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Damian 'Big Dog' McGillicuddy - Speakers' Corner - part 1 of 1

by Damian McGillicuddy Published 01/11/2009

We don't believe there's ever been a speaker line-up quite like this before at any photo convention - anywhere. At the pioneering eight-day long 2011 gathering, our broad church of professional and aspirational photographer visitors will have a truly enormous choice of seminars to be delivered by 100 top-rated experts from across the globe. (We just wanted to make quite sure we had covered every subject under the imaging sun!)

Of course it would be impossible to produce personal profiles for every single speaker given obvious Imagemaker pagination restrictions, so we've drawn some of these key names out of the hat to give you an exclusive 'cross-section' profile snapshot. We asked them all similar questions - and here's the result.

Imagemaker: Tell us a little about your background.

DMcG: It was my uncle Brian who baptised me in the art of photography. I was 11 years old and my first camera was a Ricoh XR-1.

I started an art degree just two years later but I wasn't mature enough to handle it.

I was very shy at college and I was younger than the other students. This put me at a disadvantage with the girls - until they realised I could take a half-decent picture.

But I never settled at college. When the faculty head said to me: 'How would you photograph a building in Liverpool with a 5x4 camera?', I told her that: 'Actually I would go on a train'.

She wasn't amused and later told me I'd never make a photographer.

But at 16 I opened my own business. I had a Licentiateship at 16, an Associateship at 18 and a Fellowship at 29.

Now I'm running my 'Art for art's sake' studio and I've become known as 'Big Dog' McGillicuddy on the lecture circuit. (We're doing a roaring trade in 'I rolled with the Big Dog' t-shirts.)

Why photography?

That's a one word answer: girls.

Film or digital?

Ninety-nine per cent of our capture is digital now but I still keep all my old film gear and I still hanker after a darkroom. We think it's important that photographers today should have an understanding of the traditional film set-up.

I really miss silver halide. I used to shoot a roll of tranny film and 45 minutes later it was on a light-box. Now with digital, for every day of shooting there's about two days of post production.

Tell us about your capture devices.

Now I shoot mainly with the Nikon D3, D700 and D300 but I still have a Mamiya RB67 film camera.

Bit of detail about your own studio set-up/staffing.

Lesley is my wife and business partner and we run a 3,000sq ft studio in Warrington. Ian McBain handles the financial side of the business and we have make-up artists and two other staff.

The problem with professional photographers today is...

Some of them just don't bother to put any effort into training. They are wannabes who don't want to stretch themselves.

What's the worst commercial error you have made to date?

Divorce. Twice. The cost of that was horrendous.

How did you rectify the mistake?

Well put it like this, I won't allow anyone to dig up my patio!

But on reflection, the cost of my two previous marriages was worth every penny because Lesley is the best thing that ever happened to me.


Are you excited by the evolution of imaging? The future: is the (imaging business) glass half full or half empty?

Well, yes I am excited. The glass is always half-full in Warrington. And when it comes to training and workshops there are many who talk the talk but few who can walk the walk.

But I have to say that if photography ever ceased to be a profession and became a hobby or a pastime it would not be the fault of Phil and Juliet Jones. I am constantly amazed at the effort they put into improving standards of photography.

Is it getting harder or easier to make a decent living?

I think that today you have to put more in to get the same out. There has been a deluge of people picking up cameras and calling themselves photographers. Everyone wants to be a photographer now and sometimes it's hard for clients to see the wood from the trees.

How do you stay ahead of the game?

I am obsessed. This isn't a job to me. It's a mistress, an addiction and an affliction. We can't go on holiday for more than a week. I just have to get back to it.

How do organisations such as The Societies help?

I do not believe photographers would develop without The Societies. I really don't.

For me, no other photo-organisation matches its scale, its ambition and its enterprise.

I can tell you one thing, without The Societies photography would be in a far worse state than it now is. And that is for sure.

Why is The Societies Convention such a big deal for photographers?

Delegates can get prime access to photo-icons for pretty much the cost of buttons. It's a week of fabulous activity you cannot put a price on.

Your own mentors (living or dead)?

I have never had someone I would actually call a mentor. But there are plenty of photographers whose work I admire: Yerbury, Carlos Clarke, Mike Williams, David Facey.

Whose workshops would you attend at the Convention?

The one I do with Patrick Ciatto. Over and over again.

What do you think will be the next big thing in the industry?

Clients of quality social photography now want magazine-style shoots - and this genre will grow.

Would you want your own children to take up the reins of your empire?

It's entirely up to them. I am the Lord of Kerry so my eldest son will have to take over at least that part of it when I die. But it's up to him if he wants to get involved with the photo-business. I want my children to be happy and follow their own career choices. They won't get bullied by me.

Your plans for the next five years?

I have chronic problems with my leg and I know the day will come when I won't be able to shoot commercially any more. I nearly retired this year but Phil rang me and asked me to come and take a good look at the deleterious state of photography that still prevails and needs attention. He talked me out of retirement and now I cannot conceive of a situation in which I won't still be involved in photography. I will stay in the game through my training ambitions with programmes such as Mentor Me on Steroids.

I'm still only 39 and I guess I still have a desire to make sure people still know there really is only one 'Big Dog' in the yard!


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1st Published 01/11/2009
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