Interview with Paul Hoelen | GBPW Episode 80

It was a very challenging and beautiful thing to photograph. There was a lot of sensitivity. The environment was completely confidential, so I had to be almost sacrosanct with how contained I was with the imagery that I created.

Paul Hoelen

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In this episode, I have an inspiring conversation with the talented Paul Hoelen. Paul specialises in a variety of genres, but he’s famous for his stunning aerial photography. In this episode, we talk about:

  • Paul’s photography project called Men With Heart, which explores the definition of healthy masculinity in Australia
  • How his role as a photography judge has affected his own work
  • The reason he started taking aerial photos (and what that experience has been like)

& much more!

Paul shares a lot of eye-opening stories about conservation, aerial photography, and masculinity in this interview. I’m confident that his outlook on photography will encourage you to look at your own work from a different perspective.

Here is a preview of our conversation with Paul Hoelen.

Q: Do you have any advice for photographers who want to get better at respectfully taking photos that tell a meaningful story?

Paul Hoelen: Generally, I don’t reveal locations, particularly when it comes to areas that are sensitive or that I know people will visit if they knew how to get there. That’s an issue with social media that comes up a lot.

Another aspect of respect is understanding, actually researching, and getting permission to photograph certain areas. Culturally, a lot of areas in Australia are very sensitive and sacred. It’s not okay to go there or to photograph them, even from the air. A lot of photographers would not make the effort or even have the understanding or respect to even research that.

Q: How has being a photography judge affected your own work?

Paul Hoelen: Quite immensely, to be honest. I grew up very independent of any influences apart from my life experience in general, so I wasn’t really aware of much work out there.

The initial relationship with photography was deeply personal. I joined organisations like the AIPP, which is centred around photographic competitions, in particular print-based competitions which are becoming very rare in the world, where the art of beautiful print is just as relevant as the image itself.

That’s been a really big part of my life the last 12 years. I have done a lot of judging and I’ve done a lot of training. I remember getting asked to judge the New Zealand awards for the first time. It was a panel with four Grandmasters. There were about 12 of them in the world, or at least in New Zealand, in 50 years. Basically, they’re the top of the tops!

You weren’t allowed to repeat anything that had been said by another judge on the panel. I repeatedly kept getting put in a position where I was the fifth person to speak! Collectively, these people had about 150 years of photographic experience that had already spoken to all the image. And there I was, trying to come up with something new or innovative or insightful. It was one of the hardest situations I’ve ever been in.

Ultimately, it one of the most amazing experiences because I found that being put in that position – and it’s live – I surprised myself hugely with what resource I found within myself. The visual literacy, the conceptual understanding, and the narrative understanding really pushed me to look deeper under the surface and beyond, think about art references, connect the dots of other aspects of the image, and not get caught up in just the technical stuff.


An extended gallery of aerial work
Men With Heart

Artist Bio

Originally born in New Zealand to a Dutch Sailor and an American Nun, Paul Hoelen has managed to put his four passports to excellent use before eventually settling on the beautiful, wild island of Tasmania. 

Self taught, travel hungry and with a healthy thirst to grow as an image-maker he thrives on the challenge and freshness of shooting a wide diversity of genres, ranging from fine art nudes, landscapes, and large-scale event photography through to fashion, travel, documentary and environmental portraiture – though he’s most renowned for his exquisite landscape imagery, in particular from an aerial perspective.

Paul is a Master of Photography in the AIPP (2 Gold Bars) and Grand Master of the NZIPP, two times Winner and four times Finalist for International Photographer of the Year in NZ, three times Tasmanian Professional Photographer of the Year and seven times Tasmanian Landscape Photographer of the Year. He judges regularly at a state, national and international level, runs photography workshops worldwide and writes for numerous magazines and publications. He is a member of the progressive landscape collaborative The Light Collective, an Ambassador for Asukabook fine art books and his work is represented by One Fine Print in Australia and Source Photographica in Australia and the USA.

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