Our noses pressed against the glass created a fog that made it almost impossible to spy on our new neighbor moving in. We were formally introduced to Paul Figura by Pumpkin and Monster, two eccentric cats that immediately adopted our house as their own.
Paul came over one evening hunting for his wayward felines. That’s how we met almost three decades ago. He became a brother, a part of our family, a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration on how to live life.
Twenty seven years ago he was a computer engineer at JEA wanting to be a photographer. We assumed he was having a bout of the “grass is always greener” syndrome. We were concerned because engineering is such a strong left brain function and photography is a highly creative right brain. Paul’s good buddy, Tom Nuijens recalls, “He was freaking out about leaving the security of the corporate world and a steady paycheck, yet was obsessively driven and focused on his new creative path.”
The first images were as expected…amateur and cliché. But Paul was brilliant and a quick learner, taking photography to a whole new level. We have never seen such a “take no prisoners” steep upward learning curve. He approached photography the same as he approached his life – fearlessly.
It blew us away watching every obstacle, barrier and challenge melt away in the face of a combination of his: in the face of his tenacity and strong will.
Influences and Influence
Early on, he sought out photographer Christina Hope, whose work he admired. He became a “go-for,” soaking up every drop of knowledge and experience she was willing to share. He came to admire her so much that when his daughter was born he named her Taylor Christina Figura. As Christina was drawn from commercial photography by the art photography world, Paul was ready to accept the challenge of the void she left the creative directors, designers, and the advertising agency guys.
“Paul immediately stepped up to the plate and totally killed it with his unique perspective on my visual input and our client’s needs,” Tom Nuijens recalls. “The two of us (along with my assistants Jeff and Judy Maher) immediately began an award-winning visual relationship, and I realized I’d better become good friends and surfing buddies with him to fend off the hoards of creative poachers that came clamoring after him.”
Paul’s engineer-trained mind allowed him to shoot images and beta test retouching programs long before Photoshop had been introduced into the marketplace. Paul was the first in town to work with the Photoshop software and one of the most knowledgeable in the country.
Any misgivings or doubt about Paul’s success were dismissed when New York super agent Vicki Sander began representing Paul. Around the same time, he started his own stock photography business, Krung Stock. Paul also took a chance (great move on his part) and hired an assistant fresh out of school, Amy Ploss-Samson. In time she became his right hand, his extended brain, his “keep it real” person. She was the calming balance that helped Paul work his magic. Amy continues to operate the studio and business.
It turned out he had the rare combination of equally strong right-left brain functions which created a hybrid talent that produced work both highly creative and technically flawless. We watched him tackle any photo shoot challenge with a signature can-do handyman attitude. Nothing held back his positive, high energy enthusiasm for getting the shot. We’ve seen him in the air, under the water, in open fields and in tight spots (in more ways than one), and he flourished in doing whatever it took to fulfill the client’s vision.
When asked what made Paul stand out, Tom Nuijens points out that he cared about his craft, at which he was naturally and intuitively-talented, he was good-natured, and had such an artful eye. This creative and innovative approach attracted high profile clients such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL, PGA Tour, United Way, McDonald’s, Florida Lottery, Johnson & Johnson, NBC Sports, Mayo Clinic and Wells Fargo.
The “go-to” guy
It’s hard not to get sloppy sentimental talking about Paul because he touched our lives in so many ways, through so many different facets. He was the go-to guy for helping with water heater repairs, gardening tips, and what tools to buy, right down to getting an answer as to why new cars have those round plugs in the bumpers and wheels look like they are spinning backwards when moving forward. We learned never to play Trivial Pursuit with him – a losing proposition every time.
Clients and art directors loved working with Paul: his studio was fun, relaxed and wide open with ideas. His total environment defined “outside the box,” from listening to the Jerky Boys to lighting his car stereo on fire in the parking lot for a photo shoot. Everyone we speak with about Paul recalls him as a creative professional who always delivered.
He touched and inspired everyone, including fellow photographers, artists, surfers, bikers, animal lovers, athletes, and us, in ways that are hard to describe. But we are very clear in knowing that we are better people having had Paul Figura in our lives.