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Robert the Fire-Proofer, from Iain McLean's St Vincent Plaza project

1 October 2015

In 2014 I was commissioned to produce general site and progress photography at the new St Vincent Plaza building in Glasgow. Mid-way through its completion I thought of photographing some of the people involved in the build with a view to exhibiting the pictures at the building's opening night. The idea was to personalise the building as well as create a photographic legacy of some of those involved in its creation, an idea which the financial backer (Abstract Securities) embraced and encouraged. Over three separate site visits I humped a mobile studio up four floors to photograph builders, tradesmen, architects, financial backers, cleaners etc, some against a backdrop and some without. I also needed detail shots to add variety to the set, as well as themed 'abstract' pictures which were a nod to the property developers Abstract.

Having visited the Horst exhibition at the V&A my mind was full of controlled poses and lighting, so I went about sketching some of my favourite fashion photos with notes about lighting style and intensity. While the sketches were essential prompts for me on site they also served to explain to the models exactly what I was aiming to produce, although I did forget to mention that these burly workmen were adopting some poses seen in Vogue. Horst also got me thinking about the style of the abstract pictures. I wanted the final abstract images to be created using a single image flipped along its axis three times, giving a kaleidoscopic effect, and went about shooting certain objects with this in mind.

The gentleman seen here is Robert, a fire proofer from Glasgow. We were required to photograph the architects, landscape architects, engineers, financiers etc - all wearing suits - which was a challenge in itself, but I was really interested in photographing some characters; people who had spent their lives as tradesmen in all sorts of weather and locations. I already had a few in the bag but on seeing Robert I knew he had a memorable face and immediately explained to him what I was doing. He was a man of very few words but was obliging when I asked him to stand in a working environment then stand in the studio and stare directly into the camera. I thought of Wyatt Earp while I was photographing him.

The flashes were softened slightly and off to either side to help illuminate his face under his hat and the camera was on a tripod, with full concentration on his eyes. The picture was used as the main image in the launch of the building when it opened on the 18th of June this year and was certainly the one which raised the most comment.

The St Vincent Plaza photos were on show at the official opening of the building (see here). and it is hoped that they will be on permanent display in the building when it opens this month. I also hope to show them in Glasgow - date and location tbc.

Iain McLean is a Glasgow based freelance photographer and has been in business since 2007. Prior to that he was a digital imaging specialist at the Herald and Evening Times. "I have always had a keen interest in photography so when the opportunity arose to work alongside some of Scotland's best photographers I was over the moon to get the job in the imaging department. We processed and printed films, scanned negs and retouched photos prior to publication. Our small department was in the heart of the picture desk so we were privy to many unpublished and sometimes unpublishable images. We were also working with the photographers on a variety of levels so the experience I gained gave me the confidence to stride out and work for myself, despite the economic forecast being poor. Having started late in photography it is such a pleasure to finally be doing what I always wanted to do."

Iain McLean Photography

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