Originally hailing from Upstate New York near Albany, Stephen Churchill Downes is a New York City-based filmmaker/photographer. He came to NYC after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1987. There he worked as an assistant to many of the top photographers in the industry (including Albert Watson, David Seidner, Gilles Bensimon and Wayne Maser) on cover/editorial stories for Vogue, Glamour, GQ, etc. and fashion/beauty advertising shoots around the world.
In his own career, Stephen initially shot fashion and beauty but eventually realized his true love was working with non-fashion models and real people. As a result, his clientele broadened to include advertising work for companies like HSBC Bank, Merck and the UK Government as well as many CD packaging projects. He has also proudly shot cover/feature stories over many years for the non-profit HIV/AIDS magazine A&U, a relationship that continues to this day.
Stephen wanted to know more about the stories behind his subjects. He had the opportunity to shoot the painter Kenny Scharf, and what he experienced and learned on this project about the creative process inspired him to shoot a continuing series on artists. These include the sculptor Will Kurtz, the painter Alyssa Monks, the TV genius Jon Stewart, the writer Michael Cunningham, the performer Bebe Neuwirth and the composer John Corigliano. His experience in the fashion world led to another passionate project which evolved from the unfair and unrealistic representation of girls and women in society. This project is titled Personal: Portrayal/Betrayal.
A few years ago Stephen made the leap into filmmaking. He has brought his inquisitive mind to projects for various clients, including one about the heart-breaking round-up and slaughter of wild horses on our U.S. public lands that he made for the non-profit Cana Foundation. It was shot in and around Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota at the height of the DAPL pipeline protests in late 2016. Immersion into the Native Indian culture during this shoot was life-changing because it revealed to Stephen a profound new perspective toward living in conjunction with Nature. Additionally, he witnessed first-hand the passionate determination of a people to preserve their cherished way of life when threatened by corporate greed. He also recently completed an intimate short film about the sculptor Will Kurtz which has been entered into many prominent film festivals. Stephen has also directed, shot and edited several music videos.
Stephen is currently in production on a documentary about Helen Gallagher. Helen, now 85, was a showgirl dancer in New York and Las Vegas in her teens and twenties who during this time had a serious romantic relationship with Sammy Davis Jr. (reportedly his first love). Helen is a white Irish woman, and society at that time (the early 1950’s) was harshly opposed to mixed-race couples. Sadly, this climate resulted in severe negative career pressure for Sammy that eventually forced him to end the relationship.
In an age of superficial digital enhancement, Stephen seeks to reach deep into his subjects to convey their authenticity and beauty without trendy gimmickry. For him, real emotion requires no such assistance in touching audiences' hearts and minds. It is this principle that guides him through all of his work.