In Career, Interviews

Behind the Lens of Chris Paul Thompson

Name: Chris Paul Thompson

Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK


Words to live by: Always be yourself. Give good get good. Be soil, nurture others. Be water, grow others. Be the sun, light the way.

Interview by Zaida Diaz

Nursemaid's Kerchief Gordon Parks Photography
Nursemaid’s Kerchief by Lilly Daché, New York, 1952 — Photograph by Gordon Parks (Courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation)

What made you fall in love with photography?

I really liked Gordon Parks’ photography as a kid. I never thought I could do it until I found out he was from Kansas. By that time I had already been occasionally photographing people as a way to get out of class in high school. I was shooting my friends for mixtape covers and flyers. Once it felt more possible that it could be a career I knew I would never stop.

Do you have any formal education/training in the arts?

The only art I was trained in is marketing. To me business is an artform as well (one that is highly focused on numbers), but still art. I took one photo class in college because I was already shooting people and needed an easy A. Everything else was focused on marketing, business management and advertising since those were the things that interested me the most.

When did you realize that you could make a career as a photographer?
The first time I knew I might be on to something was when I was paid to fly to New Orleans for a photo shoot. It was actually three weeks before Katrina. It was a shit show of a weekend, but it was incredible to me that my hobby at the time was paying me more than my job and offering me travel opportunities. I knew I needed to learn more so that I could become a true artist and make a living doing what I loved.

What is your favorite thing to shoot?

People and beaches. People because I get a chance to meet and interact with new personalities. I get to help people build careers, businesses and brands. I grew up in Oklahoma with no beaches, so once I relocated to the west coast it became my favorite place to be.

Kehlani & Travis Scott — Photographs by Chris Paul Thompson


What have you done to differentiate yourself from others in your field?

I just do me. I come from a very simple background in life. Oklahoma is a slow and beautiful place full of great people. I interject that energy into all spaces I’m in and into all things I do.

I bring a simple beauty to all things I do.

What is the hardest part about being a photographer?

Waiting on people to pay their invoices and balancing time shooting, living, curating and editing. All clients want you on the computer 17/7. It’s shoot, sleep and retouch lol.

What recent work are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of developing as an artist and creating a new style. I’m also super proud of my work with JUNCTION and YLVA, two businesses I invest sweat equity to help build, along with my production company CAGEDBIRD with Alia Kruz.
I’ve also created an artist empowerment brand call PAY THE ARTISTS (PTA). The idea behind it is to highlight the value of artists from all genres. I am using the proceeds to fund artists’ projects.

coffee mugs
Custom dipped coffee mugs by JUNCTION — Photograph by Chris Paul Thompson


Tell me more about the PAY THE ARTISTS movement. What inspired it?

Pay the artists is about appreciating artists while they are alive. Paying creators for the things they produce. Deleting the starving artist mindset and making it the new norm to be an artist that lives comfortably instead of struggling. It came to me as a result of years of being underpaid and underappreciated and hearing the same stories from my contemporaries in the arts. An artists’ love for their craft is often taken advantage of by companies that refuse to give adequate compensation for the labor and service provided.

My goal is to create a more beautiful world by ensuring artists are appreciated and compensated for their hard work.

Looking back on the earlier part of your career as a photographer, was there ever a time that you felt taken advantage of?

I do not have to look back very far for those moments lol. That’s the impetus for starting the movement, from people asking for free work to companies not paying for 90 days when the agreed upon terms were 30 days. Hours wasted calling and emailing to insure I’ll be paid is not at all uncommon. It’s probably the most relatable sentiment in the art community.

What has been the most surreal moment in your career thus far?

I did a few photo shoots I was really nervous all in about a 3 week period and each person called me to tell me they were the best pictures they have ever had in their life. That was the hugest compliment ever and really gave me some assurance and confidence to keep pushing.

How instrumental has having faith and following your intuition been to your career?

I drove to L.A. with my girlfriend at the time with $300 between us after we paid the first 3 months rent on our new place. We spent $140 of that in Vegas (where we would’ve won thousands if I had faith in her and made the bet instead of walking away from the roulette table and hearing them call out the number and color she told me to bet on.) About 8 days after we moved in to the apartment we were subleasing we got an eviction letter on the door. Apparently he had not paid the rent with the money we sent and we had to figure out how to get a new place in 90 days or less. We hustled and made it happen and I’ve had the upmost faith in hard work and focus ever since. No matter the pitfalls or struggles I’ve had to over come, I’ve always pulled through by trusting myself to make the right choice.

If you’re uncomfortable being yourself in front of others take time to break that discomfort because you are hiding your most powerful possession.


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