Meet Paul Chinnery: Tri-State Area’s Photographer with a Purpose
Updated: Sep 5, 2019
After church on a warm summer Sunday afternoon, my dad would take my mom, sisters, and I to the park to snap pictures of us. My father takes pride in everything that he puts his heart into, therefore these photography sessions in the park would always have a professional feel, drawing the attention of passersby. In time, my father began entrusting me to take pictures at family events, and later I was even allowed to handle his huge video camera as well! In high school, I developed a love for taking pictures just as my father did. I loved it so much that without knowing, I took on the role of the “camera woman” at school and family functions to capture such amazing moments. There is a saying, “birds of a feather flock together,” and as I continued to make friends, I realized that I am drawn to creative people such as myself.
Allow me to introduce a person that has been a part of my “flock”for the past eight years, Mr.Paul Chinnery. Paul is a New York & New Jersey based photographer, but he has not always been. Ever since Paul’s cousin gave him a Yashica FX-3 camera from Germany in the late 1980s, Paul has been a student of photography, and it carried on throughout his life. Nowadays, in the digital world, where anyone can just pick up a camera and shoot, Paul separates himself from the pack with an impressive work history that includes over 2 decades of formal courses/training and good ol’ fashion street trial and error. Paul always seems to find a way to capture the true essence of people in his photographs, even if they are candids; it is a true testament of his passion.
At a young age, Paul was automatically drawn to photography, never putting a camera down after his first encounter with one, he kept picking this hobby back up. Paul says that he “likes being able to control how you can make someone look at something,” even through his trial and error with actual developing film, he loved the challenge behind it. The end result was a capture of his own. Paul never thought that he would pursue photography full time, all he knew was that he was really passionate about it and never viewed his new hobby as a source of sustainable income. However, he did understand in order to perfect his craft, Paul needed to work hard to make it great. He says, “I needed a constant income, and needed to work on myself, which means you have to work twice as hard because you have your day job along with having to work doing your passion to the point that you basically have two jobs.”
Paul has never chased his dream of photography as an actual job, instead, he honed in on his passion to make it the best it can possibly be, so later on it can be considered one of the greats in the photography industry. What Paul mainly focuses on in his photos are people-what makes them tick, being a humanitarian, & problems that plague our society through their eyes. His goal is to capture all the emotions of the people he photographs, so that his audience can get a sense of what they are feeling through his eyes in each picture he takes. Paul’s passion drives him to “take a picture from less of a surface sense to more of an introspective sense in order to reach someone soul, spirit and their emotions..it’s more than just capturing their image.”
With everything in life, people always seek out advice on how to move forward with certain aspects of their lives from people they trust. In some cases, you may choose a trusted friend, family member, mentor, or even celebrities that you look up to in your industry. The advice that Paul gives to people that are pursuing their dreams, no matter what it is, is to “research and look up people that are better than you in your craft, and also take a look at the people that you think are whack, dissecting what you dislike about their work in order for you to avoid doing the same with your work.” It’s all about perspective and how it can add to your own craft.
Paul visits different art galleries to get inspired and also to view how other photographers display their work. Through his experiences at these galleries, he has realized that if they can do it, he definitely can pursue photography and be just as great or even greater at it. Paul has been featured in some art galleries showcasing some collaborative pieces throughout NJ & NY, and most recently hosted his own art show in Newark, NJ entitled “Building Bricks.” His show focused on documenting Newark and its people; documentary style photography is his favorite type of photography. He chose to document the good side of Newark, as opposed to displaying the city in the dark shadow it is usually under. Doing so, he has received many accolades from some older residents of the Newark community that were so happy that he chose to display the city in such a way. Paul says that when the people “gets it,” understanding his vantage point of the picture, that is when his heart is the happiest.
Paul draws his photographic energy from other highly acclaimed African American photographers that he hopes to be compared to one day. One of his favorite respected African American photographers, is James Van Der Zee. Van Der Zee’s work, prominent around the Harlem Renaissance era, prided itself in displaying a different side of African Americans in media or print, displaying them in a different light. “He photographed African Americans in a more regal and powerful light, in front of their Brownstones and things of that nature. It made black people view themselves in a different way,” and as we all know, image is everything.”According to Paul, Van Der Zee is the “GodFather of photography,”in his book; he left Black people feeling so empowered.
Another photographer of color who inspires Paul is the household named photographer, Gordon Parks, who was popular during the Civil Rights era. Paul loves him since he is focused on what Paul mainly focuses on in his photos, people. “He photographed people in their natural state- makeup free, no posing, which ever way they were, which showed the true essence of black people whether they were on the street or at their jobs; he was a true documentarian of real people.”
Lastly, Paul admires Jamel Shabazz whose photography is more focused around on the Hip-hop era. Paul is extremely fond of that era since it’s the one he grew up in, so he has more of a connection to it than any other era. Shabazz focused more on the beginning of Hip-hop in the late 70s and early 80s capturing hip hop and the culture around it in its rarest and purest form. This includes “the style, dress, energy and urban living.”
Looking at the work of these three photographers that Paul inspires to be like, it motivates him since, “they captured a feeling, and people look at their work after the era is gone and say ‘wow’,” Paul says. This is a similar feeling or thought Paul would like people to walk away with after witnessing his work. Like Tupac said in one of Paul’s favorite quotes, “I’m not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee your that I will spark the brain that will change the world. And thats our job, its to spark somebody else watching us.”
Throughout this journey of life, and especially with his photography, Paul is most grateful for his “dope” parents, exposing him to many different things and the fact that he is here to display his artistic abilities. “There have been many times in life that I came close to death on more than one occasion, and technically I shouldn’t be here. I am very grateful for that and so I am amazed how blessed I am to be here, which means I have a story and a purpose in this life, although I do not know what it is. I might not change the world, but I can do something significant about changes. But ultimately I am a small piece in a big puzzle.” Paul is glad that he can add to the artistic “jungle gym or wall in history.” He is making his mark and plans to do so for a long time.
More of Paul’s commercial photos can be found at paulchinnery.com, and for daily posts displaying a myriad of his favorite type of photos, follow him on IG @pchinneryphoto.