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Gordon McGowan - Speakers' Corner - part 1 of 1

by Gordon McGowan 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, your first camera and photographic experience and your subsequent emergence as a pro.

GMcG: I used to be very shy as a child but that all changed after a spell in hospital to treat a burst eardrum condition.

That was back in 1961. My father turned up in the ward with a cheap Russian camera and it changed my outlook completely. I started taking pictures of people and it helped me overcome my shyness.

Why photography?

As a child (like all small boys) I had always wanted to be a train driver but my father's influence drew me towards photography as a possible career.

Film or digital? Is there still a place for silver halide?

I do still occasionally shoot film and I always keep some in my fridge. There is still something special about the look and feel of it. Perhaps it's pure nostalgia but I still love the anticipation of waiting until the end of the week when the film comes back.

Tell us about your capture devices.

These days I shoot with a Canon 5D MK11 (I always carry a spare 5D too) and I mainly use a 24/105mm lens.

Bit of detail about your own studio set-up?

When we had our house built I asked the architect to build in a studio. We look out onto hills and fields in Dunbartonshire and soon, when the new sun room is completed, we will use that space to project our images on the wall for customers to view.

The problem with professional photographers today is...

There are far too many part-timers who consider themselves professional. They haven't even learnt the basics. They just pick up a digital camera and think they can go and shoot a wedding. Some of the images I see on websites are just appalling. You can't just snap a couple on a pathway and call it a wedding picture. What happened to posing skills?

Digital is to blame for this because it doesn't cost anything to rattle off hundreds of frames in an afternoon.

I am a traditionalist with a twist. My own wedding photography really comprises landscapes with people in them. I believe in good posing, backgrounds and expressions.

Another problem is that often the British people don't really know what a good picture is anymore. These days brides seem more interested in looking at the album itself than the pictures in it. This is why I don't use 'story books'. I hate them with a vengeance. I believe in one picture per page.

The really sad thing is that I just don't see any new stars coming up through the ranks.


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

Back in the days of covering weddings with both film and digital cameras, I was shooting with the Fuji S1 when I made a fundamental card formatting error - and it caused me no end of problems. I did have most of the key pictures needed on film though.

The lessons learnt?

I just try to avoid all errors in the first place.

Are you excited by the evolution of imaging?

Yes and no. If you don't have the vision to take a picture it really doesn't matter what you have in front of your camera. It's about creating a picture, not taking a picture. The difference between the two is what makes you a pro.

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

I am not optimistic. I think it's getting harder. There is a cheap end and a top end of the market these days - and very little in the middle. There are photographers out there working for nothing. The low end is flooded with people who should never even pick up a camera.

Reportage should never have happened in my view - it has just brought down the standard of photography.

How do you stay ahead of the game?

I study all the fashion magazines, videos and everything that's visually exciting to me.

I am a great admirer of Keith Thompson's early work with dramatic backgrounds and Trevor Yerbury's inspirational imagery in graveyards. And their work today is still at the cutting edge.

How do organisations such as The Societies help?

They run very good business seminar programmes - just look at the speaker programme for the 2010 Convention.

Why is The Societies Convention such a big deal for photographers? Is it primarily about the chance to learn from the experiences of imaging icons?

I think it's about the social scene. It can be quite lonely being a photographer and conventions such as this really help. You can have a proper chat with people and really see what gets them excited.

Your own mentors (living or dead)?

Keith Thompson, Trevor Yerbury, Brian Aris and Bruce Smith.

If you could pick just FIVE seminars (other than your own of course!) to attend at The Societies Convention whose workshops would you attend? Why?

Bruce Smith, Keith Thompson Bjorn Thomassen, Stuart Bebb and Damian McGillicuddy.

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

Digital video capture. There's no question about it. But I will wait for the next generation of hardware before I start to use it. I think the new 5D is just too clumsy in video mode - but this is definitely the future.

Your plans for the next five years?

Enjoy my life; taking pictures, mentoring and putting something back into the profession.

It's very pleasing when other people enjoy your work, especially your peers.


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1st Published 01/11/2009
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