Action packed

For commercial photographer Paul Aresu, success means finding opportunity in change

By Jeff Kent
Images By Paul Aresu
First Published in 2006

Once known for his still life photography, Aresu now takes a dynamic approach to his professional work. His images look like stills from action movies. Everything’s in motion, everything’s on edge.

Photography runs in Paul Aresu’s family. He learned the craft by watching his father and his father’s father. Aresu was fascinated by the photographic process, so much so that he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in New York. After graduation, he kept on learning through assisting such notable photographers as Pete Turner and Tom Arma.

These days, Aresu’s commercial studio in Manhattan is buzzing. He’s made the big time. He’s a Canon Explorer of Light with teaching credentials at Parsons The New School for Design. His work has appeared in dozens of national magazines, and in ad campaigns for American Express, Nike, Verizon, Guiness, Kodak, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Ford, Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and many more.

Once known for his still life photography, Aresu now takes a dynamic approach to his professional work. His images look like stills from action movies. Everything’s in motion, everything’s on edge. In compositions bursting with color and vibrancy, Aresu’s subjects engage the viewer. “If I had to use one phrase to describe my work, it would be ‘high energy,’” says Aresu. “I try to make pictures that are bold compositionally and conceptually strong. I am always experimenting with color.” Those colors tend to be highly saturated secondary colors.

Aresu feels that his work is unique because of the myriad influences he’s brought into his artistic consciousness. On an unending search for the perfect image, Aresu will tinker with angles, lighting, shooting techniques—anything that yields a fresh perspective. He’s been known to forego the traditional modeling agencies in favor of street casting for fresh faces. He’ll even leave New York and travel to outlying cities to find interesting people who haven’t been completely jaded by the imagery of modern advertising.

In staging a shoot, Aresu is inspired by the collaboration of the creative team. He enjoys working with innovative art directors and open-minded clients who allow the creative process to flow and evolve. For his part, he carefully prepares for the details of the production, including extensively coaching his models. Aresu wants everything choreographed, everything rehearsed in advance. Then whatever happens, he can still make beautiful images.

“Every shoot seems to take on a personality of its own,” he says. “I rely on a meticulously prepared game plan, but I also allow for serendipity to seep into the shoot. I know art directors use me for my resourcefulness and my ability to think on my feet. No matter how much you plan for a shoot, something unplanned always happens. The idea is to be ready for the unexpected.”

Regarding the industry as a whole, Aresu feels professional photography is in a state of constant change. The trick, in his opinion, is to change with it. That means continually growing as an artist, discovering new techniques, adapting to creative movements, and learning developing technology. “One must constantly adapt and change in order to grow and expand [as an artist],” says Aresu. “I believe in shooting as much as I can, and I’m constantly amazed how much I learn on every shoot.”

Adaptability applies to the business side as well. Aresu reminds fellow photographers that professional photography is a service industry as much as a creative enterprise. Success in the business means being flexible and rolling with the punches. It means serving the client and not just your own creative impulses. It means, ultimately, always walking the fine line between innovation and marketability. “To get noticed, one must be original and at the same time commercially acceptable,” says Aresu.

It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, but one that Aresu has mastered. In looking at each new development as a challenge rather than an obstacle, Aresu stays ahead of the curve. Where other photographers see trouble, Aresu sees opportunity for growth. “I find this industry to be challenging both mentally and physically,” he says. “But I would not be doing photography if I looked at it in a negative way. I always try to turn a bad situation into something positive.”

Looking forward, Aresu feels his best images are still to come. He sees fascinating opportunities for creative image-making with new digital techniques. He sees a future in conceptual image creation. But most of all, he sees himself continuing to grow and evolve for many, many years to come.

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