Selection from 'Bangor International Airport' series
23 year old E4 Specialist Travis Nowak from Wisconsin, Echo Company 2/227 ACB (Air Cavalry Brigade) waits at Bangor International Airport after returning from his 2nd tour of Iraq. He plans to finish up in the US Army in June to begin studying Business.
US Marines dine at the Bangor Airport Coffee Shop before boarding their flight bound for Afghanistan where they will spend the next seven to eight months. Tension and anticipation runs high as they prepare to say goodbye to America.
Your work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. What is it like being handed an assignment from a major news conglomerate? Is this type of editorial work more or less restrictive or difficult for any reason?
While I lived in London, I was doing regular freelance work for The Associated Press. The funny thing about working with a wire agency is you never know where your work will end up. Forgive me for sounding narcissistic, but I would sometimes Google myself an hour after filing, to see how far my pictures had travelled.
Taking assignments like this is not always what I want to do, but can be fun and interesting all the same. I like having a variety of work because it keeps me sharp in all fields, and sometimes teaches me something new. It also pays for the projects that I really want to work on.
Could you take us briefly through the process for a project you have lead, start to finish, to give a comprehensive idea of what is truly involved in getting that final product?
In August 2011, I traveled back to the States with a story idea in mind, The Holy Land Experience, a theme park based on the bible. You won’t find rides or fairy floss here, nor cartoon characters or clowns. If having the last supper with Jesus or watching roman soldiers beat the life out of him at his crucifixion takes your fancy, then is the place to do it. It cost me 35 dollars to get in from memory, and I got a discount the next day. I wanted to see this place for myself, and get a sense of how far people in the States will go to express their faith. I spent a few days in the blistering Orlando sun, photographing the people and activities.
I prepared a tight edit of images, wrote detailed captions for each picture and a short descriptive synopsis. As a package, I emailed it to a few publications that I thought would suit, a German and an Australian magazine.
Later when I had some more time, I edited some sound that I recorded over a wider edit of the pictures in Adobe Premiere which resulted in a great multimedia video, that I can easily email to anyone interested in seeing my work.
Photographer: Paul Jeffers Image: Selected from 'The Holy Land Experience' series
Visitors take opportunity to talk with Jesus and pose for photographs after The Last Supper at The Holy Land Experience, Florida, United States. The Last Supper is scheduled twelve times daily.
Do you have any plans for publishing? If you were to have a book produced, even if it is a hypothetical at this point, have you given any consideration to what the topic or concept might be?
Every photographer wants to publish a book. I haven’t given much thought to what mine would contain yet, other than pages and pictures. I would like to find a long-term project to work on that I feel strongly about. I’m interested in religion, culture and humanitarian issues, so maybe something along those lines.
You have been involved in a number of exhibitions since 2006, what is on the agenda going forward? What should we expect from you over the next 12-24 months?
I’m planning on doing some work in India with some friends from London FireFly Photofilms and hopefully a particular human rights organisation that are collaborating. We’ll be filming some issues that we have discussed and believe need addressing and making our stories public through use of print and multimedia, which may result in an exhibition, perhaps.
Do you manage to find time to shoot as a hobby, for personal enjoyment? If so, what photographic themes or techniques do you choose to explore?
Most of my life is consumed by photography. Whenever I am doing something related, I consider it work, not a hobby. As much as I enjoy it, I try to balance my life with activities completely different to photography so I don’t burn out. When I am not shooting, most of my days are spent on the computer sorting my own portfolio, editing, researching ideas, sourcing work, and meeting colleagues and friends.
Photographer: Paul Jeffers
Protesters clash with police in Berlin to mark the 10 year anniversary death of Carlos Giuliani, who was killed by police during the G8 protest in Italy 2001. Berlin, Germany, Saturday, July 16, 2011.
Demonstrators burn wooden benches in Parliament Square, as students demonstrate in Westminster London, against planned university tuition fee increases.
Jon Bon Jovi performing at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in Hyde Park, London.
We like to end our interview sessions asking a question requiring a ‘visual’ response. The answer can be an original photo, a link to an existing photo, a drawing, a painting or even a link to a YouTube clip. So, if you weren’t a photographer what would you be?
With this response Paul must be feeling the need... the need for speed!