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Photography News | Issue 53 | photographynews.co.uk
Stories behind the images A Life in Pictures Celebrated fashion and advertising photographer Tony McGee’s stellar career has seen him turn his camera on a wide range of iconic names, and the stories behind the images make fascinating reading
It’s fair to say that Tony McGee’s life would have been very different had he not discovered photography at an early age. A natural aptitude for the camera coupled with an outgoing and approachable demeanour opened all kinds of doors for the boy from west London, one of a family of eight children, who went on to work for some of the world’s leading fashion magazines and to hold up a mirror to some of the most iconic people of his generation. “I’ve always had a fondness for photography,” he reflects. “As a boy I had a happy family life and the camera became, for me, a symbol of good times, because it would always come out when there was a celebration going on, such as a birthday or some other important family milestone. “I acquired my first serious camera while I was at the Boys’ Club off Vauxhall Bridge Road playing one of regular games of snooker. My father had loaned me some money to buy a special cue, and I was playing with it when this tall and rather spotty youth came up to me and said ‘that cue is mine.’ When I refused to give it to him he offered me a camera wrapped in a jumper, which he said he’d found in a dustbin. I told him that I’d put a roll of film through it to see if it was any good and, if it was, then we’d have a deal. It worked fine and the swap was done.” Tony was just 12 years old at the timeandhequicklybecamebesotted with his new love. Remarkably, just four years later, he became a fully-fledged professional fashion photographer, and by the age of 17 he was shooting covers for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue . He’s never looked back since then, and to listen to him reeling off stories about the people he’s photographed, the places he’s been and the experiences he’s had it’s clear to see just how much photography has influenced his life, and he’s every bit as excited by it all today as he was back then, just starting out. His incredible career was brought into sharp focus at a recent Olympus-sponsored exhibition in the foyer of the ultra-swish ME London Hotel in The Strand, where thewallswerehungwithaselection of shots taken at different stages of his life, featuring celebrities such
as Bryan Ferry, Naomi Campbell, Wham! and Kate Moss. The biggest section was taken up with a series of shots of David Bowie, emphasising the close professional relationship between the star and the photographer. Every image had its own incredible story, and to walk along the line of pictures and hear the story about how each one came about was to be given a very privileged insight into what was really going on at the instant the shutter was fired. The Olympus connection was particularly apt, since Tony has been a user of the these cameras throughout most of his long career. “BackinthedayIwouldnevertravel anywhere without a half-frame Olympus PEN-F,” he recalls. “The Zuiko lens on it had real quality, and was as sharp as anything. And the camera was really compact, would shoot 72 pictures on a roll of film and could slip in a pocket or a bag really easily. “I can honestly say that just about every other photographer I knew at that time had one of these cameras, and they were a way to record things as you travelled about.” These days the connection is still as strong as ever, although the PEN has now given way to a state-of- the-art mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which comes with a host of cutting-edge features, such as a 20.4-megapixel Live MOS sensor, 121 all cross-type on-chip phase detection focus points andup to 60 frames-per-second shooting speed. And like the film cameras of old it’s a compact marvel, with a body that weighs in at a mere 500g. Along with Tony, a number of other professionals have chosen toworkwith this flagshipOlympus model, and more information can be found at the ‘It’s not you it’s me’ website. THE BOWIE CONNECTION Tony photographed David Bowie over a number of years, and has a wide selection of shots of him through many stages of his career. A great admirer of the musician, the first encounter Tony had with the star was as a member of the audience at a 1973 gig at Earl’s Court. Many years later he had a face-to-face meeting at a private cocktail party hosted by theatrical impresario and producer Michael
David covers hismouth twice, 5November, 1989, 21.15 Over the course of my long career I’ve been fortunate to photograph David Bowie on several occasions. This photograph, however, is definitely one of my favourites. We all gathered together in the famous abandoned Rainbow Theatre in London, a rock 'n' roll venue that David had played on many occasions during the 70s. Unknown to both myself and David’s team, the theatre had become a refuge for homeless men. As David took up his position on my set he was amazed to be greeted by 50 or so homeless characters, who were whistling and applauding himwith friendly banter. It was when one of the homeless guys shouted that he was ‘not as pretty as the girl in the photo behind him’ that David burst into laughter and covered his mouth and that of the photo behind him. He then collapsed into shock and embarrassment.
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