Chris Francis used YouTube tutorials to build one of the city's largest photography studios
After his brother was killed in a hit-and-run smash, Chris Francis knew tomorrow wasn’t promised. He quit his job cruising the skies as a cabin crew member to pursue his passion of being a full-time photographer.
Chris took a gamble many doubted would pay off – despite being out of a job and relying solely on his savings he would eventually go on to own Birmingham’s largest Black-owned photography studio, CFC studio. Incredibly, he built most of the studio himself following YouTube tutorials.
While nobody was ever brought justice over the tragic death of his brother in 2021, the loss put life into perspective for Chris, he said. “I remember getting a call to tell me my brother had been hurt, I didn’t know how bad it was but at that moment I knew to quit my job – life is too short.
“When he died it blew me. I knew for sure I had to do what I loved because tomorrow isn’t promised.” The 42-year-old had dedicated 25 years to travelling the world as a cabin crew member with British Airways. From Brazil to Germany, Chris fell in love with each destination he visited and those different cultures became his muse for pursuing photography.
“I wanted to document the places I was visiting, to keep the memory alive. One day a friend told me: ‘When you go to these places you’re not a tourist or taking casual snaps. You’re making photography. You like people, focus on the people and get their stories.
“It made me realise there’s more I can be doing with the lens so I began documenting people’s lives.” As a young boy, he battled with undiagnosed dyslexia which made school a challenge for Chris. For years he shied away from picking up a pen in fear he’d be asked to write something. But he said making art filled him with a feeling of invincibility.
“Like many men in my generation I found out I had dyslexia very late into adulthood. I spent years running from picking up a pen or reading out loud but there was something in photography that gave me a voice I could use.
“But there’s something about picking up a camera and capturing a person’s true self for a split second. We have that small connection, they let their guard down slightly. I get to see the real them for a moment.
“I resonate with hiding yourself away but through photographing people and finding out their stories we both grow in confidence.”
Chris got his hands on an old industrial unit and spent nine months building his dream during lockdown. With a limited budget, he relied on Youtube tutorials and donations to create Birmingham’s biggest Black-owned photography studio.
“A lot of people were shocked when I quit a job I loved and didn’t think I’d be able to build my studio. There were a lot of sleepless nights but there was no going back. I spend hours watching tutorials on DIY stuff. From the flooring to the lighting, I did it all.
“My studio has exceeded the dream. It’s now visited by talented photographers but is also a place the community can come to learn photography.”