A massive wave is splashing over the groynes of Brighton’s flooded Undercliff Walk. The white water masses contrast with the clear blue sky. In the middle of the massive water paddle on the ground, there is a tiny little fisherman, standing in a beer bottle top and reaching out with his fishing-rod. The man behind this impressive photograph which immediately makes you stop and pay close attention is multi-media artist and passionate photographer Paul Rowlands.
When you look at his photographs, you wouldn’t think that photography is only a past time he enjoys when he is not ferrying foreign students to and from the airport. Paul is one of Brighton’s cabbies, a job which allows him to have enough time for his photography and multimedia works.
“I think I am just that classic middle-aged man really who has never had the money to have nice cameras and do their hobbies as a child. But now, I am in the position to have the cameras that I want and do the things that I want”, Paul describes how he got into being a multimedia artist.
His passion for photography dates back years and years ago. It all started with a little boy and a special Christmas present. “I remember when I was about nine or ten, I was offered a Kodak 124 for Christmas. It was one of the cheaper Instamatic pocket cameras of the time and you could only take four pictures with a flash. Once I used them up, I couldn’t take any more pictures inside, so I had to take it outside,” Paul remembers how it all started.
From that moment on, the young boy understood that light was crucial if he wanted to take good pictures. When he got the pictures of his very first film roll printed and saw the pictures of his family that he had taken inside, “dreadful” was the only word he could describe them with while a picture of a horse grazing in a field opposite his family home turned out absolutely stunning with the natural light.
Even today, several years and thousands of photographs later, light is what seems to be the magical ingredient in his works. The project he is currently working on with passion is his series of photographs starring little train set miniature people, like The Rottingdean Fisherman.
“That is probably the one I am most proud of and also definitely the one that took the longest time. Storms like that only happen once every three months and getting the right light with them was really difficult because the sky is usually just grey and cloudy. I have been trying to get the right light for the water reflection for four days,” Paul says about the wait to finally end up with the scenario he had planned long in advance.
But not all of his miniature people photographs come into being thanks to a well-developed idea. Some of them are also what he describes as “happy accidents” like it was the case for Chinatown.
“I was walking through London’s Chinatown two days before the Chinese new year. They were hanging up all these big red lampions and there still were some on the ground as well. Luckily, I had some Chinese people in my bag and I just put them down so that it looked like they were weeding the gaps in the pavement. To catch that scene, you had to be in London at that exact moment because just having the lampions up in the air wouldn’t have worked. They had to be on the floor,” the cab driver describes the lucky circumstances.
To be able to capture precious moments like that, Paul never leaves his home unprepared. Wherever he goes, he always carries a small black rucksack on his back which contains all he needs to create a fantastic miniature scenery, which is his Sony RX 100 IV pocket camera, a box of glues and, of course, a set of approximately 250 little people.
25o in his bag, another 330 back home. Paul’s collection of miniature people is impressive. As for his passion for photography, the roots go back to his childhood.
“My Dad was a steam train driver and when I was a kid, we used to go to these shows and visit steam trains on the weekends. I used to love the little model train sets and that’s where these people are from.”
So, the miniature people were there, all it took for him to come up with the idea was a little push in the right direction. When he came across some photographs of a miniature people scenario in an eighteen-inch square box, taken by a guy in Japan, the idea for his little people photographs was born.
“But instead of putting them in a miniature scenario, I wanted to take them outside into the grown-up world and have them interacting with big surroundings”, Paul says about his intentions behind the project. Two years and hundreds of little people photographs later, the hobby artist has developed his very own way of seeing the world.
When he is looking for a suitable scenario, he does it from the perspective of one of his mini-people. “A two pence piece can look different if we look at it from our perspective or from the perspective of a little person. I could clean half of it and put a cleaner on top of it and it would look like he actually was the one who cleaned it. You just look at things in different ways”, he explains.
When he started the project, Paul didn’t intend to show his little people photographs. Until last year’s Artists Open Houses, they were just sitting on his desktop back home with no one else but him looking at them.
“The response I got at my first Artists Open Houses exhibition was fabulous. I had lots of positive comments and I sold loads. They went all over the world, to Poland, France… I couldn’t believe it because I see things wrong with them all the time and I was expecting people to not be very complimentary with them, but it was just wonderful”, the self-critical artist describes the amazing experience.
His little people might be the work that he has already shown to the public, but there is another project the multimedia artist likes to work on in his free time. Using an app he, by chance, managed to buy very cheaply, the artist creates so-called cinemagraphs.
Street Artist in front of Brighton Palace Pier. Cinemagraph by Paul Rowlands.
“They are neither a photograph nor a video”, Paul explains. “When I create them, I take a photograph as a still frame and record a few seconds of video as well. Then you basically just overlay the photograph on top of the video and erase the section of the photograph to show the video lying underneath it. They just catch the eye immediately because they are so unusual.”
Once he has taken the photo and the little video, it only takes a minute to create the actual cinemagraph. When it comes to choosing the scene that he wants to capture, his method is similar to what he does with his little people.
“You have to look at every scene differently. For example, if I was going to do a cinemagraph of the scene as it is here and now at the cafe, I would have the woman on that table over there still, the guy behind her who is baking would be still, but the ivy hanging down from the ceiling would be waving in the wind. That’s the element I would have moving”, the photographer develops this spontaneous idea.
While things and people you normally would expect to move freeze in the moving picture, it’s tiny little details or things in the background that move ever so slightly. Sometimes you have to look twice before you spot the movement.
Murmurations at Brighton’s Palace Pier. Cinemagraph by Paul Rowlands.
“I have recently created a cinemagraph of one of my friends where he is standing on the lawns in front of a tree. Everything in the picture is still apart from the shadow of the tree leaves. The actual leaves are still, it’s just the shadows that are moving.”
As eye-catching and stunning as his cinemagraphs might be, showing them to the public isn’t easy. “You can’t sell or show them unless you do it in advertising. At the moment, they have only got personal value”, Paul admits. The hobby artist has, however, found a way to introduce some of them to the public.
Together with seven other artists from the Kemptown area, he will hold an exhibition at the Rottingdean Grange Gallery next month where he will show his little people photographs as well as some of his favorite cinemagraphs displayed on a big screen.
The exhibition will run from Thursday, July 13, until Tuesday, July 18, at the Grange Gallery in Rottingdean, with an artist day on Saturday, July 15, where most of the artists will be present.