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|08-15-2003, 02:21 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2000
Local Time: 05:21 PM
Interview : Andrew MacPherson *
By Devlin Smith
Andrew MacPherson has been taking pictures since he was a teenager. Learning his trade as an assistant to some of Britain’s top fashion photographers, he began making a name for himself in post-punk London through his work in fashion and music.
His career has taken many twists and turns, few planned, all greatly enjoyed. Today, MacPherson is based out of Los Angeles where his MacFly Inc. has photographed celebrities like Janet Jackson, Pink, Johnny Depp and Christy Turlington, in addition to the work they have done with cars and travel.
Of all the work he’s done, the projects that may be closest to MacPherson’s heart are those he has done with U2, a band he met more than 10 years ago and has been to recording studio, stage and fashion set with. Below, MacPherson talks about his photography and his relationship with U2.
How did you first get interested in photography?
When I was 13 I went to a really boring school in England, really gray and grim, and the art master was a little bit more interesting than the rest of the masters and he had a friend who taught photography and one afternoon a week he’d come and teach photography. When he came, he was just so much fun and so inspiring, I was like, “I want to learn whatever he’s teaching.”
When did you start thinking this was something you could do professionally?
I understood it pretty quickly. Right around the same time all the career offices were coming around and seeing if you were going to be cut out to be in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy or be a doctor or a lawyer, and none of those seemed like good options so I realized I had to make a pretty hasty escape from normality.
Early on you worked as an assistant to various photographers including Snowdon [British fashion photographer and former husband of Princess Margaret], how did you connect with him?
I worked as a motorcycle messenger for a color lab and that color lab, Snowdon was one of their clients and one day his assistant was ill and he was looking for somebody to come and help, and I knew his other assistant because he rode the same motorbike as me and he was like, “Do you want to go and do this?” so it was pure chance, pure luck.
How did you begin to break out doing your own work and no longer be an assistant to other photographers?
After I left Snowdon, I just started working, actually photographing bands in nightclubs in London, it was in that kind of post-punk era. I did a set of pictures at the opening of the Camden Palace, which at the time was a big nightclub in London, and I set up a studio, did pictures of people on the opening night. The photo editor of one of the magazines in London saw, I gave everyone in the picture a print, they saw a print that I had given to someone and asked me if I would sell them the pictures. I sold them the pictures and then someone in their fashion department saw the pictures, liked the pictures and said, “Hey, come and shoot fashion for me,” and so it literally went like that, it was just incredible good luck.
In the beginning did you have any more of an interest in doing fashion or music, or did you want to do regular art photography?
In the very beginning I really thought I was going to be doing more commercial, like advertising-style photography, that’s really what I thought was going to happen. I really never expected what happened to be what happened, believe it or not, it’s amazing.
Because you had that commercial interest in the beginning, do you think that’s had any influence on what you have ended up doing?
Not really. Really and truly I’ve spent my whole life, just when something interesting has come up and someone’s asked me to do something that sounded interesting or sounded like fun, I’ve said yes. It’s kind of how I ended up here in LA and it’s just whenever good things happen, I just go with them and let them take me where they do. I couldn’t even begin to tell you that I planned my life out because I absolutely haven’t, it’s just been a series of surprises for me.
Why is your company called MacFly?
When I first started out as a photographer there was a hairdresser I worked with who everything to him was “fly,” he was actually from Blackpool but he in his heart he was a Jamaican so everything was fly this and fly that and I became MacFly. It just stuck, it just became a nickname that stuck with me. It has nothing to do with “Back to the Future” at all.
When did you first meet U2?
I actually met them in Boston [during the ZooTV tour]when I was doing a story on them for English Vogue, it was a combination story of fashion and music. In fact originally English Vogue, they rang me up and said, “Do you want to photograph U2 in the studio?” and said, “Yeah, okay, but wouldn’t it be more fun to do something more unusual? If we’ve got a band like that, why don’t we go on tour with them and turn it into a fashion story?” and they were like, “Okay, let’s do that.” They said, “We’ll ask the band,” and they asked the band and the band were up for it so I went on tour for a couple of weeks with them and then when they came into New York, we did a fashion story with Christy Turlington, who is still great friends with all the members of the band. I guess in a lot of ways that was kind of the shoot that introduced those two worlds - the music and the supermodels.
That ended up being a really influential time for them as far as making friends with all of the different models and also the change in their image. Did you have any idea of how of a turning point that was going to be for U2?
I really didn’t. It was an incredible and very surprising experience to be on the Zoo tour because they had climbed to the top of the mountain and when you get to the top of such a mountain, you have to come down and find another mountain to climb, which they did with Elevation. Who knew where they would go next? Who could see what would be the next 10 years from the point of Zoo? But Zoo was amazing, because we were all so much younger then, they’re all my age, no one from our generation had achieved anything like that. My brother and all his friends are all 10 years older and they’re all proud of The Stones and The Who and The Beatles and everybody like that, so from me it just felt so good to see somebody from my generation take it to such a level.
You take both live stage shots and studio shots, how different do you feel your responsibilities are in doing those things?
Tricky question. In terms of responsibility, obviously you’ve always got the responsibility of making sure the picture comes out. Other than that, I guess when you’re directing somebody and they’re there for the specific reason of taking the picture, you don’t really think about it, you’re just working instinctively to make the right picture.
I started work with [U2] in the [Elevation] rehearsals in Miami and then I shot a bunch of stuff of them there, the press publicity, different things for the tour, and then when they went on tour I dropped in at different times and had different little moments with them in different cities. Then on the last night of the tour, which was again back in Miami, so it had gone full circle, they just gave me the stage for the evening so I actually spent the whole night on stage with them photographing the concert from their point of view, from more or less their point of view, which was amazing. When you’re working like that your responsibility is to keep out of the way, is to make sure that nobody trips over you and that you’re not in the way.
What was that like to sort of come out of the crowd and experience the show from that on-stage viewpoint?
It underlines the power of music. I did the same thing on ZooTV, I was on stage with them for one night in ZooTV and in Zoo there were 65,000 people in the audience and to be on the stage is like being, in a way, on the altar in an incredible congregation, all that energy is focused on you. To see it from an outsider’s perspective, being in the middle of it, it’s really extraordinary, the power and the energy of entertaining that many people with your songs and that many people responding and loving your songs in city after city, I say to my friend it’s the best job in the world and the ultimate magic carpet ride being on tour like that. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard work, every job is hard work, of course it’s really hard work making sure it’s perfect every night, being in your best form, making sure you give your best because you have a responsibility to 75,000 people who’ve given you a big chunk of change to be entertained by you. It isn’t that it isn’t work, it’s immense work but [U2 does] it so well and they entertain and they please their audience so well at every turn, which are things that have really inspired me about the band.
Other things have inspired me a lot about the band is how well as a group of five they conduct their business, how loved they are by everybody who works around them. In the 10 years I have worked with them, they still are surrounded by the same people and on the first day that I was working with them in Boston 10, 11 years ago, I walked around and met everybody on the stage, from the guys in the kitchen making the food to the guys rigging the lights in the stadiums, I talked to everybody and everybody said, “This is the best band in the world to work for, they run their business and their operations so well, they are so respectful and so gracious of everybody who works for them.” That’s actually been a huge influence on me, seeing how an organization can be run so incredibly well, so harmoniously.
Because you have known U2 for so long, do you think it makes it easier now to photograph them?
No because it’s never easy and it’s never hard, the responsibility is always the same. Of people to photograph, just in terms of spending the time doing the work, they’re incredibly easy because they’re so experienced and they’re so professional, they’re very easy to work with. There are some people who are fantastically hard to get a good picture from and these guys, they pay such attention to everything they do, their pictures to their music videos and of course to every aspect of the music, they pay such attention to every aspect of what they do that they’re just very, very good at every aspect of the job and having a picture taken is part of the job and they’re also very, very good at that.
How do you go about putting together a U2 photo shoot?
Every one has kind of been different. Obviously Anton is their main photographer who’s been with them for the longest and has done most of, what I call, real seminal pictures, when you think of the band, the pictures that you’re really always remembering are Anton’s. Anton does maybe do shoots where there might be more to talk about, the things I’ve done with them have been much more, haven’t really been what I would call conceptual shoots, they’ve been much more getting great images for specific purposes, like for instance for the press packages to go with the tour and things like that. It’s not like doing a music video, you don’t have to come up with a big concept and do a big storyboard, you just have to make sure that they look great, the location wherever you’re shooting is good, the light is good and then you get what it is about those guys that makes them who they are.
I’d actually say it’s pretty straightforward, yes there’s a lot of thought about everything to make sure that everything is right, but it’s basically a very straightforward process because everybody is very professional and it’s quick and straightforward. Everything I’ve done with them has always taken very little time, partly because they have very little time but also partly because they’re so efficient with their time and they’re so efficient with what they’re doing that they get it right, they do it and there’s no messing about and it’s done.
You work in both black & white and color, do you personally have a preference?
Not really. I think good color is absolutely stunning but it’s much harder to get good color or color that’s really good because there are so many things that fill up the background that alter the color balance of the picture. With black and white you’re just dealing with the graphics and with the emotional reality of a picture, with color it’s so much more complicated. I think color is every bit as amazing as a great black and white picture, but it’s much harder to direct all of the elements of color in a color picture unless it’s a totally controlled environment. For instance I never think that color pictures taken live on stage are as interesting or as evocative as black and white. I think both have their place.
Do you have any favorite picture or photo shoot that you’ve done with the U2?
It has to be Elevation because everything else I’ve done with them has been dropping in here and dropping in there, whereas Elevation I was there at the rehearsals and I dropped in all through the tour and I saw it change before and after Sept. 11th. It was an incredible tour and it was an incredible time in all of our lives, both for the great reasons that it was a wonderful tour and also because the world in a way changed during the tour, and the way in which the guys embraced that, it was really impressive. I loved everything I’ve done with them because I love working with them but I think the experience of being on that tour from rehearsal to the last night was really incredibly special.
BP Fallon did a book about his experiences on the Zoo tour. Have you ever thought about doing anything like that?
Because they’ve actually been such a big influence in my life, for the number of hours I’ve spent with them, they’ve been a disproportionately large influence in my life so I am working on a book which I’ve been working on for two years and I haven’t had time to do anything more than say, “I’m working on it,” but they will actually be quite an important part of it. It’s not going to be a regular style photography book, I want to do it more like a diary and make it a really interesting adventure. When people ask me, “What’s the best job you’ve ever done?” it’s definitely working with U2 so they can’t but help be a very important part of the book project.
Fly Bits: MacPherson on music, tours and some memorable moments with U2
On the power of music…
“I love working on music most of all because I love just the whole culture of music, what it is, how many people it touches. I’ve been to a lot of stadium shows but it still blows me away that music touches people on an emotional level, really like nothing else, maybe stories do but people caught up in so many other things, the actor in the story or who’s the director or whatever. People come out of a film and they’re like, ‘Wow, didn’t she look so good,’ and the story is gone, but in music, it really is the music that touches the soul.”
Shooting Edge for the cover of Rolling Stone…
“We did shoot for Rolling Stone a bunch of years ago, which was just him, they did a cover story on him, it must have been about nine years ago or eight years ago, and I remember he was like singing and dancing, we did amazing pictures where he was literally like exploding in the center. He’s got so much energy, he’s got so much to give, but obviously it comes out in the music, what you hear is what you get.”(Photo: RollingStone.com)
From a rooftop in Miami…
“The stadium was entirely rented so [U2] could rehearse [Elevation], not only the show but the putting it up, the pulling it down, the packing it into the trucks, the loading it out, the putting it up, the pulling it down, packing it into trucks, so you need to have a stadium for a week or two weeks to make sure every element of the show goes together like clockworks so that you can send the show on the road. In the time when the band came, for the first week in the stadium it was just the stage crew had the stadium to put everything up, pull it down and to their work, and then the band arrived from Dublin where they had been rehearsing in a small stage and they arrive and have to then go to work in this big stage in the big stadium.
“We arrived the same day they did from Dublin, we came from Los Angeles, and they only had two days in which to basically acclimatize themselves with everything, with the sound, with the stadium, with the way it worked, with the whole set up. Given what was going on, I had four or five literally 20-minute slots in which I was going to get the guys here to do a picture, then they had to go and do this, and then they had to go and do this and this. Their timetable, it’s beyond a military exercise, it’s like looking at a presidential thing, every five minutes they know where they have to be and what they have to be doing, especially just before the tour goes on the road because there’s so much to be checked, double-checked and re-checked. When I got them we went up on the roof of the stadium and I loved the way it looked, it’s like a big, huge flat space and the sun was setting, and so why not put it behind and just give it some drama. If you look the other way it just was like plain view sky, there was nothing going on, so it’s just trying to make a more interesting picture in the 20-minute slot that we had. From the same time slot came the single sleeve for Elevation, the one of all of them walking along the rooftop. Literally it was like, ‘We’ve got two rolls of film like this, and we’re going to move over here and do two rolls like this, and then we’re going to try this here,’ and that was it, it was just trying in the moment to make it as interesting as possible.”
Elevation, light my way…
“The lighting of the show, I was really impressed with that, Willie did an amazing, amazing job. I particularly liked the way that he used color balance, because they wanted Elevation to be a really down to Earth rock ‘n roll tour and he used really great, simple, clean and classic lighting, which was fantastic, and he changed the color balance through the whole set very subtlely from neutral to cool and it was beautiful, the shift of the color balance was very subtle and very effective through the whole set. I really, really enjoyed the lighting, it was amazing.”
Viva Las Vegas…
“The side trip to Vegas in the [Elevation] tour was fantastic. It was Bono’s surprise for Kaleen’s [Lemmon, tour manager Dennis Sheehan’s assistant] birthday and we were in Phoenix, we all left the concert, got on the plane to go back to LA and everyone was kind of sitting down, quietly chatting in the plane, and next thing we know the plane’s landing and everybody’s quite chilled out and then suddenly somebody says, ‘Hey, we’ve landed in Vegas.’ Bono comes running down the plane, ‘It’s party time! Kaleen’s birthday!’ and he’d arranged everything. We piled off the plane into two buses, which then we went touring around Las Vegas between midnight and four in the morning. Went to the Bellagio and up to the House of Blues Foundation Room, it was brilliant, it was one of the funniest nights that I’ve ever spent, being in this crazy little Vegas bus through the streets with Bono and Edge singing ‘Kaleen, Kaleen,’ doing their own version of [Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’] for Kaleen’s birthday. It was just fantastic, going into the Bellagio hotel surrounded by 25 Bellagio security guards, we swarm through the hotel, everybody’s jaw drops, they’re all kind of raggedy-tag Midwesterners, most of them probably had no idea who it is, and you keep hearing people go, ‘Who is it? What’s happening?’ it was really funny. Into a bar where there’s this bar singer serenading three old couples in a bar and suddenly our party of 70 people sweeps in and takes over the place. Bono got up on stage and started doing a duet with the singer, it was one of those amazing nights out that when it was all over you’re still pinching yourself going, ‘Did that really happen?’”
Visit www.macfly.com to see some of MacPherson’s work.
All photos within courtesy of Andrew MacPherson.
|08-15-2003, 02:42 PM||#2|
love, blood, life
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Somewhere in NorCal
Local Time: 09:21 AM
I absolutely love this article.__________________
|08-15-2003, 05:16 PM||#3|
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Bogota. Colombia
Local Time: 12:21 PM
Those photos of The Edge are just great!!!!!!!
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