WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM-BLAIR | PHOTO ESSAY BY PAUL BEUTEL
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Paul ‘bloody’ Beutel’s photography is poetry. He has a way with people; of putting them at ease to capture their
He’s photographed everyone from prime ministers and royalty to brides, mill workers and kindy kids. At Crush, we joke that you aren’t a true ‘Bundabergian’ local until Paul has taken your picture at least twice. You’d be hard pressed to find a home in Bundaberg that doesn’t have at least one Paul Beutel image; framed and hung on a wall or on a press clipping in a drawer.
It’s impossible to imagine Paul without his camera. The two are symbiotic. Yet, his life almost headed down an entirely different path. Like his father and brother, after leaving school, he worked in sugar mills during the crushing season. He spent the off season working at sea for weeks at a time. Both jobs were hot, dirty, and physically demanding. On the occasional holiday, he enjoyed borrowing his older brother’s Pentax camera. With a young family to support, buying a quality camera to feed a hobby was not something he considered.
Fate brought Paul and the lens together, when he found a Konica Fs-1 motor drive camera on the ground at Elliott Heads. He placed a ‘found’ notice in the NewsMail and handed the camera into the local police station. It went unclaimed for six months, so police gifted it to Paul. In Paul’s own words, it was “a real camera” so he went to TAFE college at night for two years to learn how to use it. That’s where he met Ray Peek, the long-serving NewsMail photographer.
Able to roll with things quickly on the fly, Paul was told he was best suited to presswork. He started working alongside Ray at the NewsMail, where he honed his craft and set up their first darkroom. “I’ve had the fortune of going behind the scenes and doing things average people don’t get to experience,” Paul said. “Like riding in an army helicopter or going behind police lines. It’s effectively being given the keys to the city,” Paul said.
If you ask the National Portrait Prize finalist which of his pictures is his favourite, the answer is shocking but says everything you need to know about Paul. It’s a black and white street shot of a worker in Buss Park, which he captured at the start of his course some 35 years ago. Quick with a joke and as down to earth as they come, he’s the same whether he’s photographing King Charles or a member of the local needlework group.
It’s clear, looking over Paul’s body of work, that he is anything but a ‘point and shoot snapper’. He sees things other people don’t. Like a tiger, stalking its prey, he patiently observes everything going on around him. He’s inquisitive. He has an eye for life; busy and still, which is why portraiture and food are among his favourite subjects.
Both artistically and technically, he is one of the most versatile photographers you will ever have the pleasure of working with.
Paul’s black and white ‘Mill Series’ was shot at Bingera and Millaquin Sugar Mills in 2014.