Face value

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One of the well-honed skills of any Londoner worth their salt is an ability to keep walking and continue with their journey at a rapid pace, regardless of what stands in their way – be it a clipboard-wielding “chugger” (charity mugger), desperate to ascertain your bank details for their cause; a tube-map-clutching tourist trying to navigate the split in the Northern line; or, the worst offenders, someone dragging a wheelie suitcase behind them at King’s Cross Station, seemingly oblivious to their wake of chaos and destruction. It takes some real bravado to stop a Londoner in their tracks, press the pause button and – on top of that – ask them to do something. Yet in spite of his shy nature, this is exactly what photographer David Mclean does every day.

“I find it quite natural to go up to strangers, I don’t think twice about it,” says Mclean, who as well as countless unknowns has also managed to capture the likes of Adele, Carey Mulligan and Kate Moss in his street portraits. “I go into a sort of trance. When I look back at the shots once they are on the blog, I always think someone else has taken them.” And indeed, Mclean’s photographs have an intimate quality which simultaneously allows you to forget about the photographer – the middleman so to speak – and enjoy looking deep into somebody’s face, whilst also making you wonder where they were when it was taken, what they were thinking and what the photographer was thinking.

Naturally lit, and almost always with their subject looking straight into the lens, Mclean’s photographs are of people he has bumped into in his day-to-day life – on the street, at the bus-stop or when out walking his dog: “I always have my camera with me, it’s always charged” he says, “I’d be devastated if I saw someone one day and didn’t have it with me”. The resulting portraits are the subject of his blog, Shot by Shooter, a collaborative project with Danny Hunter, who is Shooter’s art director. Each day, a new photograph appears, simply cropped and labelled with the subject’s first name.

The photographs share a natural quality. Mclean’s subjects gaze into his lens, devoid of self-consciousness and with an intimacy usually reserved for a lover. Each and every person looks like a professional model, like a Benetton advertisement from the nineties with – dare I say it – an urban twist, yet they are all just people he has come across. What does he say when he stops and asks them to pose? “That’s a trade secret,” replies Mclean, rather mysteriously.

Indeed, the mystery behind each photograph’s circumstances is one of the things which makes Shot by Shooter so addictive. The blog, which often features people with interesting style – a quirky hat here, an unusual tattoo there – feels in some ways like the ‘style-hunter’ section of some fashion magazines, but without the informative little caption explaining what the subject does for a living or where they found their vintage pearl-set. If Shot by Shooter had such captions, they would all read “models’ own”.

And so, the viewer is immediately able to fill the gaps with their own imagination. Like the ultimate exercise in ‘people-watching’, where Maclean has already sifted through the dross and found the most interesting people to examine. All that is left is to look, to collect, and to judge a little. Though this is not Mclean’s intention:

“I don’t ever want to mock the person – you know, like they do on Vice magazine’s “do’s and don’ts page” for example, where people are slated. I don’t want to do that. Particularly since I often photograph people who have a kind of fragile beauty – I don’t ever want to mock them”.

So why does Mclean think people look at the blog? “They’re nosey I guess” he says “And they like the fashion and they want to look at cute boys. And it’s kind of addictive. I don’t think that my photographs mean anything, they are just what someone sees in them – I think photography only has meaning when someone looks at it. They’re just snapshots.”

This response is fairly typical of the self-effacing Mclean who volunteers that he is “surprised that you even want to interview me”. And, whilst he accepts that he has an eye, he is quick to point out his own perceived flaws or limitations whilst lavishing praise on others.

One such person for whom he is full of praise is Shot by Shooter’s Art Director Danny Hunter: “Danny is an amazing art director, a cheerleader, and fundamental – he’s the most wonderful person ever. I get all of the credit, but I see it very much as a double-act,” Mclean says.

If, then, Mclean is the artist in the field, finding the subjects and taking the photographs, Hunter is the artist and curator in the studio, choosing the final image from the 10-15 shots taken of each subject, editing them and uploading them. “He also gives me feedback – tells me what to avoid – tells me if the colour is wrong or something else. And he’s right. It may sound arrogant, but the only person whose opinion I care about, beyond mine, is Danny’s. In fact, if I like an image and Danny doesn’t, it doesn’t go onto the blog. I just accept it. Because he’s right – he’s always right.”

Mclean didn’t train as a photographer and, in spite of his success, still doesn’t photograph full-time. When in 1989, however, aged 20, he spotted Vivienne Westwood in an Edinburgh cafe, he knew that he had to find a way to record the moment and to create a reason for dialogue. And so he asked to take her photograph. He found the experience both thrilling and addictive and continued to photograph people regularly:

“I went to Milan some years back to work as an English teacher and I became obsessed with supermodels” he explains. “It was like a game hunt – completing a list – like Top Trumps! I wanted to collect them all. I photographed Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, all of them.” When, years later in London, Danny saw Davey’s untouched archive of photographs he persuaded him that he had a talent and came up with Shot by Shooter as a platform for this talent.

Recently, following a chance meeting with Paul Smith’s art director and, founder of Aboud Creative, Alan Aboud, Davey was introduced to Paul Smith. Smith bought a photograph Davey had taken of David Bailey and after a series of meetings – each of which the ever-diffident Davey came away from thinking “that’ll never happen” – proposed two ideas. Firstly, that Davey should start to work as a casting agent for his campaigns and, secondly, that he should put on an exhibition in his Tokyo store. Since then, Davey has also shot a couple of stories for the designer, as well as photographing backstage at his shows.

So what now for Shot by Shooter? “It’s still all about the pictures,” he says. “I don’t want to run before I can walk. Another company asked me to shoot for them, but I didn’t like what they were doing, so I didn’t do it. I have no expectations, but I also remain quite precious about it. I have to keep my integrity. Success has come to me late in life – I’m 44 – so I’m quite precious about it. Maybe I’ll change in the future, but for now, I’m not going to give it away to the highest bidder.”

And who is next on his Top Trumps list? “It sounds silly, but I do have a list of people and I always meet them. Rufus Wainwright, Marc Almond – they were both on my list and I bumped into them. I do believe that I attract them” he laughs. “I’m also always really excited about the next person I’ll see, whoever they are. As long as I keep getting a thrill out of it, I’ll keep doing it”

by Emilie Lemons

Shot by Shooter’s solo exhibition is currently on show in Paul Smith’s Space Gallery, Tokyo until November 25:

Paul Smith Space 5-46-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Tel: 03 5766 1788

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