Eminent British portrait photographer Donald MacLellan gives a repeat performance of his first highly acclaimed retrospective exhibition “Faces From the Past” this September. And, typically for him, it is to be staged at a regional gallery, chosen to bring art out of the city and closer to gallery-goers in the English provinces and countryside.
It will be just six months since the show, in a slightly different guise, made its debut at another central England art space – the Heseltine Gallery, the resurgent community art venue, near Banbury in Oxfordshire, England, whose busy program lines up seasoned national artists alongside stunning regional talent.
So popular did MacLellan’s exhibition prove at the Heseltine that it now begins a short tour, starting off at Northamptonshire’s Storehouse Gallery to mark the venue’s first birthday; once again bringing top quality portraiture and entrepreneurial photographic endeavor to the regions. It will offer an unexpected extra diversion for late summer tourists to this leafy part of the world, which is just beyond the busy Cotswold crush.
Charting 25 years of capturing famous or influential faces, MacLellan has teamed up with gallery owner Mike Smith to feature 40 striking close-up shots of stars of film and stage, along with figures from politics, business, and the arts. The selection of past portraits, gleaned from four of MacLellan’s major shows from the last quarter-century, presents well-known names as well as unsung heroes. Sitters range from actors Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton and Dougray Scott to British Rastafarian writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah. Three of the original shows were solo exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London: MacLellan remains the only photographer in the NPG’s history to have achieved this accolade.
“It was always my ambition to photograph prominent people, so I started writing to them when I was at College in Salisbury. I guess I have a history of approaching people with ideas and being pleasantly surprised when they agree to them. Then I just get on and find a way to make it happen.”
“My first kit, for what became the ‘Black Power’ exhibition (1998) that ended up at the National Portrait Gallery, consisted of my camera, lights, a black piece of cloth for a background and a polo-neck sweater that I picked up for £9 in C&A. It’s amazing what you can conjure out of such simple props when you have no other choice.”
Born in 1967, the son of a fishmonger in a herring port in the West Highlands of Scotland, MacLellan made a career choice an ocean away from this fishing industry ancestry: over the last 25 years, he has built an enviable reputation as a portrait photographer, focusing on actors, writers, artists, and celebrities, as well as numerous figures from the world of business, politics, and commerce.
The theme of “equal representation for all” shines through in MacLellan’s portraiture. Ground-breaking in its day, “Black Power” focused on 24 leading black British achievers from the arts, politics, religion, business, media, medicine, law and science. It was on show for five months at London’s National Portrait Gallery (who acquired a set of prints for their permanent collection) and toured galleries in the UK, Africa, and the Caribbean. The portraits were also used for race awareness events nationally in schools, colleges and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, his “Pink Portrait” project, 2010, was an extension of the theme of under-representation of minority groups in film, focusing on the LGBTI community. Portraits were of actors, actresses, writers, producers, directors, and agents and included Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, and the director Terence Davies. It exhibited at venues in London and Cardiff and featured at discussions and seminars to promote increased LGBTI representation, both in front of and behind the camera.
Not surprisingly, MacLellan believes passionately in making the visual arts accessible to everyone, so he jumped at the chance to share the photographs more widely after his initial retrospective in March 2018: “Mike came along to the first retrospective show, and we instantly knew we had something that would attract lots more people and be worth sharing more widely,” he says. “And I’ll be on hand, on various days, to pass on camera and photography tips.”
“It’s another a great opportunity to celebrate and remember the individuals and share my photography experiences with the community,” he adds. “Every portrait tells a tale about the person, opening up aspects of their character and involving particular technical challenges.”
A 25-year retrospective of portrait photography by Donald MacLellan will run from Saturday 1 September to Sunday 30 September 2018 at the Storehouse Gallery, Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire, England. (The Storehouse Gallery: Building 1, The Depot, Bridge Street, Weedon Bec, Northants, NN7 4PS. Tel: 01327 227 392)
It will be open Monday to Saturday 8.30am to 5pm; Sundays 10.30am to 4pm.
A Private View will be Friday 7 September, 6.30pm – 8.30pm. MacLellan will be present to chat with visitors and pass on tips at a “Meet the Photographer event on Saturday 15 September, 12 noon till 2pm, and at Guided Tour on Sunday 30 September, 2 – 4pm.
Entry to the exhibition and all events is free. Prints of the portraits on show can be ordered in two sizes. Donald MacLellan lives in North Oxfordshire with his family. He is available for portrait commissions.