At 91, Paul Darling still sees world through photographer’s lens

At 91, Paul Darling still sees world through photographer’s lens

PAWTUCKET – Paul Darling, one-time official photographer of the America’s Cup Races who would snap pictures of Dwight Eisenhower when he came to Newport, is still wielding his camera at the age of 91, absorbing the world around him through his trusted lens.

Darling, a Barrington resident who’s been capturing life in his beloved Ocean State for much of his life, is descended from the Darling family that inspired the name for the Darlington neighborhood in Pawtucket. The former judge in the city’s annual photo contest is the great-great-grandson of Samuel Darling, brother of Pawtucket Hall of Fame member Edwin Darling, who was inducted posthumously in 2017.

Sam was head of the Pawtucket Water Works for a time, and Paul Darling said he would bet that it was Edwin, a powerful figure in the city’s history, who helped him get the position.

Darling, a 1953 Rhode Island School of Design graduate, was a longtime photographer for local TV stations, also spending many years on his own making a living as an independent photographer. As he puts it, he was a photojournalist for a half-century. He still enjoys photographing a family member’s wedding on occasion, and enjoys photographing wildlife in his yard.

He said he was originally inspired by his half-brother Robert’s drawings and artistic achievements. He said he quickly knew he wouldn’t be able to resist cameras and photography, working his first job in the photo lab at Brown University. When work dried up there, he became a summer replacement photographer at Channel 10, later landing a job at WPRO-TV (WPRI 12 today), where he would work for 11 years until the 1970s when he says he grew tired of covering murders and accidents and decided to establish his own studio. He continued freelancing for TV news and newspapers, taking many thousands of photos over the years.

You name it, he’s photographed it, said Darling, and he still loves breaking out his camera, though not the way he once did.

“I don’t have the endurance,” he said.

On his advice to aspiring young photographers, he says one has to have a passion for the work.

“I think one has to love it,” he said. “Love your subjects.”

Darling has written and illustrated many articles for magazines, and his award-winning photos have been published in various books.

“I train my camera on anything that appeals to me, from stately mansions to rustic retreats, from luxury yachts to day-sailers, while my favorite subjects are both photogenic and storytelling,” he says. “Occasionally, one can uncover beauty in the midst of mundane and humble surroundings, which is a little like finding buried treasure.”

As an illustrator, he has worked in many areas of photography, but the Narragansett Bay remains his favorite theme.

“It is really a lifetime study, and I will continue discovering new aspects of the bay for the rest of my life,” he says.

Darling said he donated his entire photo collection to the Rhode Island Historical Society. He has written several photo-based books available for viewing on Blurb.

Human interest photos have always been his favorite, said Darling, including such famed celebrities as sailor Harold Vanderbilt or voice of the Providence College Friars Christian Clark. One of his best friends was yacht builder and architect Halsey Herreshoff.

“I avidly covered America’s Cup for 25 years,” he said. “I couldn’t get sick, nothing ever went wrong with my car, I always lucked out.”

After his more steady gig, he struck out on his own as any photographer would.

“We make our living any way we can,” he said, whether with family portraits, bat mitzvahs or bar mitzvahs, two weddings in one weekend, or long trips. He was on his own from 1970 to 2009, with many of his freelance gigs with local publications and magazines such as Yankee Magazine going away around 2009. Though he’s too old for the rigors of that life now, he said, “I haven’t lost my shooting eye.”

He remembers being paid well for assignments, back when the money for such work was much better.

According to Edwin Darling’s Pawtucket Hall of Fame induction page from 2017, when Paul and his son Chris accepted the award, Edwin was considered one of Pawtucket’s most prominent citizens. He operated a small butcher shop in Pawtucket for 23 years, and during his long residency here, he was a prominent advocate for the city’s growth, it states, serving as a member of the council of the old town of Pawtucket and one of the commissioners who erected the Exchange Street Bridge, a key connection between the east and west sides of the river.

He was instrumental in abolishing turnpikes in the state, and was the last person to pay the toll at the toll house on the Pawtucket turnpike, now Pawtucket Avenue.

For two years he served as chairman of the committee charged with erecting schools at Church Hill and Grove Streets. He served in the Rhode Island Legislature, and was one of the commissioners appointed to build the Providence County Court House in Providence.

He was also turnpike commissioner, commissioner on diseased cattle, a member of the commission appointed in 1887 to divide the city of Providence into 10 wards.

A Republican, he was a member of the volunteer fire department for 20 years and the last foreman of the Old Hay Cart and first foreman of the Steamer Rhode Island No. 1. He was also commissary sergeant of the Pawtucket Horse Guards for many years.

Darling was a Freemason, attended the Pawtucket Congregational Church for more than 20 years, and, in the “greatest work of his life,” according to the account, he helped build the city’s water works, appointed superintendent in 1880.

His interest in real estate led him to purchase a large tract of land on the east side of the city, known as the plains, and the land would become one of the largest and most thriving Pawtucket suburbs of the time. Darlington station was so named by the New York, Boston and Providence Railroad in recognition of his serving in building up that section of the city.

A photo by Paul Darling of Harvey Gamage, called the last great boatbuilder, included in his 2014 book “The Bill of Rights – Memories of a Summer Cruise.”