By Laura Warne
In his journey from surfie snaps to corporate images, portraiture and fine art, Paul Foley has seen vast changes in the photographic industry. From film to digital, darkroom to inkjet, he has followed his craft along its own journey of technological discovery. Luckily, Sydney-sider Paul is a passionate traveler as well as a skilled photographer and has plotted a course of success.
"Being well known isn't necessarily the mark of a good photographer, but it is I suppose one way to measure success. I know that I have the respect of the clients that know about me and that's a good feeling to have, but you can't rest on those laurels, there are too many young photographers coming through the ranks that keep pushing, explained Paul.
Paul started out as one of those young photographers in the 70s, taking photographs of his friends surfing with a Pentax SP5OO and dreaming of traveling the world.
"In the beginning I didn't think it would be a career, I started doing the surfing photography just of friends and then I did get a couple of pictures that were published in surfing magazines and that's when I thought, Gee, I can be a surf photographer. It took me a couple of years to realise only a few make a good living from it, he admitted with a laugh.
Several years, many adventures and countless photographs later, Paul has well and truly succeeded in commercial photography, after enjoying a few stopovers in screen printing and the photographic retail business. While it took a while to build up a solid client base, over the years Paul has worked for groups like VISA (the card people) and MBF as well as small businesses, fund-raising charities and just about everything in between. When asked what makes a good relationship between client and photographer, Paul is very clear - communication is the key.
"You need to be able to communicate with the people you're dealing with, so you need to be able to get a long with those people and you need to be able to express your ideas to them so that they understand they can employ a photographer that will not only take the picture they think they want, but be able to see the opportunity to make a picture that's even better than the original idea.
You also need to be creative but need to work within the parameters and you need to be technically able to get the picture from the camera onto the printed page.
In 2005, Paul chose to leave his Newcastle home and gallery to be closer to his Sydney clients. He is now comfortably set up in Mosman, close to Balmoral Beach and relishes being able to work at home.
"I have a room that's set up with all my equipment and I have my digital darkroom, but nearly all of my work is on location and the good thing about Sydney is if I need a studio I rent it."
Over the years photographic technology has changed dramatically. When it comes to tools of the trade, Paul still swears by his Mac computer and the Canon 1 Ds he uses for digital capture.
However, his most important piece of equipment is an i1 monitor calibrator, which he insists is one of the most valuable tools for anyone outputting digital files onto paper. As for the ever-present digital vs. film debate, Paul is a practicing advocate of both, having started experimenting with digital technology in 1997.
"There are some cameras that I use that still use film, like my landscape cameras (Linhof 617 and Hasselblad Xpan). I love the formats of those cameras. You can always stick together digital files but at this stage I don't think it's as effective as taking it in one motion. So for that purpose I think film will still be around."
While commercial work continues to inspire and fulfill him, it is Paul's fine art photography that really makes him passionate about his job. His limited edition prints range from shadowy nudes to sweeping seascapes, and breathtaking architecture to intimate portraits. Paul prints all his fine art pieces using Gicleé printing, which he switched to as soon as he was satisfied the prints would stand the test of time.
"Once I got the scanner and looked at the capabilities of the inkjet printer and they became viable as far as longevity was concerned, I bought a small Epson A3 printer and started practicing on that. But the real turnaround came when I bought the Epson 7500. At that stage, it was one of the earlier ones that was made; it was a roll printer, it would print up to 24 inches wide and it would print onto archival paper with long lasting inks. I don't like to make a picture thinking its going to fade in a few years.
"While I still have an Epson printer (the 9600), I used a Canon 8400 recently to print my last B&W exhibition. I found the speed and great black and white tones of the Canon a real advantage.
For someone who broke into photography as a way to see the world, it is not surprising that Paul uses travel as a way to relax and escape (although of course he still takes his camera everywhere he goes).
"My favourite city is probably New York. I love New York, it's a really fantastic place to visit and to go and stay for a while too. My most relaxing, best Pacific spot Ive ever been was the Cook Islands; at that stage I thought I dont want to come home ever, I could easily retire here. But really, my favourite spot will probably be the next spot I go to. I've been lucky enough to visit a lot of different places ... I've always wanted to go to Nepal, so maybe that might be the next stop."
His Mosman home also provides relief from hectic workdays, with the zoo, ferries, restaurants and galleries all close by. Paul cites Australian artists Max Dupain and David Moore as inspirations and always loves discovering new talent, whether it is in his local gallery or on a European website. However, his ultimate inspiration remains Ansel Adams.
"I never met the man, but I've seen his work and actually handled prints that he made. He was a real inspiration to me and I liked his pictures, but it was more about the way he made them."
Coming up in the life of Paul Foley is the usual rush of commercial work, gallery exhibitions, some images currently showing at the Mosman art gallery and several exciting new contracts. Maybe a trip to Nepal will fit into the schedule somewhere, but Paul sheepishly admits that his work is still the biggest focus of his life.
"I love traveling, I try to go to places and really absorb myself in the culture, but I really do just love my work as well and most of the time it doesn't seem like work at all.