Paul Lawford contributed some glamour to the Gibraltar Photographic Society’s portfolio for the past seasons, and was recently awarded the Photographer of the Year for his elegant and often tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the subjects proposed.

“At the beginning of the season, we are given a series of twelve subjects, and requested to produce two photos on each. Entries are submitted fortnightly. The format for each subject is specified, either printed B&W, full colour, or digital, but photographers have the scope to interpret the topic as creatively as they wish,” Paul says.

“And here is where the challenge begins; finding that unique interpretation! The process of conceiving the photo you wish to present, scouting for the subject matter, finding the unusual angle… all this is surprisingly time-consuming. You have to consider when the ideal time to shoot is, and how you wish to light your subject. That often involves returning to the location at a different time of the day. Once the shot is captured, it is time for digitally processing. This can vary from a few minutes, to many hours, depending on the required end result.”

“As long as my photos stir an emotion, they are successful.”

An architect by profession, Paul understands solid shapes and how the light can play on them. He also likes playing with reality and inserting make-believe and trompe-l’oeil details, as if he was crafting an artist impression for a new building site. Thus, the photograph becomes a painting, in which real and surreal elements converge to raise an emotion in the viewer.

“As long as my photos stir an emotion, they are successful,” he says, confirming how he doesn’t always aim to offer comforting or beautiful images, but he actually prefers to grab your attention by shock and awe, like in the shot of a drill being grabbed by a blood-dripping bare hand, which the judge said to loathe so much that it had to be awarded a commendation.

Minimal photoshopping was needed for this one – all special effects were filmed on location thanks to a large dollop of raspberry jam, so that no hands were injured in the making of this masterpiece! But elsewhere, where he applies his digital wizardry to create a six-fingered hand, digital manipulation was applied so seamlessly that the picture will have you do a double take, because it looks so perfect and the same time so illogical.

Post Brexit Apocalypse, a photograph that marries artistic and technical perfection with the artist’s impression of a harrowing worst case scenario, took twenty-four hours of post production in photoshop: “This is the longest time I’ve dedicated to one single shot so far, and yet all worth it. The given theme was Commonwealth Park and Brexit had just been announced, so I thought to use the idyllic location to warn about the impending peril, to produce a panorama of desolation: stormy skies, withered grass, crumbling walls, dried pond, with a car wreck plunged in it for extra impact… truly a post-apocalyptic scene.

… truly a post-apocalyptic scene.

“The original shot was taken on the ideal sunny day, so I had to change the lighting, to remove the lovely blue sky, to clone out the families enjoying their day off, to apply gloomy clouds. The crumbling walls were obtained by merging with my archive photos from Pompeii ruins. The wrecked car was an archive picture from Dubai.”

Car are usually revered as objet d’art by Paul, a keen Porsche and watch collector: “I often photograph my time pieces, although they are challenging because the curved crystal reflects the light and obscures the face below.”

His cars conveniently lend themselves to the usage of ‘light painting’, a technique which requires skill but affords breath-taking results if applied in the right way: “I captured a vintage Porsche 356 in a dark warehouse and highlighted its curvaceous body by setting the camera to 30 seconds, and walking passed the car, shining a torch onto the bodywork. The camera doesn’t pick me up because I dress in black to blend with the background, but it will paint a stream of light on the car’s prominent curves.” His fascination with cars also had him creating the optical illusion of a car being poured out of a kettle for his entry titled Liquid Metal.

In another entry, a friend was digitally shrunk and inserted onto a watch face, for an entry titled Installing number 5: “I photographed him in New Harbours from the upstairs balcony, while he kneeled and held a cardboard ‘5’ shape, which I gave metal-like bevel to for the finished image. This photo won Photograph of the Year in 2018.”

Photography has been an integral part of Paul’s life since his architectural career inception, including his student years, as it is a tool of the trade, used to illustrate concepts and document construction: “Architecture is a blend of engineering and art, and I feel that shows in my photos. For years, I have had to create images to show buildings that did not exist. Now I can utilise that skill set, and explore an even more artistic approach to my photography. And when I joined the society five years ago, I was immediately recognised for my keen eye and originality in tackling the constraints of any theme.”