London-based photographer Gilbert McCarragher works around the world for architects, designers and brands including John Pawson, Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Sevil Peach, Ian Schrager and Coca-Cola.
Gilbert's work is published widely and features in books and magazines such as
Gilbert has exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, Victoria and Albert Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art London and the Wapping Project.
The first question I’m asked when I tell people I’m a photographer is, ‘what do you photograph?’. To which my usual response is ‘light’ — I used to say ‘magic’, until someone once countered ‘what, like wizards?’. My simple answer may sound flippant, but it's entirely true.
Light is what inspires me to pick up a camera. Light is what I search out when creating a work. The conversation between light and dark can transform a photograph, so it releases a memory rather than simply freezing a moment.
As a part of the run up to the opening of McQueen's flagship store on Old Bond Street I was asked to document the creation of the plaster panels designed for the store's walls—panels that have since become a signature element of every McQueen store throughout the world. In a workshop in East London I patiently watched as the panels took form, evolving from a series of initial concept sketches, then bright pink latex moulds, until the moment of the great reveal when the moulds were peeled back to expose the artistry encased inside.
My work with Alexander McQueen spans several years and includes photography of the flagship store on Old Bond Street, the men's tailoring division on Savile Row, the McQ Store on Dover Street and the ongoing ArtBox projects curated by Sadie Coles HQ at McQueen Savile Row.
'Show me how you see it... Have fun with it... Surprise me... And make sure you get the shot!'
Having worked closely with the Pawson office for a number of years now, this is my usual brief from John before going on a job. Rarely do we talk about a specific shot list. Instead we talk about moods, inspirations and the relationship a building has with its surroundings.
The advantage of long-term relationships such as these is that I will have seen a building take shape across a number of years. However, having witnessed the blood, sweat and tears that go in to a particular project, I feel a personal responsibility to the architects to show their building in the best possible way. The photographs I produce are what the majority of people will see and experience: they will define what the project was all about.
Arriving on site I settle in and start a conversation with the building concerned: Who are you? How would you like to be photographed? The first few hours can be tricky, as I formulate and clarify the narrative in my head, though early starts and long exposures give me time to contemplate the space and how the building might answer my questions. Then 'click'—I get it—and away I go.
Although I hadn't visited Augsburg previously, on my first trip I felt I knew every inch of the church, having photographed an architectural model of it some years earlier. Technically little had changed from that 1:25 scale model—though standing in front of the finished building, I came to realise I was no longer the giant... Now the building reached upward and beyond me, while the Saints, from their now elevated positions, gazed down at me and the world below.
On arriving at the church I was greeted by Father Helmut who, smiling, held a buttered salted pretzel for me in one hand and a set of keys to the church in the other. I set to work immediately photographing the space. At night, streetlight fell across the church windows, transforming the ceiling into a constellation of stars. As morning approached the streetlights switched off and the stars disappeared. The sun's first beam of light pushed through the east window, cutting the darkness and illuminating the font. The water within took up the light and glistened.
Mount Street, London—home to Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane's first store. Formerly a day spa and beauticians, this cavernous corner building in Mayfair was, when I visited a year before it opened, a maze of tiny rooms and twisting corridors from which the light gradually withdrew. Remnants exfoliated from the building's past life surrounded me.
A year later, at the hands of the John Pawson office, the store had been completely transformed. Natural light, now nurtured, illuminated the store, allowing the space to breathe. A glowing totem light piece, hung full height between the two floors of the store, was made even more impressive by the staircase that spiralled around it.
St Paul's Perspectives
Perspectives was conceived as a site-specific installation for the Geometric Staircase of St Paul's Cathedral, as a part of the 2011 London Design Festival. A collaboration between the John Pawson office and Swarovski, I documented Perspectives from its creation to its installation in St Paul's in a series of photographs and films.
Built for the 21st century's growing army of freelancers and homeworkers, architect Sevil Peach's Red Elephant and Zuidas buildings are mixed use spaces from where you can run a business while still feeling completely at home.
Sevil designed and curated the spaces to work whether you're operating as an individual or a small or a large team. Versatile layouts accommodate modern, changeable work patterns and afford the occupants a freedom to find the space that works best for them—be that for the week, the day or even just an hour.
Not so much a workhouse as a playhouse, I looked up from my camera on the last day of my shoot to see Sevil dancing to Pharrell Williams' song 'Happy'. Fitting, I felt, as the spaces Sevil has created are exactly that.
Basilica di San Giorgio
Documenting the restoration of San Giorgio was an assignment I could hardly believe I had been asked to complete. The statue, which stands atop the dome of Palladio's magnificent Basilica di San Giorgio in Venice, had been struck by lightning a decade earlier and its badly damaged arm subsequently removed.
I ascended a complex scaffold erected in the centre of the church. As I neared the 100 foot mark, I clambered out through a small opening in the lantern of the cupola, before climbing more scaffolding on the exterior of the dome where I came face to face with San Giorgio. The first thing I noticed was what big eyes he had, his features having been heavily exaggerated to make them visible from the ground.
I watched over several weeks as the highly skilled restoration team, with funding from the Swarovski Foundation, worked like surgeons to reattach San Giorgio's arm and spear. Every nail from the statue—labelled and numbered—was driven back into its original hole, until finally San Giorgio was complete again, proudly looking out over Venice.
I first worked with Ian Schrager's design team when photographing the views from the apartments in their Miami Beach EDITION Hotel. Shortly thereafter the Schrager team approached me to photograph their London EDITION Hotel—a luxury boutique hotel on London's vibrant Berners Street and the first EDITION hotel to open in Europe.
I worked with the visionary Jules Wright of the Wapping Project on several exciting exhibitions. For her Fashion, Film and Fiction exhibition, Jules asked me to create a short film which followed the creative process of one of the fashion designers involved in the show. Fellow Irishman Jonathan Quearney, a Savile Row trained tailor, was my subject. Much of the film was shot on Super8, giving the work its own rich pattern and texture.
Monastero di San Giorgio Maggiore
The Venetian island of San Giorgio is home to a community of Benedictine monks whose church—an impressive example of Palladian architecture—overlooks the lagoon toward St Mark's Square. It was a privilege and an honour to be permitted by the monks to document their way of life and their daily rituals of work and worship. Time and time again during the project, I was humbled by the brothers' gentle manner and the care they showed to one another and all others.
Contact Gilbert McCarragher by calling +44 (0)7958 791 014, or send a message using the form below.