Future of Photography Q&A No.3 – Steve Gullick

Oomska’s ‘Future of Photography’ Series continues…

We presented our interviewees with a set list of questions, and left the matter of in what format and at what length they should answer entirely up to them. Here are Steve Gullick’s responses.

OH SHIT!… This is heavy (I don’t generally use such terminology) . I also don’t like to intellectualize photography… That said, it’s conceivable that my only future within the industry could be to intellectualize the art form in the form of teaching the subject to young people – many of whom are never likely to earn a penny as photographers…. Every photo enthusiast that takes a picture for commercial use without being paid devalues it as a means of making a living… It’s nice that digital has democratized photography & has allowed anybody to vent their creative spleen with no need to know anything about the process but for those of us that have the skills & experience, the influx of keen amateurs is damaging… Everything moves on I suppose, how many blacksmiths do you know?

1. How and when did you first become interested in photography? What was the trigger which led you to take a serious interest? How different would that trigger be now, with all the changes – technological and otherwise – in photography during the intervening years?

I started in the early 1980’s – I loved how you could take some photos & then pour some magic fluid onto the film which made the latent images a reality – then stick the film into a projector & expose the image onto paper which you then put through more magic liquid to bring enlarged versions of your pictures to life… What’s not brilliant about that? & as time progressed I gained more control of how I could make my images look & to be honest, the process still amazes me & I’m still learning! Digital is piss easy & is good fun too… There’s no magic involved though.

In the old days it took a certain mentality and dedication to become a good photographer, it was a discipline, an art…a craft! There are so many variables though, I only succeeded as a portrait photographer because of who I am, my values, how I relate to my subjects… The fact that I could also produce a decent image helped.

2. Photography is often described as a mixture of art and science. It’s also a medium. How has digital technology altered the way these elements combine to produce what we think of as ‘photography’? Has technology altered that balance?

I think it has, science is no longer an issue, creative people can now use photography as a tool without having to worry about the technical aspects, they can also view the result immediately & change how they shoot instantly without having to wait for results to be processed.

A camera was always a tool, but these days you don’t need to know what they do as you did in the past…. Kind of like not needing to know how a motor works in a drill.

3. Prior to the introduction of digital, how much did the equipment you used change over the years? How has digital changed the way you use equipment? How would today’s technology, if you could have used it earlier, have changed your relationship with photography?

I’ve had all sorts of different cameras, the bottom line though for me has to be ease of use & reliability – I’ve always used the best I could afford… Novelty cameras are a useful tool in portrait photography when you start to lose your subject or to initially grab their attention… That said, a camera that takes film seems novel enough these days… If there’s a stylist on my shoots these days it’s always… “Oh, you use film….” as if it’s odd… It isn’t odd – I’m a photographer…. How would digital have changed my relationship with photography? The question is current… Do I need a darkroom? Do my artisan ways hinder my employability? Do I need anything more than my 5D Mk 2 & 24mm – 70mm lens?…. Probably not, but where would the joy be in that? I certainly never expected to end up being a computer operator when I got into photography. I think amongst photographers I’m a rarity anyway – when a colour printer told me something wasn’t possible, I set up a colour darkroom to find out for myself… They were wrong! I think the norm for most photographers was to drop a film at a lab & maybe tell a printer which bits to make darker & lighter… That was never enough for me. I think the changes are way more impactful for me than for many other photographers…. To answer your question: Photographers of the future probably won’t fuck up their backs through carting heavy gear around but the computer screens may burn their eyes out.

4. How would photography’s great pioneers have embraced and utilised today’s technology? Might Ansel Adams be using software to stitch together panoramas of Yosemite? Would Garry Winogrand be using an iPhone? Would Eadweard Muybridge be experimenting with HDR?

Fuck off! Stick to the facts… Digital photography needs templates!

5. In some ways, digital seems to have ‘won out’ over film. Digital photography is everywhere, while companies such as Nikon and Fuji are discontinuing some of their films and film cameras. Is this process irreversible? Should we care?

It’s inevitable – the best way of producing prints from digital cameras is still traditional photographic paper – I hope there are enough geeks out there to keep film alive… Thank fuck for Lomo!!! These two factors could keep me alive… Film looks ace, it’s a brilliant filter.

6. Are there some qualities or aspects of film photography which digital will never be able to replicate or replace? If so, will these aspects of photography die with film?

Film absorbs light & has incredible latitude… Digital merely records. I can blow my 35mm negatives up to 30” X 40”, the images remain sharp, the film grain sits beautifully in the mix… Enlarged pixels look shit.

7. Will the ‘camera’, as we (still) think of it, even remain as a distinct device? Or will ‘camera’ become just one of a plethora of multimedia features people expect to find on any number of hybrid consumer appliances?

Erm… When I was a kid I wanted to be able to record images with the blink of an eye… Maybe that is no longer a ridiculous notion…. I love how certain lenses work with certain light tight boxes & the images that can be created using that simple physical process…. I think stand-alone cameras could outlive me.

8. A few years back, Magnum photographer Eliott Erwitt was quoted as saying: “Digital manipulation kills photography. It’s enemy number one.” He also disdained digital in general, for its ability to produce “an image without effort”. To what extent would you agree or disagree with these sentiments?

I’m not going to disagree with Elliott Erwitt… I’d be so much happier had digital photography not been invented. You can’t trust photography anymore, it’s become an unreliable witness.

9. We’re all thoroughly weary of the ‘fix it in Photoshop’ approach. But defenders of digital post-processing often say, “Well, it only does what you used to do in the darkroom.” Is this a valid argument?

It is – like I said earlier any fucking monkey can call themselves a photographer these days…. & if they get away with that approach then they’re right… Bitter? Me? Fuck off!

10. For how much longer will the general conception of ‘photography’ refer exclusively to static, two-dimensional images? Imminently, 3D is looming, and ‘convergence’ – meaning not just the ability of modern DSLR’s to capture high-definition video, but the compulsion to make use of that functionality – is a current buzzword. Does this trend – photographers becoming film-makers, and vice versa – ignore the important divisions between static and moving images?

Don’t know.

11. Cinema historian David Thomson, in his ‘Biographical Dictionary of Film’, wrote the following, regarding Marilyn Monroe: “She gave great still. She is funnier in stills, sexier, more mysterious, and protected against being. And still pictures may yet triumph over movies in the history of media. For stills are more available to the imagination.” How much more of a contentious statement does that seem today?

Sounds right to me – a good photograph can be as much about what you left out of the shot!


Steve Gullick: Principled reprobate started taking band photographs for a friend’s fanzine in the late 1980s and was swiftly spotted and recruited by the then weekly music paper Sounds. Throughout the 1990′s he worked with the cream of alternative musical talent, notably Nirvana & the US scene that became known as grunge. From the middle of the decade he worked extensively with The Prodigy throughout the height of their success, this coincided with photographing the likes of Bjork, Neil Young, Beck & Jeff Buckley whilst working his way through competing music weeklies Melody Maker & NME as well as contributing to a host of international monthlies.

2002 saw Gullick instrumental in the formation & execution of the seminal Careless Talk Cost Lives, an unashamedly underground publication conceived to run for twelve issues only, the image led magazine achieved its goal, in the process making cover stars of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s & Bright Eyes for the first time, as well as the more established Nick Cave & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Gullick continues to follow his passion for music & photography, more recently you’ll have seen his work adorn releases by Richard Hawley, Foals & Foo Fighters.

“From Nick Cave through to Jack White via Kurt Cobain, Steve Gullick has photographed all the leading and most interesting figures of the last two decades of alternative music ” – The Quietus

“THE PHOTOGRAPHY of Steve Gullick is unique. Graceful and forbidding in equal measure, it captures the essence of the maverick rockers to whom he’s drawn while resorting to none of the garish tricks and gimmicks that have become the staples of music photography. He’s in a tradition that goes back through Pennie Smith to Jim Marshall. Only he’s more doomy and punk” – Mojo

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