My Mentor: The men behind the great men
My parents gave me a real sense of self-worth.
My mum and dad always taught me that my opinion counted, and that what I ended up doing in life should be what I really wanted to do. My dad was Scottish, and he used to say to me, “Son, in England, they send you to school to teach you to be arrogant, but in Glasgow… you’re born arrogant!”
My dad wasn’t best pleased when I first said I wanted to be a photographer…
I initially trained to be an accountant. I was into maths at school, but within the first three weeks of the accountancy course, I realised this was not for me. My dad was working class made good, and wanted me to have the education he didn’t have, so when I dropped out to try photography he was pretty p*ssed off. That made me want to prove to him how serious
I was about it, so I went back to study it at BTEC.
Everything changed at my first end-of-year show.
I’d done these funny nude shots of this very old life model called Dot, who had no teeth. My dad stood by them all night and he was like, “You’re gonna be fine. Everybody either loved it or hated it. If they love it or hate it, you’ll do really well.”
He soon became my biggest champion.
After that first show, he was the most supportive dad you could hope for. He used to remind me of Des O’Connor when he came to my exhibitions – he’d wear these big floral shirts, and stand by my stuff stopping people and going, “What do you think of this, then? Not bad, eh?” He came to the show I did with David Bailey and Bailey told me later that my dad had come up to him and said, “What do you reckon, then? Is my son any good?” [Laughs] He said that to David Bailey! There was this room at the show full of Bailey’s photographs of p*ssies, and I remember my mum saying, “Your dad seems to be going into that room quite a lot…” It was brilliant.
His advice made me a better photographer.
He always taught me never to put people on a pedestal: “They’re just people – they’ve all got to wipe their arse” [laughs]. That mentality made me a better portrait photographer, as it’s so important to treat subjects as human beings. I remember, when I photographed the Queen, my dad said, “Wow, the Queen! You did the Queen! I mean, we’re Scottish, so obviously we f*cking hate the Queen, but still… you photographed the Queen!”
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