This month my conversation is with advertising lifestyle and portrait photographer Paul Aresu. I first met Paul some years ago when I was working at the Black Book, and he quickly became one of my favorite clients. It was always a pleasure to go and visit him at his amazing studio space on Spring Street, along with his long-time business partner and in-house rep, Barry Goldring, who has since retired. It’s been some years since we’ve caught up, so when I recently ran into him at an APA NY event along with his current agent, the lovely Janice Moses, I asked him if he’d like to do one of my interviews and he was game! Paul is always busy, so I was given a small time slot to go and visit with him at his new studio. I say “new” but the reality is he left Spring Street a while back and has been at this new location on 27th Street for some time now!
Since we first met, Paul has changed both agents and studios after a long time with both – so I asked him what he thinks is the main reason he has managed to survive in the photography industry throughout the years with all of the changes, challenges and the recent economical crisis? I think the main reason is that I have also changed along with the multitude of changes in the industry. I embrace change and do not find it intimidating. I find it challenging and educational. I like to think that I am somewhat resourceful and flexible. I think energy also plays a big part in the equation. As a photographer you are constantly challenged physically so it is imperative you stay in shape and balance your time with other activities.
Ironically, or not – Paul is naturally “wired” to handle change because he is a Virgo, and Virgo is a “mutable” or flexible sign – and without flexibility, there would be no change! Although Paul may embrace change on the one hand, he does prefer to stay in the same studio for a long time, and he has also kept several of the same staff over the years, which speaks volumes as to how he runs his photographic ship! When I walked in to do the interview, there was his digital tech “Mikey” who has been with him for 12 years now, and Christophe, who has been working with Paul for 10 years. So my interview was more like a reunion!
© Paul Aresu
I asked Paul when he’s on a shoot, big or small, how and when does he know that he has what he wants? In a practical sense, working with computers and digital cameras has made it easy to review images right on set. Therefore, before we move on to another shot or scene, we look at all the captures and determine at that moment if indeed we “have” the shot.
When I also asked him to give me an example of a funny story on a photo shoot he said: Once while on location in L.A. shooting a lifestyle ad campaign, we were positioned in a home office with all the lighting and production squeezed into a small 8x10 room. Along with all the equipment and lighting, there were also 6 people in the room including the Art Director, the client, assistants and myself. The A.D., myself, and the digital capture pro were seated directly around the camera. So we start shooting for a while and of course we are looking at the images as they come up on the monitor. This goes on for a few minutes, and we keep on shooting. I then proceed to ask the A.D. if he thinks he has the shot in the can. No response. I look down and he is totally passed out sleeping. So I just continued to shoot until he woke up 15 minutes later. At that point I asked him if he thought we got the shot, and he says with a totally straight face: Can you shoot a little more? I am not sure we got it yet. We all looked at each other with a little smile and kept on shooting.
© Paul Aresu
Now speaking of sleeping, according to his staff, Paul himself never sleeps, as in never! [Virgo certainly is the hardest working sign of the zodiac and can be somewhat “workaholic!”] And they told me how they could be flying across the country on a night flight, and the entire plane will be dark except for one little bright beam of a reading light in the midst of all those sleeping passengers – and that would be Paul!
© Paul Aresu
It’s no secret that Paul grew up around photography so I asked him to give me one of his earliest “photographic memories” – perhaps even the one that had him deciding to be a photographer for himself. When I was a very young boy, I had a Pentax camera. [My 1st proper camera was a Pentax, loved that thing!] One day I was taking pictures outside with some friends during a snowball fight and was photographing the snowballs coming at my buddies and me. When I had the film developed and contact sheets made, I was truly amazed at how the snowballs were stopped and suspended in the air. Those images really got me hooked on stop action photography. I still shoot that way today in my sports photography.
I asked Paul how getting married and having a family has changed the way he works, or his approach to what he does, and he said that his hours are definitely more “set” and he doesn’t spend as many of them at the studio. He’s a very pro-active parent and coaches 3 out of the 4 sports that his two sons play! In fact, when I asked him what would he have done if he wasn’t a photographer – at first he gave the anticipated answer of a musician because music is certainly one of his passions in life, then he qualified that further by saying a lead guitarist, and then after some more thought, he changed it to professional athlete, most likely baseball. Sports and fitness have always been important to him as well, so it’s no big surprise that we also see a lot of sports in Paul’s commercial imagery.
© Paul Aresu
I asked Paul to give me three words that describe his creative style: Resourceful, Spontaneous and Color-Sensitive. And when I asked him what inspires him, he said simply: Google Calendars and the Internet! He is constantly amazed and inspired by what he/we can research on the Internet. As soon as he begins a new project or assignment, he’ll go online and start researching and being resourceful! I reassured him that this was quite normal, since the Planet Mercury rules Virgo and Mercury is all about the details. And that’s what’s important to Paul, making sure that all the details are taken care of. He said that’s what separates a good photographer from one who can also pull off a great production, its not just about taking photographs - it’s all the other stuff as well. And he excels at that. I also asked Paul when he’s not shooting for a client, how important is it for him (or any photographer, for that matter) to be shooting personal work? I am always shooting personal work, often several projects at a time. For example I recently completed a book along with writer Naomi Fertitta entitled “New York: The Big City and its Little Neighborhoods” and currently we are working together on another project specifically about the neighborhood of Harlem.
© Paul Aresu
I always look forward to hearing the answer to this next pair of questions and that is, what would he consider as his most essential piece of photographic gear? A camera! And then also his essential must-have non-photographic item? A guitar! Back to that love of music again! We agreed that many photographers appear to have a simultaneous love of music and photography – they go well together! In fact, one of Paul’s long-time personal projects has been photographing jazz musicians. For more than 10 years now, he has taken over 1,000 portraits in exactly the same spot, with the same background, all natural light – and the results are stunning, of course! Paul says: I love lighting! I don’t understand why a photographer would have someone else light something for them? It’s all about the light! I’m always curious to know when a photographer thinks a project is done, and in this case Paul says there is no real end to the project, he can see himself continuing to document this special group of musicians for many more years to come because it is the only real American “art form” – so there’s no need to end it!
I asked Paul what he felt was the most challenging aspect to what he does, and also the most rewarding, and he said: In a business sense, the most challenging aspect in today’s environment is acquiring new and exciting clients. The photography field is currently inundated with all types of photographers. The most rewarding aspect is working with so many talented people. It is a pleasure to work with great stylists, retouchers, and assistants.
Regarding his career (or life), I asked Paul if there was a defining moment for him, one where he felt he had “made it!” My first commercial job comes to mind. I did a magazine cover for Hearst Publications. It happened to be a still life of some baseball caps piled on top of each other. Very simple, right? I think it took me three days to light it. That’s what you do when you are starting out!
I then asked him if he would have changed anything about his career and he replied: I wouldn’t change anything. I am delighted at my career so far. Though, I would have liked to add photojournalism to my resume. I do admire these foreign journalists and their bravery. He may not be on the front line, but Paul has always been big on giving back and enjoys both his teaching and mentoring, so I asked him what is his main advice…. to young photographers? My advice is very simple. Have passion for what you do and you will be successful.
© Paul Aresu
And last but not least we have the ChatterDozen quick questions:
1) What is your favorite day of the week, and why? Saturday, because it’s band practice and I get to sleep late!
2) What is your favorite TV show? I rarely watch TV, I’m more likely to be coaching or playing sports of some kind, or maybe I’ll watch sports on TV.
3) What was the last movie your saw? Iron Man – I have 2 young boys aged 12 and 14!
4) Give me a favorite word or phrase, and why? No problem, we can do it!
5) If you could be born in another period of history, when would that be and why? The Revolutionary War! I love history and with my boys we recently studied the Battle of White Plains, which is literally right on our doorsteps, and then we traced it all the way down to where Cornwallis was eventually defeated.
6) What is your favorite music, song, or band? Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles – my band plays covers so I love “old school”- and for more contemporary, I really like Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, she has a great voice.
7) How about your favorite animal? I grew up with dogs, but I’ve grown to love cats.
8) If you could get on a plane tomorrow, and go anywhere you wanted to and perhaps somewhere you’ve never been before, where would you fly to and why? I would go skiing in the Alps, maybe Chamonix, or Val d’Isère…
9) What is your favorite food? Sushi
10) And your favorite color? Orange [Little did Paul know that Virgo’s color is indeed orange!]
11) Who (dead or alive) do you admire? Sir Paul McCartney
12) If you could spend just one day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be, why, and what would you do during those 24 hours? I’d like to be something like Secretary of Defense, at the Pentagon, participating in a Think Tank!
Louisa J. Curtis - Creative Consultant, Chatterbox Enterprises. If anyone would like more information on Louisa's services, or to be added to her monthly ChatterBulletin mailing list, please contact Louisa at: firstname.lastname@example.org