Discovering a Sense of Place with Photographer Ian Macleod

Written by Artie The Panda

Having worked in the music and medical journalism fields, Ian Macleod has had his photographs featured in The Boston Globe, The Tacoma News Tribune and even a few album covers. These days, this Seattleite is focused on documenting the city’s fast-changing architecture. He sees the urban landscape as a “cinematic experience” that, through photography, is “collapsed into a singular, recontextualized instant.” We couldn’t have said that better ourselves.

From people to places.

As his focus moved from people to documenting places, Ian decided to earn a master’s degree in architecture. Apparently he tapped into that same resolute spirit the time he trudged 10 miles to capture a radio tower from different perspectives.

Professional presentation.

Ian enjoys being hands-on with his work, including the presentation. He appreciates Frame Destination’s high-quality, affordable moulding and glazing for DIY framing projects. “In particular, I’m a fan of Nielsen Profile 97 in Florentine Black,” Ian tells us. “For larger prints, this moulding is bold enough to set off the image from the wall, but subdued so as not to distract front he subject matter. The Florentine finish gives just a hint of texture and produces a very professional product.”

See more of Ian’s work.

If you Google “Ian Macleod,” you’re likely to wind up on the home page of the spirits distiller by the same name. You can skip that step and visit Ian’s Instagram page to enjoy his latest images. To view his full portfolio, including upcoming exhibit dates, go straight to his website. And to discover Ian’s childhood fascination, his biggest career regrets and his take on super long-focus lenses, check out our Q&A below.

Now for Artie’s Eight Q&A with Ian Macleod …

1. What is your background; how did you get started?
I don't think I'm unique among photographers in saying I was interested in the medium from a very early age. As a kid, I was fascinated by Polaroids—the magic of a print developing before your eyes. Initially I was far more interested in the technical aspect of instant photography and trying to understand the machinations behind the magic, but quickly grew to embrace the immediacy and objectivity of recording our individual experiences. About a decade later, I pursued an undergraduate degree in photojournalism.

2. How important is it for a photographer to “connect” with their subject?
I think this depends on the type of photography one practices. For my own work, it's highly divergent. For example, in street photography, it's more about connecting with the scene and setting, and allowing the pieces to fall into place. When traveling to a new city, I'll wander for hours to gain a sense of place, and plant myself on a street corner waiting for action to happen. Photographing architecture requires knowing a building’s character and background, so I'll do as much research I can on the architect and its history. Basically I treat the subject building much in the same way as I would photograph a person, attempting to capture its personality in a unique light.

3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice you’ve received within your career?
Perhaps it's cliché, but “never stop shooting.” Don't worry about wasting film, or card space. Once a shoot is done, it can never be recaptured. Film and hard drive space are cheap compared to time, whether that's time spent on a shoot, or time passed since a shoot. My biggest regrets in my career are the photographs not captured, for posterity's sake or for the few extras that might fill out the story of a shoot. Your client might only choose one ‘highlight" image for their own purposes, but it's the photographic “b-sides" that end up going in my portfolio.

4. What ways does your work reflect your personality?
My own work is, in a way, both a reflection and a counter to my personality. My mind is a bit of an "organized chaos," and photographing my day-to-day life is a way to sort out my memories and experiences. Compositionally, my work is antithetical to the way my brain works. I tend to favor the asymmetrical and off-balance, but the overarching theme is a subdued minimalism. In a way, focusing on conveying the most with the least is a way of taming my thought process. At any given time I have about 10 different projects cooking on the back burner, and focusing on simple composition allows me to tackle them.

5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?
Anyone who works in a creative field inevitably gets them. Since taking up photography for the third time in my life, that often comes in the form of flashes of self-doubt—waking up and thinking, “What on earth am I doing?” Yet those inklings are what keep me on my toes and moving forward. Resolving it might be in the form of a dose of affirmation: framing and hanging an older piece I can be proud of, and see the finished result of hard work. Other times it's getting out and seeing something new. This doesn't have to be traveling to an exotic locale, but perhaps visiting a part of town I haven't viewed through a camera lens.

6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)
As a Northwesterner, it's hard not to say coffee—and I'm a huge fan of our independent roaster scene, which makes up for my deficiencies trying to roast my own. There are probably five or so coffeehouses within a few blocks of my home that make for a nice workspace when I need a little sunlight. Aside from that, my own two feet. My undergraduate professor forbade us from using zoom and long-focal-length lenses, imploring us to explore our subject more viscerally. With longer distances, you never know what you'll find along the way. On occasion I've taken that to the logical extreme, having once walked 10 miles across town to photograph a radio tower from different vantages!

7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?
Like I mentioned, I've usually got a few projects simmering, but lately I've been interested in pushing photography to its extreme with highly abstract architecture, landscapes and macro-photography, the latter a more recent interest. However, because I’m a native Seattleite and work in the historic preservation community outside of photography, my work has taken me to document the city's rapidly disappearing architectural fabric, a subject rich in different representational opportunities.

8. What “fad” gadget do you most regret purchasing?
It's hard to say, but likely lenses that are at the extreme—fisheye and very long-focus lenses. They look very impressive on the camera and can add interest on a shoot when used sparingly, but more often than not, they take up too much bag and closet space. There's plenty of rental houses out there these days that let you play to your heart's content without spending several figures.

All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.

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