UK-based Paul Cooklin was a full-time digital stock illustrator who now specializes in black and white open and limited edition handmade silver prints. There's also a good chance he may be Star Wars' #1 fan. In 1976, he saw the movie for the first time and was blown away by the film's special effects. Growing up, his dad was also passionate about photography, so the influence of both forces – Star Wars and his father – ultimately inspired Paul to change careers years later on and dive into photography full time.
After returning from Hong Kong in 2000 where he worked as a hairdresser and instructor for eight years, Paul decided to pursue a career as a digital artist and taught himself the ins and outs of Photoshop. And with images from Star Wars still clear in his mind, he created digitally tweaked photos with a heavy sci-fi, high-tech, and abstract feel. Within a year, he had a full portfolio to present to stock image agencies. "In the beginning, I had no idea if my work was saleable as stock or if I was just creating 'pretty pictures' for my own amusement, but I was happily surprised to receive a few contracts early on," Paul said.
Signing on with Picture Arts (now owned by Getty Images), Paul created a series of abstract digital photos combining layers within Photoshop for a final composition. Using his Canon EOS 5D DSLR, Paul's portfolio expanded and he signed with other art publishers as his portfolio grew. But something was lacking in his digital work. Paul became uninspired by digital photography and realized that this niche may not be his calling after all. Instead, he wanted to take photos that were raw and untouched by a computer. With enough revenue coming in from his digital stock portfolio, he took a chance and changed courses to concentrate on fine art film photography.
Paul's first analogue camera came from his father who gave him a Bronica ETRS Medium Format Film Camera as a gift, and for the first time, Paul truly loved what he could do with a film camera.
"This new discipline of photography was very different from what I was used to," Paul said. "When creating digital art I could create exactly what I wanted from nothing whereas with film photography, I had to find the composition and subject first and decide - then and there - how I wanted the image to look." With the new medium, Paul had only a limited number of shots and slower analogue cameras that required him to slow down and think carefully about the finished print before pressing the shutter.
"I remember being quite excited at the prospect of receiving my film and prints back from the lab. I didn't know at the time that they would have a look and feel so different to the Canon 5D I had been using. They felt 'authentic', the real thing, and had a look that was reminiscent of the 1950's. I was hooked at that moment on film photography."
Paul believes that digital capture should not be a replacement for film. "The two mediums are very different in the same way that oil is different to acrylic paint. They offer the photographer a different approach and ultimately a different look and feel to the finished piece, not better or worse, just different," said Paul.
Today, the process of creating pictures is crucial to Paul's own intrinsic value of a print. Not able to rely on LCD screens for guidance or post digital tweaking, he must capture whatever he's trying to convey in the raw negative alone. "There's something very real about creating pictures from negatives," Paul said. "Maybe because in the darkroom I'm bound by certain constraints which I must adhere to or perhaps I've set these 'rules' upon myself. Looking at silver prints or scanned images from film appeals to the purist in me and gives me a sense of satisfaction that 'I made it', which I've never got from digital imagery."
As Paul's portfolio continued to expand to include black and white open and limited edition silver prints, it was clear he needed a website with archive capabilities that could house his growing portfolio. Paul, who has a solid knowledge of web design, was originally drawn to PhotoShelter after realizing that managing and creating his own website was too cumbersome and time consuming.
"I needed a great looking website with fantastic archive capabilities," said Paul. "That's when I found PhotoShelter. The platform gives me everything I need and nothing I don't. It's the whole package and it's quite intuitive to use, which makes my life much easier. The price is reasonable, the customer support is fantastic. It's really a best in class service clearly built with the needs of photographers in mind. I like how the team seems to be thinking ahead of what the photographer might need as technology moves forward and create the tools accordingly. "
Using PhotoShelter as his primary marketing tool and means to showcase his work, the editor of TIME Magazine found Paul online and requested to use one of his photographs titled 'War of the Worlds' for an upcoming issue. Other Latina images were needed so Paul offered to fly to Cuba on assignment. "Because of that conversation, I'm pleased to announce that my first photo book "Cuba on Film" comprised of 95 full page photographs from my Cuba collections, curated by CityPulse, has just been published."
Today, now with a darkroom of his own, Paul has migrated away from producing digital stock photography and concentrates on his black and white open and limited edition silver prints, using darkroom techniques to individually hand print each negative. Paul's black and white pieces range in price from 50₤ to 2,000₤ and vary in subject from landscape to nature to urban photography. Yet his major source of revenue continues to come from his stock photography and reproduction prints and products, which sell by the thousands through various online publishers.
Taking the road less traveled, Paul's social media marketing tool of choice is not Facebook or Twitter, but instead, StumbleUpon, which generates between 5,000 and 95,000 visits a month (yes, 95,000). With these numbers, it's no surprise that Paul advises photographers to put this widget on all of their images. "I have placed the StumbleUpon code on all my images and make a point of stumbling 5-15 images per day. It works."
So what's next for Paul? Inspired by his trip to Cuba, Paul can't wait to travel more. Constantly experimenting and pushing his limits, he said, "I would also like to move more into documentary and street photography with an artistic influence." Today, although Paul is content selling his stock images and reproduction photographs through online publishers, his goal moving forward is to seek representation for his original silver prints in a fine art gallery in the UK or abroad. "I believe these photographs need to be seen framed and in person to be fully appreciated, so I'm going to work to make that happen."