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Best of 2011: Paul Sleeman


Australian photographer Paul Sleeman was tapped by Mercedes-Benz of Sydney to photograph iconic architecture and suburban vignettes that highlighted key city suburbs for a series of 26 images that would grace the walls of its new flagship showroom. Armed with a budget and a brief from the client, Sleeman used GPS and Google Maps to pinpoint locations. Then, starting before dawn, he sought out tiny visual miracles in the streets. Among his finest discoveries was a brilliant American classic car restorer named Sam, with whom Sleeman is now collaborating on a new series featuring the owners of classic cars alongside their vehicles.

Paul Sleeman, Warriewood, Australia

Web site: www.paulanthonysleeman.com

Project: Emerald City limited edition images for Mercedes-Benz of Sydney, Australia.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

PS: Back in 1966 I was interviewing bands for rock magazines. When interviewing The Rolling Stones the photographer threw me his Nikon F and asked me to shoot off a roll of him with the Stones, and the fuse was effectively lit. By the following week I had set myself up as a photojournalist.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

PS: Since 2006. As my New York clientele grew, I found it essential to become a member and gain access to the many benefits provided. I also joined the ASMP Fine Art Group as my focus shifted somewhat towards limited edition fine art images.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

PS: Architecture, environmental portraiture, fine art and travel.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

PS: My own powers of observation, together with my assistants, my stylist and my re-touch artist. A good percentage of shoots represent a collaborative, creative journey.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

PS: It’s important to be a visual guerilla and possess a panoramic view of the world. From this point of view I am on a constant search for the tiny miracles our world constantly throws up at us. This approach ensures I keep my captured imagery fresh.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

PS: The principal of Mercedes-Benz of Sydney (Australia) contacted me, requesting a meeting to discuss a photographic assignment for that company’s new flagship showroom. Following a three-month search for appropriate images, Mercedes-Benz had been directed to my Web site and the Charles Hewitt Gallery, which represents me in Australia. The assignment was for photographs displaying strong local content for all three levels of the newly completed facility. Together with my agent we presented over forty photographs from my Emerald City series of iconic Sydney architecture. We were provided a brief, a budget and a list of key suburbs of Sydney to be included in the final selection. A dozen images favoured by the client were chosen from those available; the remainder we would have to search for and shoot within the list of designated suburbs. We negotiated a price for each framed photograph, and the client agreed each image would be part of a limited edition of ten.

Accompanied by my assistants and armed with our target locations, we commenced our search in September 2010. We undertook exhaustive visual mapping of each suburb employing GPS and Google Maps, doing so with a totally open mind as to which subjects we would capture. We undertook our search from pre-dawn and during the shoot remained cognisant of the client’s expectations. By November 2010, we had our final 26 images, consisting of iconic architecture and suburban vignettes reflecting Sydney’s many facets. Following ratification from the client, the photographs were framed and hung well within the agreed time frame.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Please tell us about your Emerald City image series. Did this start as part of an assignment or as a personal project?

PS: This series originated as an assignment back in 2006 for a solo exhibition, A Tale of Two Cities, at the American Club in Australia, featuring iconic architecture from both Sydney and New York. Since then I have added to the selection whenever the opportunity arises.

ASMP: How long have you been shooting images for Emerald City? Has the direction or stylistic elements of this series changed over time?

PS: Due to demand, whenever the opportunity arises I have added to the selection, which has resulted in a gradual move away from the focus on iconic architecture.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: After viewing images from Emerald City, Mercedes-Benz provided you with an assignment brief for their project. Did any elements of this brief diverge or differ from your approach to shooting the Emerald series work?

PS: The client was totally comfortable with the current selection so that we were provided absolute free rein in our approach to the shoot.

ASMP: The client was interested to incorporate key suburbs of Sydney among the scope of the commissioned photos. What was the purpose of capturing this particular slice of the city? Were there aspects of these suburbs that were particularly significant from a marketing perspective?

PS: The suburbs nominated by Mercedes-Benz were clearly focused on their established clientele. When clients now enter the showroom they are immediately surrounded by framed images with which they will identify.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: While shooting in Sydney for this project, a place you know well, did you make any surprising discoveries?

PS: Clearly, the only way to make new discoveries in a city you know well is to get out and walk, which of course is when a street photographer is in his element. The prime example was the discovery in a small suburban back street of Sam’s garage, Sam being a brilliant restorer of American 1950s and ’60s classic cars.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: You have an image series called Gotham, made in New York. Which series came first? The Gotham series has two parts: Summer and Winter. Do you have any plans to create seasonal edits of the Emerald City series or add additional seasons to the Gotham series?

PS: I commenced the Gotham series back in 2004 when on an assignment in New York. I do add to this series on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the fine weather throughout the year in Sydney does not really see any great degree of differentiation between seasons, hence negating the possibility.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Have you considered creating images along these stylistic lines in additional cities? If so, which cities would be at the top of your list?

PS: I am fortunate in that I receive regular assignments in Italy. For example, I am currently working an assignment for an Italian cookbook, Life on a Plate, focused on the cuisine of Rome, Florence, Venice and Bologna. Over the past five years assignments have provided the opportunity to capture similarly stylistic images of Rome, Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: According to your bio, you split your time between Sydney and New York. Aside from being dictated by work, how do you decide which city to base yourself in at any point in time? What kind of support have you established in each location? Whom do you rely on most?

PS: Essentially, it is demand that determines how I divide my time. I do rack up a lot of air miles, but I now have an established address in New York. My key assistant always travels with me, and I employ a locally based stylist when needed. My re-touch artist is based in London, which does not present a problem as I moved to digital format back in 2004. Gear-wise, I travel relatively light and hire equipment if required.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Does splitting your time between these two cities help to keep you a fresh eye? What kinds of differences, if any, do you find between the current business climates in these two locations?

PS: I trust that, due to assignments stretching between Europe, New York and Sydney, I will always maintain a fresh eye. Currently, I find a distinct difference in the business climates between the two cities, certainly in regards to my fine art work. The New York photographic fine art market has had far more time to mature than that of Sydney. Consequently, the number of collectors of my work in New York exceeds those in Sydney. Annual exhibitions with the Charles Hewitt Gallery in Sydney have resulted in a steady growth in local clientele.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Does street photography have a special meaning or significance to you? How similar is your approach to shooting for Emerald City and the Mercedes-Benz project to your early work doing reportage?

PS: With street photography you are capturing a unique moment. It’s a date-stamp for a specific time and place. Generally, with reportage you are provided a very specific brief and the photo editor has final say on the resulting images. When shooting for the Emerald City collection, which is self-assigned, I have of course absolute freedom and am totally within my element.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: You’ve had several careers, spanning in different facets of the photo industry as well as other fields. Please talk about your creative evolution.

PS: Back in the 1980s, when based in Hong Kong as a photojournalist, I was working with film and captured images were handed over for processing and final assessment by the photo-editor. Since 2004, I am now involved in all facets of the digital process. The evolution of the digital camera provides an instant review of images permitting an on-the-spot assessment, which contrasts dramatically with the processes undertaken back then. When returning to Sydney I was offered the position of documentary film scriptwriter, based essentially on my knowledge of Southeast Asia. Working with a documentary filmmaker provided me with the opportunity of seeing the world through another set of eyes and a greater understanding of the moving image. Two years later I returned to photography.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: During the 1980s you were based in SE Asia, focussing on the socio-political climate of China and Indonesia. Given your background in this area, please share your insights and opinions on changes that have taken place in China since your earliest visits as well as this country’s position in today’s world economy.

PS: During the 1980s, being based in Hong Kong as a photojournalist amounted to pure adventure, centered on the Foreign Correspondents Club. When venturing into China at that time, the red tape and restrictions imposed on photojournalists could be strict. I experienced one close call when surreptitiously shooting a Red Army contingent training in unarmed combat in Guangzhou. I was spotted and immediately accosted, but by employing my rudimentary Cantonese and assuming the role of stupid tourist, I managed to escape with only the confiscation of my film.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: You offer a series of vintage prints of The Rolling Stones directly from your Web site (from a 1966 B&W magazine assignment). Do you have additional music coverage in your archive, and a long-term plan to market it, or do you market additional material on this subject elsewhere already?

PS: Clearly, working for a rock magazine in the mid-Sixties provided the opportunity to interview and shoot many international artists including Eric Burden and the Animals, PJ Proby, the Easybeats, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Dusty Springfield and many more. Unfortunately, the copyright for these images lies with others.

ASMP: How do you print these images and how is the sizing and pricing determined? Do you offer images from The Rolling Stones series (or any other series for that matter) in limited editions?

PS: All my fine art images are generally printed employing the giclée process on heavy art paper such as Hannemüle, (also metallic paper when appropriate) with sizing usually around 28 inches by 23 inches. All my fine art work is limited to only ten editions as preferred by my New York clientele. I leave pricing to the gallery representing me.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Your work is represented by Charles Hewitt Gallery in Sydney. How long have you had this relationship? Does this gallery have any level of exclusivity on your work? What has been the most valuable aspect of this gallery relationship?

PS: Charles Hewitt has represented me in Sydney since 2008. Due to this gallery’s established high net-worth clientele, the relationship represents an absolute positive for me, providing exposure to that particular market segment. The relationship is based purely on mutual trust, with no formal contract in place and therefore no level of exclusivity for my work. The gallery works as an excellent buffer between potential clients and myself so that I have professional representation when working overseas.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: A by-product of your Mercedes-Benz assignment was your discovery of a business that restores 1950s and ’60s classic American cars, and you are now working with the business owner on an image series featuring owners and their classic vehicles. Please describe this business relationship and the price points involved. How many car owners have you photographed to date?

PS: As soon as we turned the corner of the small back street and spotted the restored Thunderbird parked outside Sam’s Garage, I felt we had struck visual gold. After introducing myself and gaining permission to photograph the Thunderbird, I raised the possibility of capturing further examples of his work with the possible inclusion of the vehicles owners. Sam readily agreed to make this project possible, in exchange for those images that would not form part of my selection. Thus far we have shot six classic vehicles.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Do you often find that a discovery made during one assignment will lead to a new business endeavour or relationship? If so, please describe another situation where this has occurred and explain any added benefits that resulted.

PS: The current Italian cookbook assignment is a prime example. At my last exhibition, one of my framed photos was purchased by an invitee, who subsequently approached me with the proposal to illustrate his cookbook. He viewed a selection of my work of Italian cities relevant to the book and I was given the assignment on the spot.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman

ASMP: Please tell us about the Australia Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP). How long have you been involved with this organization? Please compare and contrast the profile and activities of AIPP with that of ASMP. Do you have thoughts or suggestions about creating or strengthening alliances between these two organizations?

PS: I have been a member of the AIPP since 2004. The AIPP is the largest organisation of its kind in Australia, operating for over 40 years. Like the ASMP, it caters to students, emerging photographers and industry veterans, with representation in each state. Fully accredited members are tested for their expertise and are required to have at least two years working experience as a professional photographer. The AIPP also provides useful business guidelines and is active in regards to the rights of its members. I haven’t previously given thought to the possibility of an alliance with the ASMP but this could clearly only be a positive direction for both organisations.

© Paul Sleeman
© Paul Sleeman