If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Phillip McDonald's photographic masterpieces are priceless gems worth a second, third and fourth mesmerizing look. Like Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson and Cartier Bresson before him, McDonald takes images of everyday life and turns them into intimate works of high art, gallery-worthy pieces that re-imagine what it means to live and love in an America at odds with itself.
McDonald started as an in-demand Florida wedding photographer, but he has now settled nicely into the realm of significant museum quality pieces, those you collect, curate, and bequeath to younger, lucky generations. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing this socially conscious photographer on the cusp of artistic stardom.
What made you decide to become a wedding photographer? And how did you make the leap into fine art photography?
I really didn’t want to be a wedding photographer. I was going to school for video production and I replied to an add for a wedding videographer. During the interview Monroe Peoples (the owner) tried to talk me into doing photography. At this point I merely dabbled in photography. Throughout the two-hour interview, he kept trying to convince me that I should become a wedding photographer. My answer was a stern no. So after about the fifth or sixth time I just asked “Why are you pushing this wedding photography on me?” He replied, “I can train a monkey to take a picture but the one thing that’s needed is personality, and that’s something I can’t train, and you have it.”
In the end, I declined the offer to become a wedding photographer, but he did give me the video job. Little did I know he would be in my ear for a whole year about shooting pictures. So I gave in and the rest is history.
What constitutes a good image? Lighting? Angles? Shadowing?
Wow! First, a good image is always relative to the person viewing it. For me, that’s the beauty of photography. I think all of the above would constitute a good image and none of the above would constitute a good image. I have seen images that were technically terrible but the content was moving, the moment was perfect. So a great image is always going to relative.
What do you prefer to photograph?
I don’t have one thing in particular. I like to shoot but I do enjoy shooting people in their environment, whatever that environment is.
Whose work inspires you? What motivates you?
One of the photographers that trained me: Travis Broxton. We shoot together throughout the year and he pushes me with his creativity. We have a friendly feud. I tell him: “One day I’m going to be better than you!” His response: I will never show you everything I know.” The thing that motivates me is knowing that I will never master the art of photography. I love the idea that I will always be a student of photography.
What bit of advice would you give an up and coming photographer? What makes one a great photographer?
The advice I would give is study your craft. And then study more. I get that you must be good at business to run a successful photography business, but studying your craft will make you a great photographer.
Is there an image you captured that is your favorite? And why? What makes it resonate with you?
This is a hard one. There are some I’ve taken and I love them because of the technical side of it and some for the creative side. The bride walking down the aisle is one of my favorite technical shots because I shot it with no flash, all hand held right after the sun went behind the trees. Very difficult shot. One of the more moving shots for me is the one of the cotton field. I was born and raised in the city so a cotton field was something I only saw on television or in books. So while driving in Memphis we came across a cotton field. I just sat back in my seat and took in all the types of fields that my ancestors worked. To walk these same hollowed grounds was a completely different feeling.
Have you always had an infinity for photography? In your opinion, who are the greatest? And how does your work differ?
You know, I didn’t always have infinity for photography. It was something that I didn’t realize I was good at until Monroe Peoples forced me to consider it. It was something I grew into. This way I had time to understand and watch my own growth. Seeing the change and the growth in your craft is amazing. It's like having an outer body experience.
And I admire some of the greats: Robert Capa, Gordon Parks, Ansel Adams, Mary Ellen Mark and Robert Frank.
Every photographer’s works differ because when you look at an image, what you are seeing is the photographer's vision at that moment. Everyone sees the same moment in a different way.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be that of a good man that loved his family and did the best he could. And he just happens to be a photographer.
What is your ultimate goal?
To improver every day and learn more about the art of photography.
What do you want people to get from your pieces? What do you want them to walk away with?
I just want them to see that one millisecond in time just the way I saw it and understand a moment will never happen again.
Are you affiliated with an art gallery? Where can art enthusiasts purchase your work?
I’m not currently with a gallery but I see that changing in the near future. You can go to http://www.philliplloydphotography.com/fine-art to purchase some of my work.
A recovering TV producer, I'm working fastidiously--yet unsuccessfully--on my addiction to politics. I'm a hopeless Miles Davis enthusiast, who enjoys gallery-hopping and Nutella cupcakes. I owe my green eyes and gumbo-cooking talent to my Creole genes. And when I'm not blogging all things chic, me and my fur baby Lola Bean Pod are living it up in Atlanta.