What originally inspired you to start using paper cutouts?
I was looking for a way to photograph London in a unique way; there are so many talented landscape photographers in London, but I wanted to try and find my own way of shooting the city. I came up with the idea of trying to make Big Ben (or as it’s officially named, the Elizabeth Tower) look like a wristwatch by using a cutout. It took a bit of walking up and down Westminster Bridge to find the right spot and get the depth of field right, all whilst receiving a few strange looks from passersby. Whilst I was there, I was approached by a father and daughter who were intrigued by what I was doing. When I showed them the photo, they both smiled and said I should do more.
For such delicate work, you must have a lot of patience! What helps you focus when you’re working?
When it comes to doing the cuts, it goes one of two ways; it is either incredibly therapeutic or incredibly tedious. I tend to put on my headphones and crack on with them, usually doing a few at a time. The trickiest so far was creating a cutout of spreadsheet music for one that I shot in the opera house in Amsterdam.
You use the phrase, ‘a tourist in my own city,’ to describe your method of creating art. Why do you think it’s important to make an effort to notice things we would ordinarily ignore?
I think it’s a common thing amongst Londoners to sometimes forget that we live in one of the most iconic/beautiful cities in the world. It’s probably true of a lot of people in any major city in fact. A friend of mine came down to London to visit in spring, and we did all the touristy things — the bus tours, the London Eye, etc. I learnt so much; there was so much history and intrigue that I had totally ignored. So when I started shooting the cutouts, I also included a fact about the city — something I’d learnt that fascinated me. I’m now one of those annoying guys who knows a tonne of random, entirely useless information.
What do you do for inspiration when you’re looking for new ideas?
I research for ideas by looking at famous landmarks from wherever I’m planning to visit. Sometimes ideas come to me instantly, and other times they have to sit in my subconscious for a while. I think as a result, I’ve sort of trained my brain to look for quirky shapes and ideas in architecture and everyday objects. It’s a pretty good mental exercise.
Are you currently working on any animation projects?
The cutouts came from a love for stop-motion animation that I’ve had for a few years. I started developing my paper skills by making music videos for bands I liked as well as a couple of small commissions. I haven’t got any animation projects coming up, but I’m off to Malta and Dublin next, so there will definitely be more paper cutouts from both of those places.
You’ve mentioned beforehand that you’d like to take your work to New York and Rio. Do you have any ideas in mind already for what you’d like to work with?
The iconic landmarks are the ones I love playing with the most because people are familiar with them, so when you put a twist on them, it’s even more surprising. I recently turned the Eiffel Tower into a rocket taking off, and that went down well with the Instagram followers. I have an idea for the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and others. In Rio, Christ the Redeemer is calling out for an idea I’ve had in my mind for a while — so it would be great to go there to shoot that and ideally do it around the time of the Olympics.
When you’re not using cutouts, what do you like to take photos of?
Photography has always been a keen interest, so occasionally I post ‘normal’ photos too — usually as an excuse to post one of the quirky facts I’ve learnt about the location. If the @paperboyo account takes off, I might only post the cutout photos there and create a personal account for the other photos. I might post the other cutout photos — the ones that don’t make the cut (pun intended) — on my personal one there. For every paper cutout photo, there’s one I’ve tried out at another location and didn’t post because it hasn’t quite worked or it isn’t immediately obvious what the idea is. For example, I tried to make the Emirates line in London look like a washing line with clothes hanging off it. It just didn’t work though; I couldn’t get to a good vantage point, so I scrapped it.
What creative process do you go through to bring your ideas to life?
I don’t think I have much of a process as such. Fairly often the idea pops to mind when I google the landmark, and if it doesn’t come straight away then I don’t ponder on it too long. When I then go to the location, I’ll look for a good vantage point and then usually spend about 15 minutes getting the shot. If it’s windy, crowded with tourists or the weather’s a bit rubbish — then it takes longer. I tend to take about 20-40 pics at each place. When I did the Little Mermaid shot in Copenhagen, I spent ages waiting to get a shot without anyone else in it. Then when I got back and looked through the pictures, I realised that the photo with the lady taking a photo in it added more context, so I went with that one.
Which is your favourite paper cutout that you’ve used and why? Do you keep them after you’ve used them?
My favourite is the UFO in Copenhagen. I had the idea as soon as I saw a photo of the Cirkelbroen, and when I went there to shoot it, it came out just as I hoped it would. I think it’s my favourite because it’s simple and effective. The Lego Man at the Arc de Triomphe came out so much better than I hoped it would, so I like that one too. I do keep them afterwards — I have a pile of them in my room in Battersea; I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Maybe there’s a second life in some of them.
Part of the charm of your work is that it’s very delicate and carefully thought-out. Have you thought about potentially increasing the scale of your cutouts?
I think the simplicity is also part of the charm. The more extravagant and intricate they become, the less ‘homemade’ they become and, therefore, perhaps that could affect its charm. As well as that, I’m not sure I’d have the time to do more intricate ones. I still have a day job, friends and a gym membership — so spending too much time on the cutting mat would probably affect those.
Do you think using colour in the cutouts would detract from the overall image?
I think the simplicity of the black cutouts leaves enough room for the viewer to use their imagination to do the rest to make the illusion work. I did try coloured cutouts, but it just didn’t work. I tried making the Louvre Museum, in Paris, look like the prism from the famous Pink Floyd album cover, with a colour spectrum coming out the side of it. But when I looked at the photo, it seemed to lack the charm that the bold cutouts had.
How would you describe your work in 80 characters?
Photos of places you’d recognise, with a creative twist (and a quirky fact too).
Interview conducted by Eleanor Russell