Learn from the journey
I'm just gonna give you a brief history of me, where I came from. I was born in Scotland. I went to a school just outside Edinburgh and I pretty much had a straightforward, ordinary upbringing. My father was a professional boxer and my mother was a professional hairdresser. And I went to Lasswade High School, just as I said, just outside Endinburgh. And one of the major turning points for me was that I went to a dance once in Edinburgh and I met this wonderful girl. And we began dating. And the strange thing was we actually found out that we'd gone to school together, primary school together, and we found one of the original photographs, which I have, and there's 36 kids in the class and we're actually sitting together in the front row. Well, she was already going down to a job in London, we were 17 and she already had a job down in London at the Foreign Office. And of course, I decided to follow her down there and I got a job in the Air Ministry working on Blue Streak...
missiles of all things. And she was across the street from me, we had lunch every day, and bit by bit, we got engaged, and then got married. Came back up to Edinburgh, got married, and went back down to London. A year later, our first son was born. And I decided to go back up to Edinburgh and I got a job in a chocolate factory testing chocolates. And Elizabeth, my wife, she decided to go back to college and to become a teacher. And I started to go to night school and I went to art classes for two nights and mathematics two nights, which are kind of an odd combination. And life was quite tough, but after one year in Edinburgh, I got a position or I got an entry into Dundee College of Art. and Elizabeth transferred up to Dundee College of Education. And that was the beginning really of our post education as it were. I spent four years in Dundee, really loving every minute of it. And I decided really to specialize after two years in graphic design, Elizabeth qualified as a teacher, and we had our second son was born. And I really discovered graphic design at that point. Through graphic design was really my first real connection with photography, super connection with photography. And I have to say that when I got my hands on a camera, things changed for me. I loved graphic design, I loved art, I spent a lot of time with paintings, museums, and my courses entailed a lot of drawing, a lot of painting, even pottery and silversmithing. And I had a very good photography lecturer that was brand new in the school and he was a fanatic in the darkroom, he loved darkroom. And he really instilled that in me, the importance of the photographic print. So at this point I really became obsessed. And for my 21st birthday, my wife got me a small camera, a simple camera called a Fuji. And I really, as I said, became obsessed at this point. And I can't emphasize enough the importance of my art training and the graphic training that I received. And to this day, I still rely on that, really. Because a lot of the teachers were forcing you to think about what you were doing, not just how the graphics played. And I completed my course there, Elizabeth by this time was qualified as a teacher, and I applied to get into the Royal College of Art in London to the Graphic Design School. And I passed the exam, which was not easy back then, it was a two-year course. And we moved down to London, Elizabeth got a teaching job, and I began studying, not graphic design, but they thought I was better suited to the film school. So I went in to film school to come out as a director. So once you put together all of this art training and things like sculpture, painting, drawing, and of course graphic design, album design, a book jacket design, posters, then three years in London at film school, it was the time of The Beatles and The Who and the Rolling Stones, it was kind of a wonderful time. It was very hard for us, we had two children, but I kept up during my film school days, I kept up my love of photography. I was over in the Royal College of Art Photography School in the evenings printing, and still I was always doing photography work, as somewhat on the side, but I was always passionate about it. And then I actually managed to get one or two jobs photographing some catalogs and store windows for an American company. So I even began to make a little bit of money doing that. And in the summer between Dundee College of Art, which was then St. Andrews University, and going down to the Royal College of Art. I actually won a scholarship with IBM to America for a month. And I was flown over to America and I went from New York to Aspen in Colorado to LA to San Francisco, Chicago, and then Washington DC. And that was very formative, because I went to the Aspen Design Conference. I met a lot of interesting people. I had dinner with John Cage, the composer, and all of this is affecting your future way of reasoning and thinking and putting your life together, really. But it was an odd environment. So by the time I finished three years later at the Royal College, I was really interested in going back to America. And Elizabeth got a teaching job in Los Angeles and I actually went in as her dependent. So the four of us arrived in the states with not a lot of money. But one of the kind of slightly stupid things I did, I had done an advertising job before I left London photographing a rental catalog. And with the money from that, I bought a Mustang in Washington DC and we drove across America in the summertime, which was a little bit foolhardy. And we arrived in America on August the 28th, 1970. (cars honking) I really began in LA, I had a little portfolio, I had my Hasselblad with me and with one lens. And Elizabeth began teaching and we were in Los Angeles, just outside of Los Angeles. Things were tough, we didn't really have much money at all, and we had this brand-new car, but not a lot of money. And I had one connection in Los Angeles with this art buyer at a advertising agency. And this art buyer, I met him 'cause he was the only connection I had and he said well, I can introduce you to somebody at Max Factor. And he introduced me to the head of Max Factor, which is a cosmetic company, obviously. And he introduced me to the head of international Max Factor. And the guy looked at my portfolio and said you don't really have any shots of women, it's a women's company. And I said well, they're kind of on the boat coming over, which was of course was a fat lie. And he said well, I'll tell you what I'll do for you. He said, I'll give you an hour's booking with a model and we've got some dresses leftover from shootings in the closet. So you can take the clothing and do an hour's shoot. So I went to the advertising agency, picked a girl that I thought was good. Excuse me, the modeling agency. Picked a girl that I thought was good and spoke to her and said would you like to do a long shooting day and I'll give you some of the shots for your portfolio? And I went out with my one camera and my one lens and picked her up at 7:30 in the morning and I shot until 7:30 at night. And all of the money I had, I put into the film. So here I was going around shooting her in long grass and shooting her in the beach, shooting her in adobe houses and et cetera, et cetera. And she brought along this male model friend of hers and I did pictures of them together. So three or four days later, I went back into Max Factor with my meeting with all of this film. And of course I produced the film and the guy was astonished and he said, oh my god, how did you manage to do this in an hour? And I said well, I actually talked the girl into doing it, but she's just charging you for an hour. And he looked at it and then I wasn't even sure that he liked all of what he saw, but he said give me a minute and he went away with three of the rolls of film. And he came back and he said I've good news for you, he said I've just sold three of these images for you and he said we'll buy them from you. And he said let me know the cost of the film and the processing and he said I'll give you a PO. And of course in those days I didn't know what was a PO was, a purchase order. And I got into the elevator and ripped open the envelope and I was kind of looking at them thinking $150 a shot. So that was $450 plus expenses and I thought that's fantastic. And when I got home and we had to type out a bill, Elizabeth who was typing out the bill on a school typewriter, she looked at it and said you know it's not $150, it looks like it's $1,500. So I said $1,500, that's impossible, because we did three of them and that's $4,500. At this point Elizabeth's salary was about $1,500 a year, so how could it possibly be $4,500? And we thought shall we just bill it anyway and hope for the best? And I said we're gonna get deported or something for some sort of crime. And so I had a meeting with this guy two days later and I spoke to him about this. And I said I just wanted to clarify the money that was on the purchase order and I said it was actually $4,500. And he looked at me and he said well $4, is all we can afford at the moment, he said, but I'll get you more money the next time. So of course at this point $4, was like just a ridiculous amount of money for us. You have to remember this was 1970, 71, and $4,500 was really a lot of money, it was more like probably 40,000 today. So, of course, that was really my first large, decent paying job that I had done. And within a year, I had a very good studio. Within three years we had the biggest studio in Los Angeles. So that helped me, really, was a major turning point for me that, that job. And I was really putting into play all of the things that I had learned over these previous years, even silly things like missile research or chocolate, analyzing chocolate, and then seven years at art college. That all of these things really came into play really at that point. Plus, the dominant thing, my absolute passion and dedication to photography. It never seemed like a job to me, it just seemed like something you wanted to do. So after three years I was in this beautiful studio in LA, and then the next thing was we got lots of calls from New York. I was in LA between 1970 and '76, but in 1974 I opened a small studio in New York. I actually did 40 roundtrips in my first year and bit by bit I established myself as a New York photographer. And that's actually where I am today. And we shut down the LA operation and I moved into New York and began working at that time for New York magazines, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, GQ, then later on Rolling Stone. I always kept an interest in still life, portraiture, and fashion, and I was running all of these things together. In fact, a lot of people I did still life with didn't know I did fashion, and the people that I did portraiture of celebrities really didn't know that I did that and they thought I was a fashion photographer. So I've been now in New York now for 40 years working, always doing my own projects, really holding on to all of these things from the past, but always look for the future. (bright music)