Glittering CV of quiet man of photography
Published: 08 Oct 2015
Steve Macleod is maybe not a name you have heard of. But that’s ok, that’s the way he likes it.
“I don’t have a website to promote myself, people can’t find me but I quite like that,” he said.
One thing he doesn’t like is talking about his career – one that has spanned more than 20 years and has projected him to the forefront of photographic imaging.
He has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry – including David Bailey and being Mario Testino’s personal printer – as well as celebrities including Pele, Paul McCartney and the members of One Direction. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s also mentored the Duchess of Cambridge.
Nowadays he works more as an advisor and consultant, as well as continuing to create his own work and exhibiting in both private and public collections. He is a senior director at Metro Imaging, has introduced innovative new technologies to his industry, instigated a company-funded professional mentoring scheme and helps businesses lobby the government to further fund and recognise craft apprenticeships.
It’s an unbelievably impressive resume and yet he just keeps his head under the parapet and works. His need to keep unnoticed stems from his time following graduating from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen when he was submerged in the world of commercial photography.
“Many years ago I got really fed up with my whole role in photography, it was too commercialised for me,” he said.
“I withdrew from showing people my own photographs after that. I never stopped taking photographs but I just never did anything with them.
“I work with a lot of people who are in the public domain the whole time and you sort of get swept along by that as well. In my own work I don’t want to have this big reveal, I don’t feel a need to talk about what I am up to all the time. It’s not that I don’t want people to know about it, it’s just that I am too easily swayed. People say why don’t you do it this way or why don’t you try this and I’ve tried that and I really got put off by it.
“My photography is mine, I own it and I don’t want to have to put it out there all the time. I’m lucky enough to have gallery representation, I’m lucky enough to have people appreciate my work enough to buy it, I really am appreciative but I don’t feel the need to go out on a big PR thing the whole time about what I am up to next.”
Against his natural urge Steve has agreed to take part in a major new photography festival being launched this week at his old haunt, Gray’s, in Aberdeen. Not only will he be exhibiting his own work, he will also be talking about his career.
“I’ve never spoken publicly about my work, ever. I talk all day about other people’s work, and about the industry but to turn the spotlight on yourself, I’m finding that quite difficult.”
In a sort of practice for his big debut, we spoke to Steve about his career, how he became interested in the art form and the best photograph he’s ever taken.
SO WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY?
My dad was a really keen amateur photographer so we always had cameras lying around. But I really got into photography in my teens as a bit of a distraction. I was into photographing everything around me and documenting what was going on where I lived in the Highlands.
WHERE IN THE HIGHLANDS ARE YOU FROM?
I grew up in Thurso in Caithness and I left school at 17 and went to London. Then I went back to Scotland, back up north to work as an engineer before going off to art college. I was a mature student, I was 23 and I’d never been in an art college, never spoken to any other artist or got involved in anything artistic but I had this idea that I didn’t want to be an engineer and I wanted to go to art college.
I always carried a camera and I just decided to take that leap.
BEFORE THAT POINT THEN, PHOTOGRAPHY WAS NEVER A CAREER OPTION FOR YOU?
No. I didn’t think I could make a career out of photography or painting. My brothers and I all had cameras and we would bounce around ideas. I remember in my teens we would shoot film and we would take it into the chemist in Thurso and it would get sent off to Inverness to get processed. We would wait a week to 10 days for it to come back and there was always that anticipation when you got that yellow folder of six by four prints back and it was always quite exciting.
So it was a big part of my teens but I never really thought this is something I wanted to do. I come from an engineering background and I thought I’d get an apprenticeship and get a trade and do that. That was fine. I actually quite enjoyed it at times but it wasn’t really what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I didn’t have an epiphany and think right this is what I am meant to do.
I applied for Gray’s School of Art and I got in based on my portfolio. It wasn’t a conscious thing on my part.
WHAT WERE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS LIKE AS A TEENAGER?
I think I took one good photograph. Honestly there is one good photograph that I keep in a sketchbook I’ve had since I was a teenager. It’s of something really innocuous, a stream with fast flowing water that I took on a slow shutter speed but the reeds around the burn are really pin sharp. When I went to Gray’s I took that with me. I think I’ve only ever taken three good photographs in my life.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK WITH BIG NAMES LIKE DAVID BAILEY?
I’ve always treated everyone the same. I’m very honest and down to Earth and pragmatic. I just want to get the best out of whoever I am working with. At the core of it all, I’m just really passionate about photography.
WHY WERE YOU KEEN TO SET UP THE PROFESSIONAL MENTORING SCHEME?
I felt that the industry really didn’t understand education and education really didn’t understand industry. I think there was a huge gap and we had this situation where people were graduating and not really knowing what to do next. I felt that when I was a graduate. I felt you were released into the big world and nobody is there to help you.
From an industry perspective you lose touch with people’s expectations of what they need, what services they require so I think it’s a two-way bridge. So I instigated the mentoring scheme which we fund to build a two-way bridge between the two.
When we pick people for the mentoring scheme we are not looking for a best in show or the high achievers. We are looking for people with potential who really need a genuine step up. We do it at their space, it’s geared to the individual. We support them financially, with network opportunities, technical and practical advice and industry experience.
SO FAR YOU’VE MENTORED MORE THAN 20 PEOPLE. YOU’VE ALSO MENTORED THE DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
Through the mentorship scheme and through my association with just generally helping people learn, I got contacted by a friend of Catherine who said I’ve got somebody who would genuinely appreciate some advice. I didn’t know at that point that it was Catherine. I just thought I’ll talk to anyone with an interest in photography and it just so happened to be Catherine.
I mentored her for about three years and the first thing I told her was she wasn’t a photographer, she was an artist that used photography. I treat everybody the same and how I would like to be treated. And we just worked from there. The friendship grew from that.
I very rarely see her anymore for obvious reasons. But I don’t talk about it a lot. I just keep my head below the parapet and work. It was interesting and my wife and I were lucky enough to go the royal wedding but I don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t have a card that says I was her mentor.
Catch Steve’s talk on his career on October 3 as part of the Develop North event at Gray’s from 10-11am. For all the events visit www.developnorth.com