The Chicago photographer finds inspiration in the topography of his city and creates opportunities via the Internet.
Portraits of Paul Octavious and studio shot by Lucy Hewett; All other photos by Paul Octavious
Paul Octavious is a photographer, designer, and storyteller with a unique point of view and talent for using ordinary objects to create something new and interesting. Octavious lives in Chicago and works in a round studio in the city's Uptown neighborhood, right off the city's red line. “I love living here. Everything is where it needs to be, the lake, my grocery store, the thrift shops,” he tells us. These are some of the places you might find him when he's not photographing stacks of books or creating imaginative, indoor landscapes.
Born and raised in New Haven, CT, Octavious honed his photography skills while living at home and caring for his sick grandfather. He spent that year building his portfolio and in 2007 moved to Chicago to work as a photographer at Threadless. In 2008 Paul left his full-time gig and started freelancing. Getting out of the office allowed him time to be more prolific, sell his prints online, and document daily finds on Instagram.
Octavious doesn't seem to be limited by landscape or tools. Whether he's hiking in San Francisco, creating miniature scenes from thrift shop finds, or documenting his beloved Hill, he's inspired by his environment. The photog's contagious laugh reflects his carefree attitude towards life, which is simply “Create things you love and make time to enjoy your family and friends.”
You studied graphic design in college. How did your focus change from design to primarily photography?
In design class everyone’s projects looked the same. We would get stock imagery books, and we would scan the photos and take the watermarks out because we weren’t using them commercially. All the assignments looked the same, and I was sick of that. I bought my first digital SLR, so I could get photos that were different from the other students.
And I started to like it.
Before that I took a film photography class and I didn't pay attention one bit. And I'm so angry I didn't work at it. I had so much darkroom time and I skipped it! Looking back I wish I had taken it seriously. But I started taking it seriously on my own after I bought that camera.
What advice can you give students who are making work and know that they want to make a living from it?
You have to do work outside of school in order to get better, because the work that you do in school can only take you so far, and it's going to look like all your peers'. But if you're feeding yourself with all the industry magazines, the work people are doing online, as long as you're trying to better yourself and do tutorials, you'll be great. Feed yourself all kinds of content and try to make stuff that's not school projects, you have to do that. In order to find your voice in your design or photography, you have to love it. When you're doing a tutorial or you're watching a video about lighting it shouldn’t be forced, you do it because you love it. It's not a chore.
Your photos incorporate many unexpected objects. Where do these come from?
When I was living at home, taking care of my grandfather, I had no models. So I had to figure out things I could shoot. You can go online, on Flickr, and see where I started in 2005 up until now and see my whole photography career. It's easy to see how I've grown as a photographer. I would just photograph things because I didn't have a model and then it just became interesting. During that time I tried to be as creative as possible. That's when I created the "Puffin Clouds."
How has sharing your work on the Internet affected your career?
It is my career! What would be without the Internet? I would have no work without it! I always think it's strange when people won't share their work online. It's so weird to me. I've had so many opportunities from my online presence.
Tell me about The Hill. What motivated you to start documenting it?
It all started when I was unemployed and I wanted to get to know my neighborhood and I didn't know where in Chicago I was. I was just walking in the neighborhood and found it. It was just a habit. I never thought it would be a series. Walk to the lake and walk back home. And then I started putting the images together on the internet and it became “something.”
You travel a lot. What places have inspired you recently?
I've been able to discover California over the last couple years. I love San Francisco, there's so much nature, just like back home in Connecticut. There's nature in Chicago, but you have to go find it. Thank God we have the lake. And the hill. I was in San Francisco and my friend Michael asked me where would you want to go? I've always wanted to see the redwood forest and in an hour we were in the forest. That's what I love about San Francisco.
What does Chicago offer you? Why are you still here?
I like the snow, I like the weather. The winter isn't bad! It's cold. I like the people. I like the art scene because it's about design and I love design. I love this city. And when you talk to everyone else who has spent time here and they love it, too. The food is fucking amazing. It's a good vibe.
See more photos by Paul Octavious online.