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“Success is finding satisfaction in giving a little more than you take.”
Christopher Reeve

When I was told it was my turn to write the blog, I thought I had my topic sorted out. It was then suggested by my ex business guru, Mr Alex Petty, that my success story should be written!

Funny because each morning when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a successful person looking back at me – so it got me thinking, what is my measure of the ‘S’ word, and what do other people use to measure success?

This story starts way back in 1977 when I started my City & Guilds Photography Course. I always from the age I can remember wanted to be a professional footballer for Manchester United and England, a photographer never!

I probably didn’t even realise such a job existed, and after blowing out in school and ending up with two ‘ungraded’ exam results and a clip round the ear from my mum, it was time to find a job. This was especially true after experimenting at cleaning a fish and chip shop, stacking shelves at Tesco’s, and finally washing up for 500 people in an office block in Southend, which was truly gross.

I felt I had to reassess my long term situation. Although a decent footballer, I was never going to make the grade to earn a living. I was also a decent long distance runner, tennis player, squash player, basketball player, and even turned my hand to rugby when required. In hindsight, maybe I should have followed the sports route, but in those days the information and career opportunities just weren’t there.

They say behind every successful man (boy) is a successful woman, this particular woman was my mother. She dug out some old family photographs, armed me with a Rolleiflex box camera from the bottom drawer of a dresser, and told me she had put me down for a two year foundation course at Southend Tech College (with a warning not to mess up ringing in my ears). In those days it was a full grant, something like a grand a term, so Happy Days!!

The idea was to achieve my C & G’s level, she would then have a word with my uncle who owned a small photography and repro studio in Ironmonger Row, just off Old Street, London. Guess what, I blew the first year Foundation Course, and found myself begging the tutors to allow me to complete the second year, as I was convinced my mother was going to actually kill me!

Luckily for me, they must have seen something in my photography abilities, as my pottery and drama was totally rubbish, so I continued with my quest to achieve my goal.

Well I guess you know which way this story is heading, yes correct, I failed the theory part of the exam but my practical work was a major part in gaining a pass. Amazingly I was now set for London and a career in the photographic industry.

Feeling pleased with myself was short lived, and my last day at college was marred by the words I will never ever forget. My tutor at the time turned to me in a cold tone and said “Mr Downes, you will never, ever make it as a photographer or work in a studio”. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why he said this, but I am of a character that never quits easily, but even I have to admit that at just turned 18, it was a bitter pill to swallow!

I went on to work with my uncle for approximately 23 years until he passed away, setting up for him our first packshot studio, shooting on Mamiya RB67’s and processing E6 (transparency film) in house. These were happy days working in a wet darkroom, shooting and processing and seeing our work published in magazines, such as Woman, Woman’s Weekly and the now defunct Autocar.

My uncle’s studio was taken over by a major repro company of the time, Barrett & Berkeley. The then Managing Director asked me to run the studio and oversee the transition from film to digital, this to me was a huge task and a crash course in computing was required!

After 10 years of building a client list that included ELLE, ELLE Decoration, Country Home, PR agencies, White Stuff, plus what I brought from my previous company, Barrett & Berkeley went bust – a victim of the recession. I remember those times working my last two weeks trying to work out what to do, how I was going to feed my young family. I had been working since the day I started work until now – a run of 33 unbroken years!

The next woman behind the successful man, my wife – always there, convinced me I should go for it, and get my own studio, but we’d need £12,000 to buy the equipment back from the receiver that helped in the closure of Barrett & Berkeley.

It was time to make a phone call to my father, who coincidentally had been made redundant approximately the same time as myself. He suggested that he would put the money up, and with my two collaborative partners, we set-up 3Objectives.

Meeting the bank on a Thursday in 2012, we sent our first shot to our client ELLE Decoration 9.30am Monday morning. We had managed to set up the company over the weekend, with the help of family and friends, scary yes, but exciting yes.

There were three shareholders at the birth of our studio, One has since left but kept his shares, the other sold their shares to me due to the combined pressures of business and family life. Aneta still works with us today and is an integral cog in the studio machine. We won the 2012 ‘Be Inspired Young Business’ Company of the year in our first year of trading. Maybe this is a measure of success?

This concludes my success story, but does this answer the question about whether I think I am successful or do other people look at me as being successful? Personally, my answer is, I feel I am successful as I beat my ex ‘tutor’. I don’t drive a Lamborghini or live in a big house, or dress in Armani, but I do employ three people, and a freelancer, and most importantly, I do look after my family and feed my kids, who after four years are not so young anymore! So I will leave it to other people to judge whether I have been successful or not.

If I should be defined as a successful business man, it would be that I created my own opportunities, and allowed success to come to me. I won’t chase it, as I have seen close up the damage it can cause.
Photography Credit - Butchy Davy
Paul Downes -
Photography Director +
3Objectives Co-Founder