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05 Aug 2015

A chat with NYC photographer Stephen Churchill Downes


New York City - USA

One of the new names on our grid of photographers is New Yorker Stephen Churchill Downes, who stands out from the pack with a style that is both honest and raw at times, as it is refined. We had a chat with him to find out more about the man behind these pictures :

Lyrics opening photo

- Hi Stephen, welcome to the Shooting Gallery Asia family. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you got into photography?

First of all, thank you very much! I am excited to be a part of Shooting Gallery Asia and look forward to working with all of you.

I grew up near Albany in upstate New York, with 3 siblings. In college I was on the path to becoming a dentist like my father, the plan being to eventually join his dental practice. In my final year of undergraduate pre-med I decided that that life was not of interest to me. I was drawn to something beyond my hometown and wanted to find my own way in a more creative field.

I have loved photography from an early age. I took a B+W photography class in my teens that brought me to the next level of seeing, and from then on photography was a consistent part of my life. After graduating from college and taking a year off to work in a photo lab, I went to RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) for photography and then straight to New York. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would go there next.

In NY I had the good fortune of assisting many of the top fashion/beauty/advertising photographers in the world for several years. They exposed me to the real life aspects of photography that cannot be taught in a classroom. Then I made the transition into shooting my own work.

- Who is your greatest inspiration and what motivates you in what you do?

One of my personal inspirations is people struggling with difficulties who do their best to persevere and thrive.  A center for the blind is located in downtown Manhattan so sometimes I cross paths with the men and women associated with it. Every time I do, my sense of what really matters and what it means to be brave is recalibrated.  In the few times I have talked with these amazing people on the street, the common thread I feel among them is courage and determination.  They navigate through a crowded New York City, usually alone with just a tapping stick to guide them. Sometimes they have to ask for help, which is how I’ve had the opportunity to talk with them.  What they accomplish every day is incredible to me.  Their lack of sight makes me appreciate mine, and my life as a photographer, even more. Their necessity to rely on other senses compels me to experience and create beyond the obvious and not be limited by my eyes.

I am also inspired by musicians, writers, photographers and painters too numerous to name here, people who change the way I experience the world. They inspire, excite and challenge me to think deeper and look further when creating my own work.

And last but not least, I am motivated by my pure love of photography.  For me there is a joy in shooting and working on a project with a team of creatives and crew.

- How would you describe your style of work?

Urban beauty. Having spent so many of my creative years based in NYC, I have seen on a daily basis the grit to the glamour.  New York City hits my senses straight on.  Its ever-changing people, sounds, light, scents and emotions are not hidden away, they’re in our face to be experienced pretty much whether we like it or not.  Which for me is fantastic because it refreshes and evolves my photography on a daily basis.

- Is there any figure or subject that you haven’t shot before, and which you think would be extremely interesting to do?

The Hells Angels.  For nearly 70 years they have been the evolving subject of myth, legend and controversy, influencers of art, literature, music and film. They epitomize counterculture and are a truly scary, violent lot, all of which draws me in.  I submitted a proposal to photograph the NYC Hells Angels a few years ago, to which they very politely declined via one of the funniest phone calls I’ve ever received.

- Any big plans coming up for the next 3 years?

In the past year or so I have begun working with video, applying to it the same philosophies I have for my photography. The integration of movement and sound with an image has opened up to me a whole new medium of exploring and conveying moments that excites me in an entirely new way.  I am currently shooting a piece about the artist Will Kurtz and I am beginning to delve into documentaries and music videos.  I also plan to produce and shoot an entire short film over the next year or so.

- Thank you Stephen. Good luck with your plans, and we hope to see you on our shores too, sooner rather than later!

View Stephen Churchill Downes’ portfolio