Andrew ‘Macfly’ Macpherson is one of the world’s preeminent photographers, having photographed U2 during their groundbreaking ZooTv tour and captured pictures of a plethora of icons from the worlds of film, music and entertainment.
His long list of A-list clients includes Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman, Jessica Alba, Sting, Charlize Theron and Nicki Minaj, to name a few, and his work has adorned the front covers of Rolling Stone, The Face, Vogue, i-D and Elle.
Macpherson’s photographic output has a unique and distinctive style, manifest in his use of stylish lighting and vibrant colour, which commands the viewer’s attention and has made him a superstar in his own right. After over 20 years in the industry, the LA-based British photographer remains at the top of his game, recently producing photographs to be used in the promotion of Mark Wahlberg’s new film, Contraband. But, with continual evolutions in the world of technology (Photoshop, the Digital SLR, superior smartphone cameras) impacting on the way professional photographers operate, even Macfly is having to adjust the way he creates his images.
A personal hero of Fotorater’s, having first caught our eye with his stunning picture of Elijah Wood set against an LA sunrise (see below) Andrew Macpherson took time out from his hectic schedule to discuss his career to date, the future of photography, and tell us who he’s enjoyed working with the most.
You left school at 15 to pursue your career. That’s incredibly young – what did your parents think?
When I got expelled my dad was really cool about it, and asked what I really wanted to do. I said I wanted to go to work, I knew I wanted to be a photographer, and that getting O & A levels was meaningless. I wanted to develop my skills in my craft, and learn to be the best I could be.
My father left school to join the RAF, then became a race car driver – so he’d always followed his own passion (going fast) and made a good life out of it.
I think he was happy I had something I really wanted to do. The deal was I could live at home for free while I did my ‘apprenticeship’.
Alexander Skarsg√•rd (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
How did you first get in to photography?
I was 13, sitting in the art class struggling with little success to draw an apple, when John Biggleston, the photography teacher, walked in, and asked ‘Any of you kids want to draw, but can’t?’. ¬†He had a beaming smile and a bright colored tie on, so I stuck my hand up, and the rest is history. He is still a close friend, and comes to visit every few years still, which is always a huge pleasure.
Bob Carlos Clarke taught me that there is no shame in exploring the depths of your darker side.
Which photographer/individuals have influenced your work/helped you with your career?
As a kid the biggest influence by far was the school library’s collection of the Time-Life Library of photography collection. I think it was comprised of around 20 books in total, and I always had my nose in one of them. My early heroes from them were Penn and W.Eugene Smith.
Once I started assisting, I got to work with several photographers who left an indelible mark on me, in order of appearance….
Bob Carlos Clarke taught me that there is no shame in exploring the depths of your darker side.
Ed White, an absolute technical master who did many B&H, Gordon’s Gins photoshoots in the late ’70s & early ’80s really taught me the patience to look, see improve, and never stop looking to improve.
Fabrizio Gianni taught me how to pre-visualize, and how to edit. I’m still amazed that some very big photographers have other people do their edits. Gianni really impressed on me the importance of editing.
Horst taught me to see architecture and interiors from a different perspective.
But, by far the greatest influence on me was the last photographer I assisted, Lord Snowdon. He taught me the importance of curiosity, humor, satire, and a limitless hunger to do better every time you pick up a camera. He was an incredible teacher, and by far the biggest influence on me.
Claire Danes (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
What was your major breakthrough moment?
As an assistant, getting to work with each of the guys I’ve already mentioned was a huge buzz, and each lifted me higher up the ladder.
As a photographer, for sure, it was meeting Amanda Harlech. I met her as an assistant, and we just got on really well together. She was already a star in the world of fashion, and asked me to come and shoot fashion with her. I had no intention of trying to work in fashion, but she pulled me in, and within a few months I was a fully working fashion photographer. It was an amazing gift that I’m incredibly grateful for. My nine years in fashion were simply incredible – there is no better job for a twenty-something-year-old who loves girls and loves photography!
Johnny Depp (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
Is there one image/project in particular that you’re especially proud of?
The one I’ll do tomorrow…
My first day with U2 was spent at the stadium photographing the building of the set, and that‚Äôs when the reality of what it means to entertain 80,000 people really sunk in.
You took the pictures for U2′s legendary ZooTV tour. What was that experience like?
Incredible! As a kid I’d listened to their early albums, and loved them, but fashion pulled me away from rock into House & Dance. Of course I knew they’d become massive, but I wasn’t really a follower or a fan as such.
When Vogue called me to do that shoot, they asked if I wanted to shoot them on a white background. I suggested we go on the road and turn it into a fashion story, and they all agreed.
My first day with U2 was spent at the stadium photographing the building of the set, and that’s when the reality of what it means to entertain 80,000 people really sunk in. The band were selling more tickets a night for $50 than UK Vogue was selling copies in a month at $5.
After working with U2 on that tour, I was lucky to be able to do a few other tours with them, and get a deeper insight into what it means to be U2. The way they run their business has been a huge influence on me, too. As a group of five they split everything equally, their manager Paul McGuinness being as good at his job as each of the others. Together the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts, and a big lesson in the power of harmony in a team.
Cover for U2′s Elevation (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
Which stars have you found it easiest to work with/created your best images of?
The ones who love what they do, and who love being in front of the camera. Great models are magic, and make a photographer’s perfect dancing partner. When it comes to entertainers – as a vast generalisation, musicians tend to be easier than actors because they are always just themselves. Actors are generally at their best when they’re someone else, and many don’t really like having to be who they are with the mask of another. Johnny Depp’s recent comment about how he feels like he’s being raped when he gets photographed gives a good reminder of actors’ true perspective of our work.
The Edge provided the foreword for your 2006 book ‘Two Million Miles’. Do you strike up friendships with your clients?
I feel like my journey along the river of life has been more like going over a perpetual waterfall. So many people have come into and gone out of my life. They themselves all have one thing in common – they are insanely busy. That is the penalty and result of success. That means it’s hard to say these are friends in the normal sense of the word, but they’re all people I’m thrilled to see when I see them.
I built my career on F3s – but Nikon lost me with their terrible F4 in 1991.
What’s your camera of choice? And what kind of equipment/photographic processes do you use to create the end product?
My camera of choice for the last 20 years has been Canon’s EOS line. But, they just lost me with the D1x, and I’m getting ready to switch back to Nikon. I built my career on F3s – but Nikon lost me with their terrible F4 in 1991.
For work I used the RZ67 until 2004, when I went all digi. I’ve been using that crappy Hasselblad H series, which I loathe. What a piece of shit camera! Though, I have totally fallen in love the new Phase One – Mamiya 645 system. It is really nice – especially with the 80MP back!
Everything else is Apple’s Preview to edit, and Photoshop adjust/manipulate/finish. That’s it!
Jessica Alba (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
How has the rapid development of technology impacted on your work as a photographer?
The same way I’m sure it has for everyone else. The barrier to entry is now so low that everyone and their mother is a photographer. So, there is both less work to go around and less value put on the expertise it requires to produce it. Honestly, I’m working three times as hard for quarter the pay, and the kids who grew up digitally are so damn good, too! When I began it was expensive to buy, process and print a roll of film, now I have a chip that holds a hundred rolls of 35mm film in my EOS. It’s no wonder Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection!
Bono on the cover of Rolling Stone (c) (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
Live for the present, because it really is all we have.
You lost a great deal of your work in a fire in 1997. How did this impact on you both personally and professionally?
Just because you capture moments in time, doesn’t mean that they’re yours to keep forever. Nothing is permanent – it all gets swept away in the sands of time. Eventually our sun will burn out, and when it does everything here is gone anyway. Live for the present, because it really is all we have.
Elijah Wood (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
You’ve been quoted as saying it’s important for fledgling photographers to study video. Do think you’ll eventually make the move into directing music videos/TV/films?
My passion is the picture – so, given the choice I’d prefer not. But, as we fall into the online streaming media world of the 21st century, I know there won’t be a choice for any of us. As a media consumer I know I prefer taking info in from streams than still and reading, so I think it’s really inevitable. I have friend whose two year old’s favorite toy is her iPhone. Imagine what she’ll want when she’s 18, or 28. It won’t be big blocks of paper cluttering up her space. My feeling is that magazines will go the way of vinyl, they’ll still be there, but more as a specialist enthusiast fringe thing. Billboards here in LA are already all becoming interconnected LED screens with streaming capability.
Larry Clark and David LaChapelle have made the successful transition from working in one artistic medium to another. Do you think working as a photographer is the perfect preparation for being a filmmaker?
I guess it’s as good as any other, but not all photographers make great films, so for sure it isn’t a slam dunk kind of thing. Actors make better directors.
Why LA instead of London or New York?
I fell in love with California, and LA is the only city I could make a living in to be here.
You’re originally from London – do you return their often?
No, when I have time off I’d rather go places I’ve never been before.
Gary Oldman (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
You recently did a shoot with Oscar nominee Gary Oldman. What was he like to work with?
Wonderful, a real Londoner. We spoke a lot about David Bailey, as Gary and he come from the same neighborhood. I tried to work with Bailey, and actually got to spend a great evening with him in Milan when I was working with Fabrizio.
What are your favorite locations for backdrops to your photography?
California, that’s why I’m here!
Look long and hard at the business, understand what it is and how it‚Äôs changing ‚Äì because you need to feed yourself and your family.
Lucy Liu (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
Some advice for individuals starting out in the world of photography…
Look long and hard at the business, understand what it is and how it’s changing – because you need to feed yourself and your family. There is a historical precedent in our media world. Look at the history of lithography. Every image in every newspaper and magazine was a lithograph until photography displaced it. Photography killed that craft, and made many, many craftsmen irrelevant.
I suspect streaming media and the digital revolution will do just the same to photography, as a business at least.¬† If you want to work with images, you have to be a new media master.
Thanks to the arrival of smartphone cameras and technological advances, can anyone now be a photographer?
The citizen journalist is here. Have you seen Giles Clarke’s amazing images of the Occupy Wall St movement, all done on his iPhone 4?
LA on Christmas day (c) Andrew Macpherson 2012
What’s next for Andrew Macpherson?
Being in the present, and right now that means walking the dogs!