Fascinated by the chaos
In conversation with the East London Photographer Paul Fuller.
Paul Fuller is a filmmaker and photographer working in fashion, music, documentary, portrait, and fine art. His work is full of atmosphere and wonder. His latest project is the arts and culture website “Mustaaärd” which features artists who he and his project partners choose. A lot of his images are taken close to his home in the Hackney Marshes – a green strip of nature along the River Lea in East London. This is where we meet for a walk and a chat.
Your images are looking like taken on film. Are they? Or is that a deliberate style you are aiming at in post-production?
Some will be shot on film, and some won`t be. I go through phases. And I have, as most photographers do, probably far too many cameras, film and digital. But it`s not that I`m trying to make it look like film. What I`m trying is to make it not look like digital. Digital is too clean, too perfect and it`s great for some things. But I like to muck it up a bit and make it a little bit less clear and more atmospheric. However, I didn`t start on film and wanted to try to maintain that look. Because when I started getting really interested in photography, digital cameras were already about.
On your website are a lot of images of personal projects. How do you find and choose them?
There`s not a lot of paid stuff on my website. In fact, very little. Most of it is just me doing it for fun. For example, I go to a lot of gigs and if there’s a band I really like and that looks interesting, I might send them a message if they can send me a photo pass for their gig – just because I enjoy doing it. I always take a camera with me when I`m out running and most of my pictures from around the Hackney Marshes were taken while I was running. But I wouldn`t want to do only one thing repeatedly. Therefore, I wouldn`t want to specialize as a music or fashion photographer. I don`t like it when things are getting too repetitive, but I like to photograph a lot of different things.
Do you find that this personal work is benefiting your paid work?
It`s practice for a start. Also, when I do a lot of video stuff, I miss doing photography and need to pick up my camera and do something for myself. When you do work for yourself you can do what you like. Whereas, when you do a job for somebody else, they usually have a certain type of picture in mind. Of course, you can still put some of your own spin into it – after all, the reason they ask you in the first place is hopefully that they`ve seen some of your personal work on the website and like it. But the portraits I`m taking for our new arts and culture website for example: I`m not thinking of anybody else`s opinion apart from what I want to get out of it – and that is great to be able to do that.
How did you get on when you started out as a freelancer in London after you left your job as a newspaper art director?
When I went freelance, somebody I have worked with at the newspaper referred me to some friends of theirs who had set up a company and needed videos for crafts tutorials. I ended up doing all their videos and some photography. They later referred me to a street style website, so I ended up shooting street style in Shoreditch. Then, one of the guys there introduced me to someone who had set up a stress management app, so I`m doing stuff for her. He also introduced me to the people who were producing the films that I`ve been photographing last year. Almost all my work came from people I`ve worked before or met on jobs – it`s been referral after referral.
Wow, well obviously you do a good job! Are you even trying to find opportunities when there`s no connection there?
I do pursue non-referred work in the sense that I contact companies. However, I find that – unless you contact someone at the exact moment when they need somebody for a specific job – you never hear back from them. People forget. And when they need somebody, the photographer they remember is the most recent photographer they`ve met, not necessarily the best one.
We come across a makeshift sign stuck to a branch of a tree. Paul takes a picture of it…
This may be something for my Hackney book… I`ve been taking a lot of pictures of lost posters recently. It started with one of those `Lost-cat-posters` stuck to a tree. They`ve put it in a plastic sleeve but water got inside and the picture of the cat – the ink – had run down. So there was nothing but smudge and it said nothing but “Lost cat”. And I thought: “Yes, it`s even missing from the picture now”. That`s when I started taking pictures whenever I see a `Lost poster`. When they are out in the rain for a while, the pictures become really distorted. And I began finding really random ones: on a shoot in Knightsbridge was a poster stuck on a wall of a very expensive hotel and it was a lost white parakeet.
So, you kind of encounter your projects and ideas more than chasing or trying to find them?
Yes, it was in Lockdown last summer when I started taking pictures of little strips of light on the wall. When you get that little bit of sun coming in through the blinds. And I`ve now got a folder which just says: “Lights in the house”. In the spirit of trying hard to have proper projects, whenever I start seeing something regularly and it becomes a bit of a thing in my head, then I start collecting pictures of it.
We walk past some trees that have been cracked by the wind…
Even though I walk past here almost every day, each time I see something new – even in the same spots. The light is always slightly different. And the light in spring this year will be different from the light last year because some trees will not be here anymore, so the light is getting where it didn`t get before – it`s always changing. I`m fascinated by the chaos – 100 years of twisted wood … Here: there are little plants growing out of the wood that are not part of the tree. Every little patch is so unfathomably complex, there are millions of different living things. It would be an interesting project to just sit down in one spot for an hour and take pictures of stuff that`s around you. I could probably spend an hour photographing all these details.
Would you say nature is something that makes you want to take pictures or inspires you? What are the things that make you wanna go out and create?
If anything inspires me, I`m probably not aware of it. It`s more that I always see interesting stuff here. I`m quite fascinated by the stuff that`s under the water – when the water is really low you can see random stuff – there even is a car somewhere down here… And there`s a motorbike which was buried by the river. Someone dug it up. The number plate was still visible when I first saw it so I took a picture of it and checked its MOT history online: it was registered in 1977 and never had its first MOT. So, it must have been stolen when it was really new, and somebody dumped it by the river. And it had been buried ever since.
Wow that`s crazy! Are these sorts of discoveries the motivation why you picked up photography in the first place? What keeps you motivated?
Photography gives me an excuse to go out and explore, talk to people, go to places, and do stuff. That is a very big driving force behind it all. For example the work for the street style website – I loved it. I sometimes ended up talking to people for an hour, I had some amazing conversations. One day, we had an intern come along to see how we did the street-style pictures. After the day she said, she will never walk around on this planet again with the same attitude towards other people – every person we stopped and talked to has been absolutely fascinating. I just like going out and meeting people. Having a camera in your hand and a reason to be there gives you motivation and a license to stick your nose into places where you wouldn`t otherwise do it.
What are your current goals or projects?
For our new online magazine, I have taken portraits of artists and I want to do more of that. I wonder why I haven`t done more of that before. I think, my main problem was the difficulty in approaching people – it`s super awkward to just approach people in the street saying “Can I take your picture?”. When I did it for the street style job, I had no problem with it at all, because it was my job – after all, I was taking pictures for a street style website. But if I was just doing it for me… So taking these portraits for this website is giving me a reason to message people and say “Hey we`re doing this arts and culture website can we take some pictures of you?”. And they usually say yes. Also, I hardly ever used to print anything. But ever since I started taking these portraits, I print loads of stuff – I need to see the images printed and hold them in my hand. So: more printing, more portraits.
Paul`s work can be found on his website www.paulfuller.co.uk, and also on Instagram @pf_photographer. His Hackney images specifically are on @hackneycamera.
The new arts and culture website “Mustaaärd” can be found on www.mustaaard.com