Paul Dudley wears many professional and volunteer hats, some of them quite silly. Besides being a professional photographer whose subjects have included President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates, Elton John and Oprah, Dudley is also an auctioneer, part-time boat captain and longtime volunteer for pediatric oncology causes. Every summer, he ferries kids to camp (sometimes wearing a pirate hat), and in December, he’ll don a Santa hat at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Here, he talks about his careers.   

What do you do? I am primarily a professional photographer specializing in wedding, portrait and special event photography. I have owned Paul Dudley Photography for over 30 years. It’s based in Poulsbo but I shoot photos all over the place.

I also work as a benefit auctioneer helping raise money for nonprofit organizations throughout the Northwest. For 40 years, I have been a part-time captain for Argosy Cruises in the summer, mainly taking kids to Camp Sealth on Vashon Island. The most fulfilling “job” though, for me, is my volunteer work in the pediatric oncology world, which I began doing in 1984.

How did you become a photographer? I have always been a “capture the moment” kind of guy. I was appointed yearbook editor in high school because people thought that I could best navigate chaos with a camera and freeze moments that many may have missed. All of my paid photography arose from the kind of photography that I did every day in my life anyway, which was capturing a moment, or two, or a hundred. Life zooms by, but a photograph freezes it. And that enables you to ponder and reflect on that moment for as long as you want, and in the process it enriches the original experience that much more. Yes, life moves pretty fast, but as I like to say, not if you’re really paying attention! My camera helps me do that.

(Courtesy of Paul Dudley)
(Courtesy of Paul Dudley)

What’s a typical day like? A typical day in any of my jobs involves creativity, thoughtfulness, spontaneity, a spark, an introduction or many introductions.

If I’m working as a photographer, I am reading a moment and deciding on the fly how best to capture it.

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At an auction, my goal is to help create a fun and festive atmosphere and have people leave the event later with full hearts but empty wallets!

And when I’m taking kids to Camp Sealth as captain of the boat, I try to make the boat ride something that they will always look back on with a smile. And that happens, this year more than ever before. I took kids to camp whose parents I took to camp decades ago, and they have told me how much fun they had on “DABOATA” in the olden days. That melts my heart every time. 

Argosy’s Goodtime II vessel is dubbed DABOATA when it ferries kids to Camp Sealth. Paul Dudley has captained DABOATA for 40 summers. (Courtesy of Paul Dudley)
Argosy’s Goodtime II vessel is dubbed DABOATA when it ferries kids to Camp Sealth. Paul Dudley has captained DABOATA for 40 summers. (Courtesy of Paul Dudley)

What’s the best part of the job? Shining a spotlight on people. I can freeze a fleeting moment of a person’s life in as little as 1/8,000 of a second, and then give that to them and their family. One seemingly simple moment, if captured the right way, can wind up celebrating someone forever, and I think that’s pretty cool. In a photo essay that I published as editor of my high school yearbook I wrote the caption, “How simple it may have seemed at the time, but how much more it will mean later on.” That thought has proved itself true to me ever since, and in ways that I never imagined 40 years ago.

What surprises people about what you do? No matter which field I may be working or volunteering in, I think people are first surprised that I am genuinely interested in getting to know them. And secondly they are surprised by the energy and excitement that I show while “working” (because nothing that I do really counts as work!). What I do is very personal to me. It’s an honor to be invited into some of the most special, and occasionally most heartbreaking, moments of peoples’ lives. I respect that very much, and I do everything that I can to help facilitate joy in any situation that I find myself in.

Do you have a cool job or know someone in the Seattle area who does? Email Michelle Archer with your recommendations for people to feature in Cool Job.