Paula Harrowing Photographer to The Stars

Written by DEKYA

I have been a fan of Paula’s work for many years, I first came across Paula’s work on Facebook then started to see as her career took off many photo’s circulate around photograph awards, music events and major exhibitions.  Paula  is an amazing person she started life as Director and Co-Founder of an HIV/AIDS children and family support agency, Body & Soul in 1994/5 until 2005 when she left to re-engage with her family who had moved to Southern Africa in the 80s.  

On her return to the UK in 2006, close friend, stylist and performer Johnny Blueeyes helped her regain her photographic mojo. Her collection of work to date is varied which keeping her on her toes. She feels at times she is living her life backwards with her student days being the present; she still has a lot to learn. One of Paula’s other biggest fans is singer FKA Twigs who always make sure Paula is back-stage so she lands a feature in her amazing shots! And here is what Paula had to say about it all……..

So what was it that gave you the urge to get behind the camera? 

FROM A VERY EARLY AGE I WAS SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE WITH CAMERAS: MY GRANDFATHER WAS A GREAT WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER AND WITH HIM GROWING UP IN BURMA, INDIA AND AFRICA HIS PASSION WAS CAPTURED THROUGH HIS LENS: FROM LARGE HERDS OF ELEPHANTS, THE WILD CATS THAT ROAMED THE VARIOUS PLAINS TO HIS DAY TO DAY FAMILY LIFE.

MY AUNT, WHO INFLUENCED ME ON MANY LEVELS IN MY ADULT LIFE, WAS NOT SUCH A GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER BUT TOO HAD PASSION TO CAPTURE PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING SHE SAW. SHE HAD A LITTLE KODAK CAMERA WITH A CUBE FLASH WITH WHICH SHE TOOK HUNDREDS OF PHOTOS OF PEOPLE, (MOSTLY CUTTING THEIR HEADS OFF SO WE HAD TO IDENTIFY PEOPLE BY THEIR CLOTHES AND SHOES) BUT BOTH HAD A DESIRE TO RECORD THEIR DAILY TASKS, SURROUNDINGS AND THINGS THAT CAPTURED THEIR IMAGINATION. THEIR ENERGY AND INSPIRATION CREPT INTO MY EARLY CHILDHOOD DAYS.

Growing up have you have always had a natural flair for photography?

I WAS GIVEN A CAMERA AT AN EARLY AGE AND MOST OF MY EARLY IMAGES WERE ABSTRACT – THE CHALLENGE TO THE VIEWER WAS TO IDENTIFY THE OBJECT . A GAME MY FATHER PLAYED WELL. SADLY I HAVE VERY FEW IMAGES FROM THAT TIME AS MY FAMILY MOVED FROM PLACE TO PLACE AND PHOTOGRAPHS WERE EITHER LOST OR DESTROYED. NOT TOO SURE IF THAT WAS A NATURAL FLAIR BUT IT DEFINATELY MADE ME THINK ABOUT WHAT I WAS LOOKING AT.  I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DRAWN TO PHOTOGRAPHY. A MEDIUM THAT CAPTURES A TIME. A MOMENT. AN EMOTION. ONE FRAME.

What was the first camera you remember using?

BESIDES USING MY AUNTS KODAK CAMERA, MY FATHER BOUGHT ME AN OLYMPUS OM-1 : I LOVED IT LOADS.  FILM CAMERA =  PERFECTION. I LOVE FILM. THE WHOLE PROCESS OF FILM, FROM  FILM, NEGATIVE TO PRINTING THE IMAGE. THE CHEMICALS. THE SMELL. THE PROCESS OF PRINTING.THE DARK ROOM. I MISS THAT SO MUCH.

Your images are inspirational you seem to capture not only situations but emotion and character, what style of photography do you most like shooting and why? 

I LOVE BACKSTAGE EVENTS, BE IT FASHION, FILM, MUSIC VIDEOS AND STREET PHOTOGRAPHY – A CREW OF CREATIVES BEING JUST THAT. THE DRAMA, CHAOS AND AT TIMES BOREDOM. THE STRANGE ENCOUNTERS THAT TAKE PLACE.  AT TIMES I FEEL INVISIBLE AS I WANDER AROUND WATCHING, OBSERVING, TAKING IN MY SURROUNDINGS, CATCHING MOMENTS SHARED – EACH TIME AND SITUATION IS DIFFERENT. THERE IS AN AMAZING HONESTY AND VULNERABILITY IN UNGUARDED MOMENTS THAT I LOVE AND TRY AND CAPTURE.

I have heard that you have traveled globally and taken many photo’s along the way, where have been some of the most inspirational places you have traveled

I HAVE BEEN LUCKY TO TRAVEL BACK AND FORTH TO KOLKATA, INDIA THESE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS. INDIA FLOODS MY SYSTEM ALWAYS WITH COLOUR AND CHAOS BUT ALSO HAS A VERY NATURAL ORDER OF LIFE, WHICH I ADORE. I SPEND MOST OF MY TIME IN  KOLKATA AMONGST  MAJESTIC DECAYING VICTORIAN BUILDINGS, A LEGACY FROM COLONIAL TIMES. ONE OF MY LAST VISITS TO INDIA, I VISITED BODH GAYA, A DISTRICT IN BIHAR KNOWN AS  ‘the most holy place on Earth for the followers of the Buddhist faith from all over the world’ – I LOVED THE HUGE CONTRADICTIONS OF THE MONKS ALL USING THEIR IPHONES, APPLE COMPUTERS AND HAVING HI-END FASHION ACCESSORIES: MODERN LIFE AMONGST SUCH HISTORICAL AND RELIGIOUS TEMPLES. I HAVE A GREAT DESIRE TO VISIT BURMA, WHERE MY MOTHER’S FAMILY ARE FROM. MEXICO AND CUBA. THERE ARE SO MANY PLACES STILL I HAVE TO DISCOVER. I ALSO LOVE LONDON: HAVING LIVED IN LONDON SINCE I WAS 17, I AM STILL EXCITED BY NEW AREAS THAT I AM CONSTANTLY STUMBLING ACROSS.

Has taking a photo (especially abroad) every put you in danger or a difficult situation; 

THE ONLY TIME I WAS SHOUTED AT FOR TAKING A PHOTOGRAPH WAS IN SOUTH AFRICA. TWO ARMED POLICE HAD GONE INTO A  TAKEAWAY AND HAD COME OUT WITH A HUGE FEAST OF CHICKEN, CHIPS, ICE-CREAM AND SOFT DRINKS. A MONSTER MEAL. THE HUMOUR MADE ME PUSH THAT BUTTON. WITHIN SECONDS I HAD A HUGE POLICEMAN LOOMING OVER ME SHOUTING AT ME FOR TAKING THEIR PHOTOGRAPH SAYING THAT I COULD POTENTIALLY PUT THEM AT RISK.  HARDLY A DANGEROUS SITUATION BUT VERY UN-NERVING AND DIFFICULT FOR SURE… ! 

If you had to pick what would you say at present is your most important photograph and what does it mean to you? THIS IS A HARD ONE AND HAS TAKEN ME A LONG WHILE TO CHOSE. THE ONE I HAVE CHOSEN IS OF MY AUNT. THE PHOTO WAS TAKEN AS PART OF A PROJECT FOR SCHOOL, I MUST HAVE BEEN 15 OR 16 – THE PERSON WHO YOU ADMIRE MOST. IT WAS TAKEN IN HER FLAT IN EASTBOURNE WITH HER FAVOURITE MONKEY CARPET BEHIND HER FROM KENYA. I SPENT NEARLY ALL OF MY SUMMER HOLIDAYS WITH HER.. SHE SHAPED THE PERSON I AM TODAY AND I LOVE HER FOR IT. SHE DIED WHEN I WAS 22 LEAVING ME TOTALLY BROKEN.

Whose work has influenced you most? 

THERE ARE MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS THAT HAVE MOVED ME OVER THE YEARS – MARY ELLEN MARK’S IMAGES OF INDIA’S CIRCUS LIFE AND THE BROTHELS OF MUMBAI, FUELLED MY DESIRE TO VISIT.  ANTON CORBIJN’S BLACK & WHITE IMAGES, RAW, GRAINY AND PROVOCATIVE OF MY TEEN IDOLS : DAVID BOWIE, TOM WAITS, U2  COVERED MY BEDROOM WALLS AND CEILING, FILLED ME WITH CONSTANT EXCITEMENT. HENRI CARITER-BRESSON’S BREATHTAKING IMAGES OF DAY TO DAY LIFE, A GENIUS IN CAPTURING A STORY IN ONE MOMENT. BRASSI’S CONTROVERSIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF A HIDDEN PARIS, CHALLENGING THE VIEWER WITH STARK AND A DARKER SIDE OF PARISIAN NIGHTLIFE TO THE SENSUAL SEXUAL IMAGES OF ROBERT MAPPELTHORPE. THEY HAVE ALL FILLED ME UP WITH DIFFERENT EMOTIONS AND HAVE PUSHED ME TO REALLY LOOK AT MY SURROUNDINGS AND PEOPLE.

What do you want your viewers to take away from your work? I WANT THE VIEWER TO LOOK AT MY IMAGE AND SEE A STORY, FEEL SOMETHING. IF I CAN DO THAT, THEN I AM MORE THAN HAPPY.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? THAT IT IS ADDICTIVE.

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