Apr 23, 2008
Excellent news for photography lovers with access to central London: there’s an exhibition of photographs by Don McPhee on at the Guardian Newsroom in London (60 Farringdon Road, opposite The Guardian offices), running from last Friday, April 18th through to the end of June.
In case you don’t know who he was, Don McPhee was one of the photographers who really helped to define the visual style of Guardian news photography over three decades of working with the paper before his death early last year. If you’ve been reading the paper for a while, you will have seen his images, and I’m sure there are many you’ll recognise in the retrospective.
Most of his work was black and white, and he had an amazing eye for composition and delicate humour in his work. He was especially known for his portrayal of life in the North – something which was especially evident in his coverage of the miners’ strike in the early eighties, during which he produced iconic images, many of which can be seen in the exhibition.
I’m not writing this and recommending this exhibition because I’m a corporate
schill shill (sorry for typo) and I work for The Guardian these days: I’m telling you about it because ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been inspired and moved and amazed by Don McPhee’s work, and the fact that I now work for the same organisation which used to commission and publish him is the icing on the cake.
This image of my teenage bedroom, taken when I was, I think, 14 or 15, reveals that (as well as being a bit serious and gothy and having a cold), I used to spend a lot of time going through the paper every day, cutting out the most striking pictures – many of which were McPhee’s work – and building an enormous collage, which eventually expanded to entirely cover my bedroom walls.
I was curious about how they were composed, intrigued as to how they told or related to a specific story or revealed a particular aspect of an individual or situation. It was probably my love for this body of photographic work and the particular visual vocabulary of styles it uses – documentary, juxtaposition, social observation, everyday, candid, striking – which has embedded in me a lifelong love of photography and taking photos myself.
If I can achieve a minute percentage of the creative results that Don McPhee managed, then I’ll be incredibly happy. I’ve got no pretension that I am a photographer, though: I just take photographs. But I’ll admit to being heavily, indelibly influenced by his work (along with others, like Martin Parr), and proudly so.
In any case, if you are in or around London in the next couple of months, do check out the exhibition if you get a chance. It’s free, a real treat, and well worth a visit (the attached cafe does a nice blueberry yoghurt muffin, too).
There’s an excellent gallery of the sort of thing you can expect within the exhibition, here.
More Don McPhee loveliness online:
- Working with Don: Whilst covering the 1988 US presidential elections for The Independent Brian Harris found his visual style changed after teaming up with rival press photographer Don McPhee of The Guardian.
- The Online Photographer obit
- Gallery of shots from his Manchester exhibition
- Maxïmo Park explain why they wrote a song about Don McPhee