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Meet Atwater Village Photographer: Paul Beauchemin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paul Beauchemin.

Paul, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I always wanted to be a painter but when it came time to apply to college/art school I changed my major to photography. I was given a camera one Christmas and quickly became obsessed with making photographs.

After graduating I worked as a studio photographer for a year creating photos of products for catalogues and packaging. I realized this wasn’t why I studied photography and went back to art school, this time as an instructor. My wife and I loved the West Coast so we eventually moved to LA. Once here I began working as a set photographer for TV and feature films. I also shot for magazines and did some fashion work. Working as a set photographer was a great learning experience. Being on set, watching the DP light the scene, seeing how actors work, the make-up crew and set designers all inspired me. I always felt a surge of creativity after working on a film. I always mixed my commercial work with my personal fine art vision. I would bring my Holga (plastic toy camera) with me on every job. After the shoot or during a slow period I would wonder off and make images for myself. I believe you have to stay grounded in your own vision if you want to keep your creative juices flowing.

Has it been a smooth road?
Life isn’t a smooth road, especially when you are in the arts. I think the biggest struggle is the business side of being an artist. Keeping up the connections, schmoozing, looking for new clients are all so important but take time and require a certain amount of salesmanship. It’s an ever-changing market and it’s tempting to change your style to fit in but the key is to stay yourself. I believe each photographer has his/her own unique style and once you give that up you’re just another guy taking pics.

Digital was another challenge. I come for the days of film and making the transition to digital was expensive and a whole new frontier. But I love the freedom digital offers.

I enjoy a good challenge. If it was just one smooth road it would get boring.

So, what should we be on the lookout for, what’s next in store for you?
I have always loved portraiture. When I’m in a crowd or just conversing with another person, I find myself thinking of all the ways I would photograph the face before me. Everyone is beautiful and each face has a story. I want to spend more time on portraits. I started combining my commercial work with portraits of friends. I would find out what a person’s ideal career is and photograph them as if they were on the cover of Vanity Fair or Vogue. I knew an accountant who always wanted to be a ballerina so I photographed her as one. I’ve done many of these and people love them. It’s a way of expressing yourself, the self you imagined as a child or something you are working towards. It’s a lot.

I’m also working on my fine art landscapes as much as possible. I’m working on a book that I will print myself. A limited edition series.

Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
It was the perfect storm. I was working almost exclusively for the Disney Channel as a freelancer. I shot all the posters and publicity for their on air movies and weekly shows. It was a great gig.

But everything changed one day. The art director who hired me and loved my work decided to retire. The new art director had a favorite photographer and I was gradually moved out of the rotation. That’s the way it works in this business. And to make things worse, my wife and I were going through a divorce. So I was being hit from both sides, professional and personal. I floundered a bit but finally used photography to bounce back. I began shooting for myself. I didn’t do any commercial work for a year or two. I had to find myself. I had to reinvent myself and make hard decisions. I’m glad it happened (not the divorce). I tend to do my own thing now. Working for a corporation means you work under certain guidelines. I didn’t have a lot of freedom of expression. Now, I make most of the creative decisions and I love it.

Do you ever feel like “Wow, I’ve arrived” or “I’ve made it” or do you feel like the bulk of the story is still unwritten?
Funny story. I was working on a film with Demi Moore and someone from People magazine showed up to do a piece on the film. One day my sister called me, very excited, and said, “I just saw your picture in People magazine! It’s you and Demi Moore!” She was more excited than I was. There are many moments when you feel like “this is it” because you’re with a celebrity or shooting in a cool location with a nice budget. But the times that mean the most to me are when I’m by myself and the light is perfect and I know I’ve created an image that is important to me. Photography has always been about expressing myself, not just making money. The money is good but nothing beats the feeling I get when I look at one of my images and feel like I’ve captured that moment or that place. When it all comes together its magic, just like the first time. It never gets old.

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