Interview with Bill McCullough
Bill McCullough was interviewed March 7 at the Texas Tech School of Art SRO Photo Gallery during his visit to Lubbock and the University. A lively interview, McCullough gave honest and candid answers as well as spirited motions in his commentary. McCullough is passionate about his work as a photographer and only has plans to further his wedding/photography portfolio.
How did you get into photography? And more specifically how did you end up becoming a wedding photographer?
As a young kid, I was always fascinated with magic, science, and gadgets. After watching a show called “James at 16”, I became interested in photography. I was intrigued by his use of a 35mm camera that was very different than my mom’s instamatic;and, he developed his own photographs in his darkroom. I saved and bought my first camera at 15 years old. I was fascinated with the camera’s ability to stop water in mid stream. I found the science of photography interesting.
A year later, I saw a few black and white prints that were done by my best friend’s father, Will Lowrimore. He was a master of the zone system and printed everything himself in his darkroom. Seeing for the first time the power of a perfectly printed photograph, I was inspired to focus on the technique of photography. In high school I talked my parents into letting me build a darkroom above the garage with some money I saved as a waiter.
There was a culmination of several factors that led me into wedding photography. In 2002, I married my wife who is an artist and printmaker. This pivotal change in my life created an environment with an emphasis on more creative endeavors. Together, we strove to come up with a way to make a living without compromising our intent to create something we were proud of. Wedding photography, full of preconceptions and an overly sentimental tone, begged for a fresh approach, an approach that would allow me to maintain my personal point of view while still making a living. After photographing a few friends weddings, I soon discovered that the wedding provided a framework that allowed me to capture aspects of modern social life that interested me. I never paid any attention to other wedding photography and still don’t. This has helped my own style develop quickly. I bought a couple of $35 film cameras off ebay, borrowed a friend’s flash, and shot my first professional wedding.
In an interview with Glasstire.com, you mentioned that “decisive moments,” in your photography come from your patience and optimism; how do you get yourself in the position of capturing these images, some of which strike me as incredibly surreal, at the weddings?
A lot of practice and concentration.
You can develop an intuition about where to stand and when to click the shutter, but this only comes from the act of doing. Also, because I understand what I want to show in a photograph, a strong editing practice, which is an art form in itself, is the final step in bringing the best images forward.
In a fantastic essay on photography, Charles Harbutt mentions “How many photographic balIs was the photographer able to juggle at once?” Balancing several elements at once during an ephemeral moment to create a memorable photograph is exactly what I am trying to accomplish. When all the balls (physical positioning, light, mystery, focus, characters, emotion, ambiguity) are suspended in mid air then I have the photograph I am looking for. I hope there is a feeling that the image can never be recreated again.
You use lighting to great effect; what qualities do you look for in a final product you select to present? List some of the criteria you use to select the photographs you present as final products to your clients. When I see your photos, I am intrigued by the stories each seems to suggest; what types of reactions are you seeking to achieve out of the viewer?
I first used flash for technical reasons… to stop action in dark places and present photographs that are sharp and in focus. Since then, I have used light as an element that enhances the performance and theatrical aspects of social situations. Nothing in my work is posed, but the use of artificial light can create a sense of wonder and raise questions for the viewer. I want to ride the edge of presenting photographs about real life that could never be staged, but also evoke a cinematic mood. Photography is about light, but my additional lighting does not make or break the photograph. Many times I use only the light that is available to me.
Another reason for using extra light is to create multiple layers of elements at various distances from the lens. This depth helps me emphasize the magic that happens when something is transformed from three dimensions into just two. This layering and collage effect places importance on all elements in the frame.
My wife and I edit photographs together. Composition, technique, and mood are the basic criterion we use to present a solid, well edited selection of photographs that the client will see. With further editing that usually occurs over time, we choose favorites that we believe to be special. When I say special, I mean that the photograph contains a hidden depth.
I strive to draw in the viewer, entertain, and give them just enough information to spark their own imagination about what the image is about.
If you are married, who took your wedding photographs? If you are not married yet, but think you might someday be, what sort of wedding photos would you want? For you?
It’s hard to believe I have been married for nine years. My wife had the idea to hire a courtroom sketch artist to document our wedding. She and I share our studio together and see eye to eye on many things. I love her very much.
Many thanks to Bill for answering our questions.