Paul Stringer is the ultimate storyteller using words, pictures and film. His new exhibition, The City That Spoke to Me is open now and combines his love for all three
We had such a long chat with award-winning film maker and photographer Paul Stringer we could fill the entire magazine with Paul-related stuff but that would be a bit daft, so here’s three pages of Paul. His first exhibition is open now at the Hippodrome. Titled, The City That Spoke to Me it’s a celebration of poetry, poets and in particular the Birmingham scene. There are 13 portraits in total. Six are of poets that have inspired Paul and six more are of poets that inspired them. The thirteenth portrait of the late Leon Priestnall isn’t taken by Paul, but he felt he couldn’t run this sort of celebration of poetry without including the ‘heartbeat’ of Birmingham’s poetry scene.
To be clear, Paul isn’t a poet. He’s written one poem which he performed once and it was so terrifying he’s never done it again choosing instead to stay behind the lens. Is he affected by poetry though? Absolutely yes. Being exposed to new perspectives through poetry has been life changing.
He says: “It’s so impactful. Poetry nights are safe spaces – safe enough to share things. I’ve been to events where people have shared devastating trauma through poetry and it just takes one person in the room to say ‘oh yeah that happened to me too’ to have an enormous impact. It’s unbelievable and an unquantifiable consequence. I just wanted to document and celebrate that scene.”
Paul studied film at university but when his father bought him a DSLR camera as a graduation present, he started taking photos. He began photographing dogs and children setting up a couple of hay bales at events armed with his trusty camera and a cheap printer. He has supportive parents who he lived with while he started out and who provided encouragement as well as a roof and a camera.
Paul has done a varied bunch of work. He answered a call out from Beatfreeks in the organisation’s early days for a videographer and photographer. Indeed, Paul’s first experience of poetry was at a Beatfreeks Poetry Jam in a coffee shop in Brum and it peaked his interest and got his ‘mind buzzing’. He’s also worked as a photojournalist and freelance film maker – he documented Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign as well as numerous protests. He spent time in Calais documenting the plight of refugees but has since questioned how ethical that is. As much as he accepts those stories need to be told, Paul’s uncomfortable about photographing vulnerable people and using those images. He explained: “I just think although it’s well intentioned, would I want to be photographed in that moment? There are hundreds of journalists who come down, stay for 1 or 2 days then go home and sell the images. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Paul’s also working on a documentary film called Hidden Philosophers documenting the open mic poetry scene in the UK and its impact on society. Paul says the Birmingham scene is particularly communal, rich and open. We’ve heard this before from poets we’ve interviewed previously like Spoz, Casey Bailey and Benjamin Zephaniah. The Midlands and Birmingham in particular is inclusive and thriving.
Paul reckons the creative industries are probably Birmingham’s biggest export. He says: “We have such rich creative and cultural scenes that are also inclusive. For instance, the Hippodrome which is a globally recognised theatre yet through its Young Advocate Programme it opens its doors to inspire and give Brum’s young people opportunities. The Rep has the Foundry scheme which is similarly inclusive for young people whatever your background. It’s phenomenal.”