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Shooting Stars

1 June 2019

Richard McLaren on capturing Mandela, and the eternal magic of film photography

Joining a photo agency fresh out of school, Richard McLaren had little idea he was entering into a lifelong career that would involve flying to all four corners of the globe, and photographing some of the most famous faces imaginable. “I wanted to be a racing driver growing up, but fell into this world when my cousin told me about an opening at an agency,” he says. “I learnt my trade from all different types of photographers; people that shot on movie sets, pop stars,” he says. “And I am still enjoying it to this day.”

Best known for his celebrity portraits, which run the gamut of personalities from Tina Turner to Pierce Brosnan, Colin Farrell to Joaquin Phoenix, alongside McLaren’s four-decade career is an industry acknowledgement that this is a photographer that knows how to put people at ease.

“It’s always been about making the talent feel comfortable in front of the camera, and trust you in what you are trying to achieve with the image you are creating with them,” he explains.

He does this by the careful study of his subject. When shooting Mandela in his presidential palace in South Africa, McLaren asked an aide what his daily routine might look like.

“He told me he starts in his ‘Elephant Room’ where he has his tea and looks through his daily schedule of events and signs various documents. I knew straight away that was the picture I wanted to capture.”

Celebrity images have undergone somewhat of a revolution over the years. The immediacy of Instagram has perhaps even trumped the most relentless paparazzo, with a ravenous 24-hour news cycle demanding the most instant of images. We live in a world where entire stories can be woven around a single image, often uploaded by the star themselves.

“Photography has become more accessible to everyone through digital and iPhone cameras, and has changed the industry a lot,” McLaren agrees. “Apps can also edit anything nowadays. Now, it’s more about a unique perspective or skill you can bring to the table that differentiates your work.”

For McLaren, traditional techniques will always reign supreme. After all, this is a photographer that still appreciates a good magazine: “Print is truly a great escape when you want to shut off your phone,” he explains – and even experiments with the wetplate process originally used in the Civil War. “I like that film is still very technical and makes all the elements require more precision,” he explains. “The lighting and everything is super important, and it’s a good challenge to get the perfect image without seeing it pop up on a screen right away.”

Words: Georgina Lavers Photos: Richard Mclaren

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